Eric Ravilious in Fife and Dundee

In October 1941 Ravilious’ work as a war artist took him to Fife where he lodged with John and Christine Nash at Crombie Point Cottage near Dunfermline.

On the  20th October he wrote to his wife Tirzah: I was so pleased to find your letters and the parcel (most welcome to Christine) when I came home today from my ship….I’m glad Ironbridge is warming up for the Essex winter………Christine has just gone off to London and possibly Wiston so may perhaps see you. She is a wonderful person in any house, and gets us all up with tea in the morning and a splendid breakfast then lights my fire if I work at home and she goes off to Dunfermline for beer and cigarettes. What more could you want?

John and Chrstine Nash John and Christine Nash.

On the 17th November 1941 Eric wrote to Tirzah from John and Christine Nash’s cottage at Crombie Point, near Rosyth.

My darling Tush,

John had a late night on one of his expeditions so here is a letter while he is dressing, or rather splashing in that cold bath. I must say there is a lot to be said for it and now I have them in the mornings too, and after it no Scotch cold affects you – of course Christine comes in early with tea and then makes a roaring bedroom fire. John is blowing like a whale. I’ve bought the thickest pants they had in Greenoch for 18/6 and find that it does help the seascape painter’s gout a bit, and the General’s leather coat helps too. It is a splendid thing to have. I shall be going off to Dundee for a week on Friday or Saturday but, write here and they will send the letters on, and I might ring you up from there……….      

 All my love Eric.

Presumably ‘Greenoch’ is Greenock ?

John Nash, no longer a war artist, was now on the Commander in Chiefs staff at Rosyth.  Nash told Eric that he would find good subjects to paint in the east ports of Scotland.  Eric had sailed past them and under the Forth Bridge  when on his way to Norway.

Ravilious Forth
Ravilious Fortth 2

Channel Fisher, painted at the Firth of Forth 1941    Study.  ‘The Firth of Forth’, circa 1940–41.

Convoy From a Merchant Ship at Anchor, c.1942.’ The convoy is anchored in Leven bay, near Methil.  Just 11 miles down from my tiny hamlet in North East Fife is the once thriving port of Methil. Methil Docks, was the largest coal port in Scotland, particularly significant during World War II for the movement of coal and other resources. The docks had a hydraulic power station serving the distinctive coal hoists, all of which were once local landmarks. The second work is ‘Convoy in Port, Methil.’ Manchester Art Gallery..

Ravilious enjoyed being taken around by John and staying with them. He had visits to draw the Rosyth docks and the Forth Bridge. He was also able to visit the Isle of May and other islands in the Forth Estuary.  From R.N. Signal Station on the Isle of May he wrote to Tirzah:

I’ve landed her by way of a destroyer – and an RAF launch – and am now living with this small naval mess, five officers and a few ratings. They are all very nice people.  The island is rocky and rolling and wild, in peacetime a bird sanctuary. Hooded crows and golden-crested wrens are about; I wish you could see the island. You would love it. There is the oldest beacon – 1636 – in the centre (you light a fire on the roof of a thing like a large dovecot) and the turf is just like a pile carpet. They took me to the lighthouse lantern this morning. I’ve just been entranced with the place all day and explored without working so must have an early bed (one game of darts) and work early tomorrow.

Ravilious Isle of May

Storm, Isle of May. 1941.

Ravilious convoy passing

“Convoy Passing an Island” 1941 (painted on the Firth of Forth).

Ravilious stayed longer at an R.N.A. station in Dundee. Ravilious wrote to Edward Dickey (Ministry of Information):

This is an excellent place for work, The address a Fleet Air Arm mess. I spend my time drawing seaplanes and now and again they take me up; this morning rather uncomfortably in the tail, but it was worth it for the view. I do very much enjoy drawing these queer flying machines and hope to produce a set of aircraft paintings.  I hope Paul N hasn’t already painted Walrus’s – what I like about them is that they are comic things with a strong personality like a dusk, and designed to go slow.  You put your head out of the window and it is no more windy than a train.

Ravilious Sick Bay, Dundee

 RNAS Sick Bay, Dundee, 1941.

RNAS Sick Bay, Dundee is probably the best known work from ER’s time in Dundee. On the 12th December 1941 he wrote to Margaret Pilkington (Secretary of the Society of Wood Engravers): I’m busy drawing sea planes at the moment after a few weeks work at convoys and merchant ships, and it is a pleasant change. Walruses are particularly nice aircraft and very pleasant to fly in, as a passenger only of course. The daylight hours get less and less in Dundee but the weather is very good……

These planes and pilots are the best things I come across since the job began. They are sweet and have no nonsense (naval traditional nonsense and animal pride): they help in all sorts of ways and take me up when they can. I must say it is most enjoyable….. it is a joke dressing up with flying suit, parachute, Mae West and all and climbing in over the nose. Sometime this week they promise a trip in the rear gunner’s cockpit which is uncomfortable but has the best view: the only drawback is that I have to do a number of simple (?) mechanical things with hatches when the sea-plane comes down on the water. How trusting they are !

Ravilious Walrus aircraft on the slipway 1941
Raviious Walrus and dinghy. 1941

Walrus and dinghy. 1941.

Ravilious stayed at Mayfield House off the Arbroath Road. Mayfield House was gifted to the Dundee Teacher Training College by Sir William and Lady Ogilvy Dalgleish and was opened in 1912 as a hall of residence for female students. The hall was extended in 1932 and 1963 allowing it to house students of both sexes. The building has since been demolished and the site developed as a housing scheme.

Letter to Helen Binyon from Mayfield Hostel, Ferry Road, Dundee.  3rd December 1941.

My Dear Helen……………This is a very good place.  I work hard every day in the Scotch mists drawing planes and live in this naval air station mess, once a girl’s school and now HMS something and of course afloat.  Wrens liven the scene and bring in cups of tea at 7.30 – mine even stirs the tea to save me having to bother with the spoon……..  John is away for a few days.  Christine said he gets leave in January.  I shall go home for Christmas if possible because Tirzah and the whole family have the whooping cough.,,,,,,,,,, All my love and many happy returns of the 9th.

Afternoon programme

‘Afternoon Programme’ was painted while staying at Mayfield House. December 1941.

On the 27th August 1942 Ravilious wrote a postcard to Tirzah from Prestwick.  It is calm and fine here with no wind and I hope very much we go tomorrow.  They did…to Iceland on the 28th.  On the 2nd September the air sea rescue mission failed to return Missing, presumed dead.

Graham Bennison, 15th May 2020.  

Painted on the reverse of ‘The Firth of Forth’, circa 1940–41.  

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