Unique unpublished Bawden book depicting Kew Gardens acquired for Bedford

  • 29 June 2010

Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and Bedford Museum today announces the acquisition of an unpublished, illuminated manuscript by acclaimed British artist and illustrator Edward Bawden (1903-1989).

Entitled A General Guide to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Spring and Easter 1923, the beautifully illustrated manuscript is designed as a mock-up guide book to Kew Gardens, a favourite haunt of the artist throughout his career. A pencil inscription indicates that this manuscript was the artist’s first book.

The book was purchased for £30,000 towards which the Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund each gave £10,000.

A General Guide to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Spring and Easter 1923 comprises 23 pages worked with watercolour, graphite, bodycolour, drawing ink, graphite and printed text collaged together on edge-gilt pages

Edward Bawden (1903-1989) was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Throughout his life he produced many book designs, but describes this particular manuscript as his first book, demonstrated in a pencil inscription on the title page which reads "To Eric Ravilious, my first book". The dedication is also a rare written example of the friendship between Bawden and fellow artist and illustrator Eric Ravilious (1903-1942). Bawden created this manuscript whilst studying at the Royal College of Art.

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: "The vibrant, stylish illustrations and lettering in this work capture the sleek style of 1920s graphic design and exemplify Bawden’s flair for colour and composition. It is wonderful that this rare manuscript – the artist’s first book – has now been acquired for the Cecil Higgins Gallery and Bedford Museum, where it will be cherished within the wider Bawden collection for years to come."

Over the years, the Art Fund has contributed over £300,000 worth of grants to the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and Bedford Museum.

Listen to Tom Perrett, curator of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and Bedford Museum, talking about this unique acquisition with the Art Fund’s Marina Bradbury