Eric Ravilious: Downland Man

Unique exhibition to open at Wiltshire Museum

Featured Image: The Westbury White Horse © Towner Eastbourne

Finally opening at Wiltshire Museum on 25 September 2021 is Eric Ravilious: Downland Man, something we previewed on Devizine in October 2019, but, sadly, lockdown prevented.

This major exhibition explores for the first time the celebrated artist’s lifelong fascination for the chalk hills of southern England, particularly Wiltshire and Sussex.

The exhibition will feature more than 20 works borrowed from national collections and private collectors, including iconic watercolours such as The Westbury Horse and The Wilmington Giant, alongside other rarely-seen works.  The exhibition is supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund.  Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.

Central to the exhibition are several of Ravilious’s best-loved watercolours of chalk figures made in 1939 in preparation for a children’s book, Downland Man.  The book was never completed, and for many years the prototype or ‘dummy’ made by Ravilious was believed lost.  When it resurfaced in 2012 this precious item was bought at auction by Wiltshire Museum.  It will be included in the exhibition alongside some of the artist’s watercolours, aerial photographs, annotated Ordnance Survey maps, postcards and books that relate to the Ravilious works on show – material drawn largely from Wiltshire Museum’s own collection.

The exhibition will offer a new view of Eric Ravilious (1903-42) as a chronicler of the landscape he knew better than any other.  From his student days until the last year of his life, Ravilious returned again and again to the Downs, inspired particularly by the relationship between landscape and people.  Watercolours and wood engravings included in the exhibition show dew ponds and farmyards, a cement works and a field roller, modern military fortifications and ancient monuments. 

Eric Ravilious: Downland Man is curated by James Russell, previously curator of the 2015 blockbuster Ravilious at Dulwich Picture Gallery. He said ‘I studied History at Cambridge and I’m always intrigued by the social and cultural context of artists’ work.  When it comes to downland history and archaeology Wiltshire Museum has an unrivalled collection, making this exhibition a unique opportunity to shed new light on Ravilious – an artist who is well-known these days but still little understood. With watercolours such as ‘Chalk Paths’ and ‘The Vale of the White Horse’ on display, visitors are in for a treat.

Heather Ault, Exhibitions Officer said: ‘This is a wonderful opportunity for Wiltshire Museum to exhibit such beautiful works by Ravilious.  The exhibition will be an absolute delight’.

Sophia Weston, Trustee of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “We are delighted that the Weston Loan Programme has been able to support the display of these important works by Eric Ravilious in Wiltshire – an area of the country which repeatedly inspired this much-loved artist. The exhibition will bring his evocative landscapes to new audiences and shed light on material little-known by the public.”

Eric Ravilious: Downland Man opens at Wiltshire Museum on Saturday 25 September and closes on 30 January 2022.  Tickets can be pre-booked online at https://www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/prebooktickets/.

The exhibition ends on 30 January 2022.


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