In 1942, Eric Ravilious was attached as a war artist to the RAF station at Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, where he made this atmospheric study of the base’s operations room.

The operations room was a small hut used for controlling aircraft on the ground, as well as for studying maps and reconnaissance photographs. The picture shows the yellow and blue-green colour scheme used for such rooms, chosen because it was considered easy on the eyes. On the wall is a sector clock used for tracking aircraft, and through the windows can be seen a stationary Westland Lysander plane. Ravilious’ handwritten annotations are visible in the unfinished areas of the picture.

Ravilious studied in Eastbourne and at the Royal College of Art in London, and afterwards established a reputation for his striking watercolours, book illustrations and designs for Wedgwood pottery. He died when his plane disappeared in a flying mission off Iceland in September 1942.

This historic painting now joins the Imperial War Museums’ strong holdings of work by the artist, providing an important record of his methods, as well as insight into working life on a wartime RAF base.


Private collection, purchased from the Fine Art Society in 1993. The work is featured in the publication “Ravilious At War: The Complete Work of Eric Ravilious, September 1939 – September 1942) (2002), edited by Eric Ravilious’ daughter

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