Eric Ravilious (1903–1942) was a British painter, illustrator, and designer, noted for his distinctive watercolors and for his significant contributions to applied art. He is often remembered for the brief yet impactful period he spent working for the renowned pottery and porcelain company, Wedgwood, from 1936 to 1940. In this feature we take a brief look at the creative genius Eric Ravilious with particular reference to his time and work at Wedgwood.
Eric William Ravilious was born in Eastbourne, Sussex. From an early age, Ravilious displayed an aptitude for drawing, and by 1919, he was attending Eastbourne School of Art. His education journey led him to the prestigious Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, where he studied painting and was mentored by established artists like Paul Nash.
In the early 1930s, Ravilious’s work gained recognition. His style, characterized by subtle watercolors and wood engravings, often portrayed English landscapes, domestic scenes, and maritime subjects in a manner that was both whimsical and deeply rooted in the English tradition.
Ravilious’s design talent caught the attention of Wedgwood, one of England’s oldest and most esteemed ceramic manufacturers. Beginning in 1936, he worked as a designer for the company, creating a range of ceramic pieces that were both decorative and functional. His work during this period is noted for its marriage of tradition with a fresh, modern sensibility.
For Wedgwood, Ravilious designed several iconic pieces, including the “Travel” and “Garden” series of china. His designs often featured playful motifs, geometrical patterns, and scenes that evoked a quintessentially English feel. One of his most renowned works for Wedgwood is the commemorative mug for the coronation of King Edward VIII in 1937. Though the coronation never took place, the mug has become a sought-after collector’s item. (click to learn more – The Eric Ravilious 1937 Coronation Mug A Unique Testament to a Historic Event)
Eric Ravilious’s “Alphabet” design stands as a testament to his unique style and ability to elevate everyday concepts into art. Originally created for Wedgwood in the 1930s, this design transformed the simple idea of the alphabet into an enchanting display of artistry. Each letter was intricately illustrated with playful, often pastoral or nautical scenes, reflecting Ravilious’s penchant for blending the mundane with the whimsical. The design, rendered in Ravilious’s signature muted colors and intricate line work, exemplifies his keen observation of the world around him and his ability to translate it into delicate, yet dynamic imagery. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, the “Alphabet” design underscores Ravilious’s role as a pioneer in bringing graphic design principles into the realm of ceramics and commercial art.
Another classic design is Boat Race Day which was crafted in 1938. It was inspired by the Oxford and Cambridge boat race and has actually been re-released by Wedgwood twice since.
In 1939, with the onset of World War II, Ravilious became one of the first official war artists. His role required him to document the war, and he produced a range of works capturing both the mundane and dramatic aspects of life during wartime. Tragically, in 1942, while on a search mission in Iceland, the aircraft carrying Ravilious went missing. He was declared lost at the age of 39.
Eric Ravilious’s legacy is multifaceted. As a painter, his landscapes and wartime depictions stand as a testament to his unique perspective on the world around him. As a designer, his work for Wedgwood has become emblematic of a period in British ceramics when tradition met modernity. His influence can be seen in the works of many subsequent British artists and designers, and he remains a beloved figure in the annals of 20th-century British art.