One of the most significant graphic designers of the twentieth century, Edward Bawden worked with ease between the fine and applied arts. Even before his appointment as an Official War Artist in 1940, he had established a reputation as a designer, illustrator and painter, and the output of his long career included ceramics, lithographic prints, murals, wallpaper designs and watercolours. Edward Bawden was born in Braintree, Essex, on 10 March 1903, the only child of the ironmonger, Edward Bawden, and his wife, Eleanor (née Game). He was educated at Braintree High School and the Quaker High School, Saffron Walden, before studying at Cambridge School of Art (1919-21). At the Royal College of Art (1922-26) he worked under Paul Nash, who influenced his watercolour technique, and Ernest Tristram, the Professor of Design and mediaevalist, who inspired him more than any other teacher. Starting on the same day at college were Eric Ravilious and Douglas Percy Bliss who became close and life-long friends, and with whom he edited and hand- coloured the students’ magazine, Gallimaufry.
He was soon recognised for his talents as an illustrator and designer, particularly in his use of woodblocks, and won a travel scholarship to Italy in 1925. In the same year, he was commissioned by the Curwen Press to illustrate a booklet, Pottery Making in Poole. This successfully designed circular, with its drawings and pictorial map, was the start of a long and active association with the Curwen Press, and the relationship with the founder, Harold Curwen, was to be one of the most significant of Bawden’s life. He had his first West End exhibition with Ravilious and Bliss at the St George’s Gallery in September- October 1927 showing 27 works, mainly watercolours.
In conjunction with Ravilious and Charles Mahoney, Bawden executed decorations in wax tempera for Morley College (1928-29), and later replaced them by himself, in 1958, following their destruction in the Second World War. Throughout the 1930s he taught at Goldsmiths’ College and the RCA while working as a commercial artist. In 1925, he and Ravilious rented Brick House at Great Bardfield, Essex, which gradually became the centre of a small group of artists geographically defined as the Great Bardfield School. On his marriage in 1932 to Charlotte Epton, another of his contemporaries at the RCA, they received Brick House as a wedding present from his parents. They had a son and a daughter, both of whom became artists. Beyond his artistic interests, he shared his love of gardening, swapping tips and plants with John Aldridge, Cedric Morris and John Nash, brother to Paul. Before the Second World War he held solo shows at the Zwemmer Gallery (October 1933 and again in 1937) and at the Leicester Galleries (1938).
In March 1940, Bawden was made an Official War Artist and was sent with Edward Ardizzone across to Belgium returning with the Dunkirk evacuation two months later. From July 1941, by sea around the Cape, he was in Egypt then Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Western Desert and, in February 1943, back to Cairo, from where he sketched and travelled with Anthony Gross. On his recall to England his ship SS Laconia was torpedoed 600 miles from Lagos. After five days in a lifeboat he was picked up by a Vichy French warship and interned at Mediouna near Casablanca for two months until released by the invading Americans. By the end of the year, he was back in the Middle East, meeting Feliks Topolski in Cairo, and being sent on arduous tours from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf. Late in 1944 he was posted to Rome where he met up with Ardizzone and William Coldstream. He spent the rest of the war touring Italy with the allied troops, returning in August 1945 to his family in Cheltenham, as Brick House had suffered bomb damage. (His great friend, Ravilious, had been lost in action in Iceland in 1942.)
Bawden was awarded CBE in 1946, and was elected a Royal Designer for Industry in 1949, an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1947 and a full Royal Academician in 1956. A tutor again at the RCA between 1948-53, he also acted as a guest instructor at the Banff School of Art, Canada (1949-50). Following the death of his wife in 1970, he moved from Great Barfield to 2 Park Lane, Saffron Walden. Continuing to work successfully until the end of his life, he received the Francis Williams Book Illustration Award for both 1977 and 1982. He exhibited at the Fine Art Society (especially in 1987), and died on 21 November 1989, at the time of a retrospective exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the Imperial War Museums, Tate and the V&A; and The Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art (The Lightbox, Woking), Fry Art Gallery (Saffron Walden) and The Higgins Bedford.
Further reading Douglas Percy Bliss, Edward Bawden, Loxhill: Pendomer Press, 1979; David Gentleman, rev, ‘Bawden, Edward (1903-1989)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 4, pages 396-397; Robert Harling, Edward Bawden, London: Art and Technics, 1950; Justin Howes, Edward Bawden. A Retrospective Survey, Bath: Combined Arts, 1988; J M Richards, Edward Bawden (Penguin Modern Painters), Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1946; Stephen Stuart-Smith, ‘Bawden, Edward (b Braintree, Essex, 10 March 1903; d Saffron Walden, Essex, 21 Nov 1989)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 3, page 240; Tribute to Edward Bawden, London: The Fine Art Society, 1992; The World of Edward Bawden, Colchester: The Minories, 1973; Dr Malcolm Yorke, The Inward Laugh, Edward Bawden and his circle, Huddersfield: Fleece Press, 2005