Widely celebrated artist’s Scarborough link

Peep Show by Edward Bawden which was commissioned by local hotelier Tom Laughton. Picture copyright Edward Bawden Estate.
Peep Show by Edward Bawden which was commissioned by local hotelier Tom Laughton. Picture copyright Edward Bawden Estate.

The subject of this week’s exhibit is a much-beloved artist, whose work is the focus of the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s summer exhibition, Edward Bawden. Significant Bawden works from Scarborough feature in the show, including the Peep Show commissioned by Tom Laughton for the delight of his Pavilion Hotel guests and another of his commissions, a map of Scarborough, which he later donated to the local Children’s Library.

Despite these items being on loan to Dulwich until September, they can usually be found on semi-permanent display at Scarborough Art Gallery and Scarborough Library respectively. However, for the Bawden fans among you, never fear, you can still indulge in several other Bawden delights on display in Scarborough Art Gallery’s recently redisplayed exhibition spaces.

Below, View from Brick House, Great Bardfield by Eric Ravilious. Picture copyright Eric Ravilious Estate.

Below, View from Brick House, Great Bardfield by Eric Ravilious. Picture copyright Eric Ravilious Estate.

Aesop’s Fables: An Old Crab and a Young (1957) and Snowstorm at Brighton (1956) are two Bawden prints from the Scarborough Collections on show. An Old Crab and a Young was inspired by Bawden’s own childhood reading. He recorded that he read mostly The Fables of Aesop and Beatrix Potter as a child. Edward Bawden (1903-1989) was born and bred in Essex; his family were chapel-goers and he attended the Friends School at Saffron Walden.

This religious influence meant that the moral messages conveyed through the fables resonated with him. As they are often considered to be aimed at children Bawden’s fondness for the fables grew; he held the belief that children should grow up as quickly as possible and stop being ‘wet smelly things who make an awful lot of noise’.

In the fables, the animals are given human characteristics. In this particular tale the old crab scolds the young crab for walking sideways asking why he does so and explaining that he should walk forwards. The young crab asks for guidance and when the old crab finds he cannot move forwards either the realisation dawns on him that he has been walking sideways all of his life. The moral being that a person should not expect another to behave in a certain way if they cannot first set a good example. Bawden produced the first of his An Old Crab and a Young prints in 1956 (our example dates from 1957) but in 1970 decided to produce a whole series of prints based on Aesop’s Fables.

Snowstorm at Brighton is a colour linocut, considered to be innovative at the time for its use of overprinting lighter colours on darker shades to build up the scene and convey depth. The print depicts fishermen wearing duffle coats and sou’westers battling a storm on the pier at Brighton with the town’s Pavilion in the background. The ferocity of the storm is conveyed through the strong cuts made to depict heavy rain blown into the faces of the fishermen by the storm’s gales.

Scarborough holds several works by Bawden partly thanks to the artist’s links with the town via local hotelier and patron of the arts, Tom Laughton. He first noticed Bawden and his close friend from the Royal College of Art, Eric Ravilious in 1929 when he saw illustrations of murals they had produced together at Morley College, London.

He met Bawden at his studio and asked him to accept the commission of the previously mentioned ordnance plan of Scarborough and its South Bay for the Pavilion Hotel. He then made the Peep Show creating a seaside pier scene using paper art to form a fixed point perspective through a series of layered drawings.

This was initially designed to entertain the Pavilion’s guests and was later moved to The Royal Hotel when Laughton moved there in the mid-1930s. Bawden also designed a wine list for the Pavilion, which was printed by the Curwen Press, while Ravilious designed a booklet. This introduction to Harold Curwen brought Laughton into contact with a whole circle of young artists and from that moment onwards the Curwen Press became the printer for Laughton’s hotels.

Edward Bawden is still widely celebrated and his work can be seen in many gallery collections across the country, together with public spaces such as London Underground stations. From the early 1930s until 1970 he lived in Brick House, Great Bardfield, Essex, which is the subject of his friend Ravilious’s painting, also held in the Scarborough Collections, View from Brick House, Great Bardfield or Prospect from an Attic (1932), depicting Bawden’s wife beating a carpet in the back yard. While living there, Bawden became a key member of the Great Bardfield Artists; a group of local artists living in the village who had a passion for figurative art. Among the group were Bawden’s friend, Ravilious and his wife Tirzah Garwood, Kenneth Rowntree and Laurence Scarfe, who also produced print for Laughton’s hotels.

Bawden left Great Bardfield in 1970 after the death of his wife. He moved to Saffron Walden, where he continued to work on his art and remained there for the rest of his life, dying at home on November 21, 1989.

The Bawden and Ravilious works discussed are part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.