Great Bardfield Wallpapers

Edward Bawden: ‘Church and Dove’ or ‘Woodpigeon’ designed in 1927 for the Curwen Press

As students at the Royal College of Art (Design School) in 1922 both Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden would have produced repeating pattern designs for wallpapers.

Edward Bawden made his first wallpaper in 1924. Bawden was inspired by William Morris’ papers which he saw at the British Exhibition (23 April 1924 to 31 October 1925) at Wembley. Bawden’s nine wallpaper designs were lithographically reproduced by the Curwen Press between 1927 and 1933 but they failed to sell.

“The Curwen wallpapers were my earliest designs to be printed from linocuts,” recalled Edward Bawden. “In 1924 a friend told me about cutting and printing from lino at a time when such prints were generally unknown, though a few by Claude Flight had appeared in the Print Room galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum.”

“I bought a piece of lino, the common sort universally used for covering floors, and with a tube of artist’s oil paint, a brush and a roll of white wallpaper, I went off home to experiment. I had on me a penknife sharp enough for cutting soft lino. There was not much room between the end of the double bed and the gas fire, only enough for a chair, in the cramped space typical of a student’s bed-sit of the period, and it was here on a drawing board with a piece of plain wallpaper pinned to it, that gently I put down my foot on a small cut of a cow stippled red and gave the cut gentle foot pressure. The print was better than expected so naturally the cows multiplied and were a small herd by the end of the evening.”

Edward Bawden: Waves and Fish early design. Knole Park early design for Curwen. Napkin and Fruit for Curwen 1926. Tree and Cow 1927.

Also, in 1924 Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) created his ‘Butterball Crab Apples on a Plate, Design for Wallpaper.’ The repeat pattern is likely to be a crab apple of the Butterball of Golden Hornet variety. The design was given by Ravilious to artist friend Douglas Percy Bliss in 1924/5.

Neighbours in Great Bardfield, Bawden and John Aldridge (fellow artist and wallpaper designer) collaborated in designing fifteen ‘Bardfield Wallpapers’ during the later 1930s, which were distributed by Cole & Sons, a British wallpaper company. The Bardfield papers were exhibited at Muriel Rose’s Little Gallery in the late 1930s.

Bardfield Wallpapers: Grass and Swan produced by Cole & Son. Periwinkle and Trellis. Waffle and Cross.

Aldridge’s most successful designs were ‘Lace’ and ‘Moss and Trellis.’  These repeating patterns managed to produce an overall pattern but had a free and organic feel.  Another design ‘Hexagon’ was more geometric and architectural.

John Aldridge: Moss wallpaper 1939 for Cole & Sons. Preparatory drawing for wallpaper design. Hexagon Wallpaper 1946.

Bawden commented: ’John Aldridge and I, who lived in the same village, decided that we would try to print our own designs by the roll from our own blocks. A few lengths were produced, and these amateurish efforts were seen by a director of Coles who was passing through Braintree and happened to look in at the art exhibition in the Institute. From then onwards we cut full-size wallpaper blocks faced with lino and passed on the blocks to Coles who printed and sold the designs.’

The Second World War put a stop to their wallpaper production, but the Bardfield series was taken up by Cole & Sons after the war. They were put into production in 1946, despite the continuation of paper rationing.

Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious) also produced wallpaper designs and having moved from Great Bardfield to Castle Hedingham in 1934 created a wallpaper for their new home, Bank House in 1936.  Wallpaper designs were also submitted to Charles F. Read Ltd (Lithographer and Printers) in 1936.

Tirzah Garwood: Wallpaper designed for Bank House, Castle Hedingham. Other wallpaper designs by Tirzah.

Bawden’s last wallpaper was designed in 1956 for a Sanderson’s exhibition called Decorama 56. Staff of the RCA had been invited to design the furnishings of Flat 56, and Bawden contributed a wallpaper.

Graham Bennison, September 2021.

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