Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Eric Ravilious: High Street variants

When I wrote my post A walk along High Street, I was aware that three of Eric Ravilious's evocative lithographs of shop fronts for High Street had first been published in the journal Signature: A Quadrimestrial of Typography and Graphic Arts, with an appreciation by John Piper. This short article, entitled "Lithographs by Eric Ravilious of Shop Fronts", was published in March 1937, while the book did not appear until the following year. What I had not realised was that the three plates in Signature varied significantly from those in the book. When I first noticed this, I thought it was merely a matter of variant colourways, but the more I look at these beautiful prints the more variations I see. I won't spoil the fun of this spot-the-difference game by pointing out every detail, but will simply put the two versions next to each other. All were printed by the Curwen Press, where the lithographs were executed directly onto the lithographic stones.

Eric Ravilious, Restaurant and Grill Room
Lithograph, 1937
Signature version

Eric Ravilious, Restaurant and Grill Room
Lithograph, 1938
High Street version


Eric Ravilious, Letter Makers
Lithograph, 1937
Signature version

Eric Ravilious, Letter Makers
Lithograph, 1938
High Street version


Eric Ravilious, Naturalist: Furrier: Plumassier
Lithograph, 1937
Signature version

Eric Ravilious, Naturalist: Furrier: Plumassier
Lithograph, 1938
High Street version

Here is the text of John Piper's short essay, as published in Signature:

"There is an accent on line in all the work of Eric Ravilious. His control over a pencil, a pen or an engraving tool - the sense that it is never leading him, but that he is always taking it exactly where he wants it - made it necessary that sooner or later he should try lithography as a medium. Ravilious is a particularly English artist. That may seem a stale thing to say, but he is English in this most important way; in this matter of control over line - line that can express fluently movement or stillness, and grace as well as volume. The delight of his new lithographs of shop fronts is of a kind that is rare enough. It is the delight one gets from work which one feels has been specially suited to an artist's taste and feeling; and there is probably no one else who could have made these records at once so faithfully and so imaginatively. There is about them the suggestion that you are looking in at a series of gay, old-fashioned parties from a matter-of-fact street in the present. They are records of a passing beauty, but they are full of present-day experience. And they are faithful enough to look like tuck-shops full of sherbet, liquorice and lollipops - which after all is one of the chief appeals of the attractive shop. The three examples reproduced here are from a series of twenty-four."



7 comments:

Maison Conti said...

I wasn't a follower when you wrote your original High Street post, so I was glad to read them both today. I did the compare game and found it amazing and amusing. I love this artist. You've really introduced me to some work I didn't know about and am feeling richer for having discovered. Thanks for that!

Jane Librizzi said...

I vote for the High Street version. It's crisper and the floor tiles have those nice diagonal outlines. By the way, the main drag in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where I lived as a child,is "High Street" in a nod to the old country.

Neil said...

Thanks for such an encouraging response, Maison Conti. That's the whole purpose of this blog.

Neil said...

Jane - I'm not sure if I prefer the earlier Signature versions, with their warm colours and more casual style, or the finished High Street images, with their cool elegance. I wonder if Ravilious revised all 24 lithos in the same manner. No doubt the Ravilious experts can tell us.

Neil said...

Just to say - If anyone has put comments on this post, or any other, in the last couple of days, they may well have been lost. Google Blogger seems to have temporarily imploded, and while it now seems to be back working properly, two of my unpublished posts have been eaten, and I suspect other data may also have been lost. Hey-ho.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for posting these, Neil. I'm still torn between the two versions. I like the colours of the Signature prints, but also admire the tighter, perhaps more resolved lines of the book versions. It's good to see them both.

It's interesting to read Piper's piece too, both for his rather sweeping comment about English art and line, and for his observation (reflecting one of his Architectural Review articles) that these shop fronts were already part of a vanishing urban scene when Ravilious set to work.

Neil said...

It's always interesting to see an artist work through an idea, I think. Often there's a balance between what is lost of the initial urgent impetus and what is gained from more careful thought and refined technique.

I think Piper really needed to cite some examples to support his idea of a peculiarly English attitude to line. He could have linked Ravilious back to Bewick in one direction and Caldecott in another, or something like that. As it is the statement feels very bald and sweeping.