Eric Ravilious was born in Acton, London. His father, Frank, owned a furniture and upholstery business, later moving the family to Eastbourne in Sussex. Ravilious studied at Eastbourne School of Art and in 1922, gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, London, where he became a close friend of Edward Bawden (1903–89). Ravilious and Bawden studied wood-engraving under the painter Paul Nash (1889–1946) and the pair frequently collaborated on projects.
In his career, Ravilious specialised in wood-engraving, illustrating several books including Martin Armstrong’s Desert (1926) and the Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White (1938). His work became better known after he was commissioned to design advertising material for London Transport and illustrations for Joseph Dent’s Everyman’s Library. His work was particularly admired by modernists for its abstract qualities; however, Ravilious himself was highly self-critical of his own work, often destroying many of his own paintings. In 1930 he married Eileen Lucy Garwood (1908–51), also a wood-engraver and his former pupil at Eastbourne School of Art.
During the Second World War, Ravilious travelled to Iceland. On 2nd September 1942 he flew with the Norwegian Squadron on an air rescue flight, his role being to observe and visually record the men in action. The plane never returned from the flight and no trace of it was ever found. In an uncanny parallel, the lithographic plates for the original edition of High Street were destroyed during the Blitz. Only 2000 copies were ever printed, making this series of lithographs highly collectable. In 2008, the series spawned another publication, The Story of High Street by Alan Powers, which traced the fate of all the shops featured in the original series.
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