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Edward Bawden 2009

Detail from Woodpidgeon, Wallpaper by Edward Bawden, 1927

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Edward Bawden

3rd October 2009 - 31st January 2010 at Bedford Gallery


Edward Bawden R.A., C.B.E. was one of the most significant graphic designers of the 20th Century. He was a watercolourist, printmaker, muralist, commercial artist, designer, illustrator and teacher. His distinctive style was not influenced by the vagaries of fashion or trends.


During the years 1981 to 1989, Edward Bawden donated the contents of his studio to Cecil Higgins Art Gallery. This collection of over 3000 items covers his entire oeuvre, from his early student days at the Cambridge School of Art in 1919, to commissions from the Folio Society in the 1980s, and includes a series of linocuts based on commissioned work, and printed specifically for Cecil Higgins Art Gallery.


John Bunyan Tapestry designed by Edward Bawden

Pilgrim's Progress, tapestry designed by Edward Bawden, 1977


The association between Bawden and Cecil Higgins Art Gallery began in 1977, when he was commissioned to design a tapestry to celebrate the tercentenary of the publication of Bunyan’s 'The Pilgrim’s Progress', and Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. Soon after this, Bawden wrote to the curator :


My own wish would be for all the jigsaw pieces of my life’s work to be together, not scattered willy-nilly to any institution… you know, I would much prefer to have my work in a good provincial gallery, than distributed amongst the great London Galleries and Museums… I must say I should feel immensely happy if I could be allowed to leave my remains to Bedford.”


Edward Bawden was born in 1903, the same year as Graham Sutherland, Ceri Richards, John Piper, Barbara Hepworth and Eric Ravilious. The Royal College of Art, where Paul Nash was one of his tutors, was pivotal in Bawden’s design career. It was at this time that his interest in printmaking began, and here that he met Harold Curwen. The role of Curwen Press, which took the high standards of private presses and applied them to commercial printing, cannot be underestimated in Bawden’s career. Bawden received commissions from Curwen throughout his life (including high profile advertising projects, posters, book covers and wallpapers) enabling him to reach a mass audience.


Bawden is famous for his large-scale linocuts, which are masterpieces of design: bold inventive images, focussing on the basic characteristics of a subject, as seen in 'Brighton Pier' (1958), 'The Pagoda, Kew Gardens' (1963) and 'Nine London Monuments' (1966), which nevertheless are incredibly complex in their execution. He was experimental within a traditional medium and could create texture through a mixture of paint-stripper and use of wire brush, supplemented with an almost painterly application of ink on a roller. He might also cut small blocks to generate localised areas of colour within a print.

Edward Bawden, Brighton Pier, linocut, 1958

Detail from Brighton Pier, linocut, 1958 by Edward Bawden


Bawden’s commercial design work spanned over 60 years. Commissions included book illustrations, advertisements, posters, wallpapers, ceramics, textiles, furniture and murals. Bawden’s enterprises included wallpaper designs, laboriously hand-printed, using lino rather than woodblocks, and influenced by his hero, William Morris. Although much admired, they were not a commercial success. The design 'Tree and Cow' (1927), was part of Bawden’s first experimentations into wallpaper design and printing; and 'Wood Pigeon (Church and Dove)' (1927), was one of his first designs put into production by Curwen Press.


Bawden also set the image for Fortnum & Mason in the periods preceding, and following, the Second World War, when he designed numerous promotional materials: leaflets, order forms, envelopes and catalogues such as 'Good Things to Send Your Friends Overseas' (1937) and 'Entertaining à la Carte' (1959). His graphic designs for these perfectly complement a copywriter’s publicity slogan, with the use of simple, yet incisive lines. Bawden also produced advertising designs for companies such as London Transport, Shell, BP and Twinings.

detail from Fortnum and Mason's 1956 Christmas Catalogue

Detail from Fortnum & Mason's Christmas Catalogue, 1956


The exhibition included over 100 works by this highly individual, prolific and influential artist. It offered a unique opportunity to see a full survey of Bawden’s extensive and varied output.