Featuring previously unseen pieces, this most wide-ranging exhibition of Edward Bawden’s work to date aims to highlight his forgotten achievements as an artist.
Hundreds, if not thousands of people pass by an Edward Bawden (1903-89) design every day. On the wall of Victoria underground station is Queen Victoria in silhouette, a cameo-like portrait in tiles. Bawden was also behind the ‘puzzled lion and startled unicorn’ Observer masthead – in use until 1989 – as well as a series of much-loved illustrations for Aesop’s Fables and adverts for Shell, Penguin and Fortnum & Mason. However, though prevalent, his work and in particular his stature as an artist hasn’t been properly recognised – until now.
Dulwich Picture Gallery’s major retrospective – which includes 170 works, incorporating previously unseen pieces – sets out to raise his public standing, and to honour the lack of distinction Bawden himself drew between fine art and commercial design.
Highlights of this wide-ranging show include 20 rarely seen portraits from his time as an official war artist in the Second World War, which span North Africa, the Middle East and Europe and encompass Bawden’s first dedicated depictions of the human figure.
Another section of the exhibition simply documents Bawden’s love of place and architecture, setting Essex churches alongside the Ethiopian palaces he encountered on his travels.
Bawden’s creative versatility and rich artistic imagination is captured in archival material such as his personal blotter, on loan for the first time, and designs ranging from commercial works to the floral linocuts and book illustrations he created for his children. In this way, the exhibition encapsulates the essence of Bawden’s practice: humorous, skilled and of continued resonance.