For the first time, the Fry Art Gallery is to dedicate a full season and all of its gallery space to a single exhibition: Edward Bawden at Home. Opening on the 1st of April 2018 and running until the 28th of October 2018, the show will include around 200 artworks and other items. These will be displayed in the Gallery which Bawden helped to establish and which is just a short walk from the home in Saffron Walden in which he spent his last nineteen years.
Edward Bawden CBE RA (1903-89) is recognised as one of Britain’s foremost artists and designers of the twentieth century. His precise, linear watercolours of the 1930s attracted the notice of modernist art critics, whilst he went on to be probably the most important exponent of the linocut to work in Britain.
Bawden moved unselfconsciously between fine art and commercial design, creating posters for Ealing Studios, book jackets for Faber & Faber and advertisements for British Railways. His detached but warm and amused vision of the world remains immensely popular on items from diaries to umbrellas. In recognition of this diversity, Bawden was the first artist to be elected to the Royal Academy as a draughtsman and the Fry Art Gallery’s exhibition will form part of the Academy’s RA250 anniversary celebrations. It will include display of Bawden’s RA Diploma piece, on loan from the Academy.
After moving to Great Bardfield in North West Essex in 1932, Bawden relocated just once more of his own volition, the dozen miles to Saffron Walden in 1970, although his wartime duties as an Official War Artist meant extensive and dangerous travel through Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The Fry Art Gallery exhibition will use the theme of home to explore the full range of Bawden’s work, complementing finished pictures with sketches and letters as well as design projects such as wall papers and even a garden seat. It will show how, for Bawden, home was also a place to work, with studios in his houses at Bardfield and Saffron Walden, as well as a subject of his work, sometimes imaginatively transformed, and a psychological centre of gravity.
The backbone of the exhibition will be formed from the Fry Art Gallery’s own collection of Bawden’s art and associated archival objects. These will be complemented by illustrations of Bawden’s home, including work by his close friend Eric Ravilious with whom he first visited Great Bardfield and with whom he lived at Brick House for two years. A number of items on loan will complete the exhibition, including some from friends and family which have not previously been on public display.
Of particular interest will be the first showing for forty years of a significant preparatory drawing for Bawden’s work on the Morley College Mural. Bawden completed the mural with Ravilious in 1930, when it was opened by Stanley Baldwin, only to see it destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940. The drawing was originally given as a gift to the Morley College bursar, Hubert Wellington, and has recently entered the Fry Art Gallery collection through another, equally generous, gift.
The exhibition will conclude with an evocation of the atmosphere of Bawden’s home and studio at Park Lane, Saffron Walden where he lived from 1970. This will include several of his later works, many based on subjects in and around the house. It was from Park Lane that Bawden brought friends to the Fry Art Gallery in its formative years, offering his generous support to its growth as a home for the artists of North West Essex.