London: Lion and Unicorn Press, 1972. Bound in original pictorial hessian cloth, with the engravings 'Christmas Card' (1934) and 'Legion Book' (1929) reproduced on the front and back covers respectively; repeat pattern endpapers, blocked black lettering to the spine, and housed in original black cloth covered slipcase. 262pp. Spine bumped below the lettering, which has caused some slight fraying to the cloth, sewing loose in the preliminaries, and some staining to the slipcase, else a Very Good copy. The illustrations were printed on Grosvenor Chater’s Basingwerk Parchment paper, at the Curwen Press. This copy is one of only 175 bound in the preferred pictorial hessian, from a total edition of 500 copies. Designed by John Carrod at the Royal College of Art. From the library of typographer and printing historian John Lewis (1912-1996). Lewis’ bookplate (‘Ex Libris | John Lewis | FSIA’) is neatly affixed to the front paste-down. Item #19
This was the first and most ambitious catalogue raisonné of Ravilious’ wood-engravings. All but six of the original wood-blocks were destroyed during the Blitz, and those remaining were too fragile to be used in printing the present volume. Instead, reproductions were made from printed examples of Ravilious’ work held by his friends, colleagues, publishers, and in some cases, private and institutional collectors. For the few instances in which no extant copies of a known work could be located, the editors have listed the title, along with the apt caption ‘no copies found’.
Eric Ravilious was born in Acton in 1903. Upon the failure of his father’s furniture business, the family relocated to Eastbourne. Ravilious spent his youth on the Channel Coast, where he would return throughout his life to paint the Sussex landscape. He studied at the Eastbourne Art School, and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1922, where he studied under Paul Nash. Enrolling in the design school, he met fellow pupils Edward Bawden and Douglas Percy Bliss, with whom he would remain life-long friends. Ravilious was awarded a travelling scholarship towards the end of his time at the Royal College, and went to Italy. He was uninspired by the Italian scenes, however, suffered from constipation, and inundated with the works of Old Masters, felt little motivation to draw. It was at this time that he took up wood-engraving seriously, having experimented with relief printing only in passing as a student. His sensibility, like many English artists of his generation, centred on an exploration of line and form, making it particularly germane to the medium of wood-engraving.
The revival of wood-engraving, initiated by Sturge Moore and Gordon Craig, was reaching a high-point in the mid-1920s with the work of Gill and Gibbings, so the time was propitious for Ravilious. He received his first major commission in 1926, engraving a series of vignettes, ornaments, and illustrations for Martin Armstrong’s 'Desert', published by Jonathan Cape. This caught the attention of Gibbings, who granted Ravilious admission, with Paul Nash’s recommendation, to the newly founded Society of Wood Engravers. Gibbings also offered Ravilious the opportunity to illustrate a Golden Cockerel book. Ravilious made several proposals, among them the poems of John Fletcher or Mathew Prior, and Butler’s 'Erewhon'. Gibbings rejected these, and they settled on John Suckling’s 'Ballad Upon a Wedding', which was issued in September 1927. Another Cockerel book, Nicholas Breton’s 'The Twelve Months', followed in December 1927. Between 1929 and 1935 Ravilious contributed to four further Cockerels: 'The Atrocities of the Pirates', 'Consequences', 'The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons', and perhaps most significantly, 'Twelfth Night'. Ravilious continued to work primarily as an engraver until the late 1930s, when he began to loose interest in the medium, and wished to direct more of his energy towards painting.
After serving some months with the Observer Corps at the outbreak of the war and on the initiative of Kenneth Clark, Ravilious was appointed an official war artist. On September 2, 1942, while stationed in Iceland, he joined an aerial rescue mission in search of a plane which had disappeared the previous day. His plane, too, disappeared.
"He never made the slightest mistake or showed the faintest indecision. His cutting was superb. Usually he covered the block with a wash of white paint, then drew in pencil on it, often with a good deal of dark shading. Then with the graver he cut slowly and decisively. Eric must have had a remarkably clear mental image of what he intended to do, and he demonstrated how extraordinary this faculty was, and how fast it worked" - Edward Bawden on Ravilious.