About the work
Like miniature theatrical sets, objects and food are artfully arranged in a series of shop windows in High Street, in a set of 24 coloured lithographs by Eric Ravilious. A year before these were published, the artist had begun drawing lithographic plates for illustrations he had produced for a book about British shops by his friend J. M. Richards. Accompanied by short texts, the images in High Street were intended to be instructive and decorative.
In Fireworks, Ravilious depicts the shop window of what the publication describes as ‘an ordinary newspaper shop and tobacconist’s’. The text goes on to describe how every year this shop is transformed for a few weeks before November 5th after filling its windows with fireworks. Interestingly, the partial view of newspaper headlines captures some of the events of that year including a reference to Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists, in the Daily Mirror.
This 1938 series forms a fascinating record of a past era, when goods were sold through specialist shops in small quantities and unobtrusive packaging. Only 2000 copies of the series were ever printed before the lithographic plates were destroyed in the Blitz, during the Second World War. 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.
About the artist
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.
Eric Ravilious (1903 - 1942)
- Oyster Bar
- height: 23.10 cm, width: 14.70 cm
- Purchased from Richard Heffer, September 2008
- Richard Heffer, Cambridge
- GAC number