The Westbury Horse by Eric Ravilious (1939)
Image credit DACS/the artist’s estate
The Wiltshire Heritage Museum (Devizes, England) held a ‘pop-up exhibition’ entitled Eric Ravilious and Wiltshire’s White Horses at the Museum on Saturday, 23 June 2012. Introduction to the exhibition on the Museum’s website explains that –
Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) was one of the leading artists of the 1930’s, who captured the essence of the English landscape in his stunning watercolours. No landscape inspired him more than the chalk downs of southern England. Intrigued by white horses and hill figures, he painted a series of watercolours that were destined to be featured in the children’s ‘Puffin’ series. His ‘dummy’ of the book, lost for decades, has just been purchased by the Museum and is now on display for the first time in a special ‘pop-up’ exhibition.
The book was to be published in the Puffin series, and was to include the iconic watercolours of Westbury White Horse, as well as watercolours of other hill figures, including the Uffington White Horse, Cerne Abbas Giant and Long Man of Wilmington. In January 1941, Ravilious sent a dummy of the book to Noel Carrington, who was editing the Puffin series of children’s books for Penguin. His pencil sketches included the chalk hill figures, as well as ancient monuments and prehistoric earthworks.
The text for the book was to be written by H.J. Massingham, based on his well-known books ‘Downland Man’ and ‘English Downland’, Massingham and Ravilious had collaborated on ‘Writings of Gilbert White of Selbourne’, published in 1938, illustrated with wood engravings by Ravilious.
The Puffin book was never completed. Eric Ravilious was an official War Artist and was reported missing in 1942 over Iceland. He had volunteered to accompany a search and rescue mission, but his plane never returned. The dummy book had been thought to be lost, but was purchased by Wiltshire Heritage Museum at auction in 2012.
David Dawson, Museum Director, said ‘We are thrilled to display this ‘lost’ book for the first time. Ravilious perfectly captures the spirit of English downland landscapes and the romance of Wiltshire’s White Horses.’
Alongside the exhibition, the Museum is mounting a special appeal to raise the funds for the purchase of the book. The book cost almost £6,000, and the Museum has an annual budget for acquisitions of just £300. Donations can be made by post or online through our website at http://www.wiltshireheritage.org.uk.
Plese help the Wiltshire Heritage Museum purchase the Ravilious book!
Details here. See also Richard Moss’ article here and James Russell’s blog here.