Magazine article The Spectator

Portrait of a Working Artist

Magazine article The Spectator

Portrait of a Working Artist

Article excerpt

Edward Bawden Bedford Gallery, Castle Lane, Bedford, until 31 January 2010

In these days when museums seem to think it acceptable to sell off the charitable gifts of past ages to feed contemporary vanities, I wonder who will be tempted to donate works of art without binding them securely in protective red tape? In the last eight years before his death, the artist and illustrator Edward Bawden (1903-89) gave a vast archive of his work to the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in Bedford. It was, effectively, the contents of his studio, representing nearly every period of his career, and it numbers more than 3,000 items. The Cecil Higgins is currently closed for renovation but the Bedford museum authorities have been busy, publishing a handsome illustrated book of the archive (£25 in hardback), and organising a potent selection from it into a highly effective exhibition at the Bedford Gallery.

Bawden was a superb printmaker and in particular a master of the linocut, as can be seen here in his big ambitious compositions of Brighton Pier, Liverpool Street Station and the Pagoda at Kew. His Ealing Studios film posters and advertising ephemera are fascinating mementoes, though his Orient Line ceramics for Wedgwood don't quite hit the spot. This exhibition is very much a portrait of a working artist: designing book jackets or a cover for The Listener, working out ideas for murals, even designing a garden bench. One of the best areas of the exhibition features framed sheets of five Bawden wallpaper patterns positioned against a lifesize black-and-white photo of the artist at home. 'Tree and Cow' and 'Woodpigeon' are my favourites.

Downstairs, there's a series of copper engravings from the 1920s, more linocuts ('Ives Farm, Great Bardfield', 1956, is particularly strong) and book illustration work, and a section detailing Bawden's influence on contemporary illustrators such as Angie Lewin and Mark Hearld. An early watercolour landscape, 'Bulford Mill' (1927), shows Bawden at his most Ravilious-like, though the structural interweaving is quite different.

Back in London, there's a Bawden selling show concurrently at the Fine Art Society (148 New Bond Street, W1, until 23 December). All in all, a fitting celebration of a great and deservedly popular artist and graphic designer.

Illustration of many other sorts may be seen at The Illustrators 2009 at Chris Beetles (8 & 10 Ryder Street, SW1, until 9 January 2010), the latest in a series of exhibitions that has become a hugely anticipated annual event, accompanied by a catalogue packed with scholarly information. The show is hung in blocks, so that you may study and compare a range of works by Heath Robinson, Thelwell or R.S. Sherriffs, but qthere are many of the great names here in smaller quantities - Beardsley, Rackham, Dulac, Bateman, Rowlandson, Kate Greenaway. Charles Doyle comes out well, as does Eric Fraser. Something for most tastes.

At the Redfern Gallery (20 Cork Street, W1, until 28 January 2010) is a show of early paintings and drawings by Anne Dunn (born 1929). Many will be unfamiliar with her work, principally because she has lived abroad for most of her life and shown infrequently. Now we are given the chance to judge her work from the 1950s and 1960s outside the social context of her marriages to the artists Michael Wishart and Rodrigo Moynihan, and it quickly emerges that the paintings she made around 1956-9 are full of delicate sensibility. …

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