Loves Labours Sadly Lost – Bawden on Ravilious and the Morley, Morecambe and Colwyn Bay Murals.

Bawden and Ravilious by Michael Rothenstein. Watercolour. National Portrait Gallery.

Bawden writes: Eric came to London to the Royal College of Art in 1922 and was often seen in the student’s common room playing ping pong or sitting with girls in the broken-down old armchairs.  He was indolent, humorous, easy going – plainly a charmer,  Eric was never intentionally a hard worker. Little seen in the College he hid himself secretively and found the best hiding place in the School of Engraving. To work in the school was a privilege granted to few, admission being by application to the Professor, Sir Frank Short, who did not give it readily to students of the Design School as they could not be expected to reach even a moderate standard of good drawing.

Holidays at home were often spent sketching on the Sussex Downs.  The influence of Alfred Rich withered. New exciting things had been seen in London, work by Francis Towne, John Robert Cozens, Thomas Girtin and Samuel Palmer, also following in the tradition but breaking new ground with what seemed to be breath-taking freshness were contemporary paintings by Paul and John Nash.

The decorations in the Tate Gallery restaurant by Rex Whistler had been a success and Sir Joseph Duveen, later Lord Duveen, who had paid for the work was persuaded by Sir William Rothenstein to give money for decorations to be done at Morley College.  Sir William asked Eric and me to do sketch designs for the restaurant; subject; “London”. We decided to collaborate but even so such a vast intractable subject was too much for inexperienced young men to grapple with, Sir William rejected the sketches and suggested something on the lines of a fantasy and that suggestion turned out to be an inspiration.

Bawden and Ravilious perusing the Morley Murals.

Elizabethan plays, Shakespeare, Olympian gods and goddesses, Punch and Judy, a Miracle play and a doll’s house – Gosh! what a riot it was.  Whatever beneficial influence Italy had on Eric was now to some extent revealed, not by plagiarism, rather by his skill in organising space and in creating it for figures to be sent dancing and swinging in ballet movement across the walls The painting proceeded slowly and two years passed before it was completed. 

Venus Rising

Eric was still teaching intermittently at Eastbourne, but he had fallen in love with one of his students. The love affair with Tirzah Garwood blossomed on one of the walls; Tirzah impersonating Venus fully in the nude, stood proudly on a floating cloud.  It was the finest thing he painted.

Edward Bawden, composed in 1971.

Morley Murals – study
Morley Murals – Boarding House.

Artist Charles Mahoney was another invited to work on the murals, he worked in the Concert Hall, and Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious in the student Refreshment Room.

The Morley Murals were unveiled in 1930 by the Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Baldwin (a kinsman of Edward Burne Jones), the murals were such a sensation that an imperious Queen Mary commanded a private view with the three artists in attendance. Each artist and the other people involved in the project was given a presentation album, containing a beautifully lettered frontispiece, copies of images from The Studio and The Graphic and other photographs.

Tragically on 15 October 1940 a bomb hit the Georgian building, which Morley’s Elaine Andrews tells us, ‘folded like a pack of cards. 57 men, women and children who were sheltering in Morley from the Blitz perished.

Destroyed by a 1,000kg high-explosive bomb at 7.55pm on the night of 15 October 1940

Edward Bawden returned to Morley after the war and in the Refectory, you can look in and see his Canterbury Tales mural there.

In the spring of 1933 a commission from the architect, Oliver Hill, saw Eric and Tirzah paint a mural on the tearoom walls of the Midland Hotel, Morecambe. The couple found lodgings in nearby Heysham. Tirzah wrote in her autobiography of how the ‘…new hotel resembled a big white concrete ship’ facing out across the shining sands, mudflats and treacherous waters of Morecambe Bay’.

Hill and his financiers were eager to hurry completion of the mural prior to the opening of the new art deco hotel but as Eric and Tirzah worked, they became increasingly aware that their mural had no hope of lasting.

Tirzah and Eric at work in Morecambe

Tirzah wrote: ‘Decorating the tearoom was disheartening work because the plaster was too recently put onto the wall and as well as not being dry, it exuded little heaps of yellowish sand or lime or whatever it is that plaster is made with. When we were drawing out the design, if we used an India rubber or disturbed it in any way the white paint peeled off…’

B/W photo of the original mural. The Midland Hotel. Last photo: The mural today.

What is not widely known is that it was Tirzah that put most effort into the work – Eric departing on seven occasions (two days at a time) to return to work teaching at the RCA. The grand opening of the hotel took place in July 1933. The following year in March the couple returned to carry out extensive repairs but the mural soon deteriorated again.

In the 1980s theatrical decor artists from Thames Television had the notion of reproducing the mural, in its original location, for an episode of Hercule Poirot entitled ‘Double Sin’ that was to be filmed in the hotel. With only the black and white photographs as a visual source, the set designers were obliged to make their own judgements concerning the colours they used. A further restoration of the hotel in 2013 saw the mural re-painted by artist Jonquil Cook.

Link to the blog re Tirzah,      https://httpartistichorizons.org/2020/07/20/tirzah-garwood-11th-april-1908-27th-march-1951/

In 1934 Ravilious worked on his final mural, a commission for the Victoria Pier Pavilion at Colwyn Bay. Ravilious painted the wall of the tearoom, an underwater scene consisting of ruined arched buildings, Pink and green seaweeds float through the ruins of a submerged palace.

Study for the Colwyn Bay Mural. The Tearoom. The saved pieces of the mural.

One wall of the Eric Ravilious work has been lost because of water getting into the building, and the whole wall has been covered over with several coats of paint and plaster. The remaining sections are stored safely in a dry place.

Please do look at our Facebook group Eric Ravilious and Friends. https://www.facebook.com/groups/488249232182567

Graham Bennison. March 2021.

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