I was in London for a few days last week for work. I had a longstanding arrangement with my art-hound friend Laura to go to the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Saturday to see the exhibition of paintings by Eric Ravilious. I’d never been before, but had the impression that it was a difficult journey. However, not so. It’s 12 minutes on the train from Victoria to West Dulwich and then you walk for a while, and then you’re there. Easy peasy. It was less easy to get a coffee and something to eat beforehand. We were seated very quickly in the café but then found that whatever we asked for was unobtainable or had just run out. In the end I invited the waiter, a young man of rather harassed appearance, to tell us what was actually available, in an effort to save time. Once we’d negotiated the purchase of two coffees and a biscuit (for a larcenous bill of nearly ten quid) we went in to stand in a long and disorderly queue for tickets. It’s all very badly organised, and by this stage we were beginning to wonder if the trip had been such a good idea. However, once equipped with tickets, the whole experience started to look up. The paintings are remarkable. I know very little about Ravilious except that he died comparatively young, and it emerged that his plane was lost over Iceland during WW2. I’m so pleased I went. Ravilious painted almost exclusively in watercolour, using a dry brush technique, which is amazingly effective combined with his excellent drawing. The colours are attenuated, and the effects are subtle, but the parts all come together into a very convincing whole. As we went round we became more aware of the slight distortions in some of the composition. Together with the almost complete absence of people, the effect is almost surreal. I liked it very much. Some of the more remarkable paintings are of scenes at night. It’s quite an achievement to make night scenes convincing in watercolour, but Ravilious was able to do this. Here’s an example of back gardens lit up by Bonfire Night revelry:
It’s a great painting. And the longer you look at it the odder it seems. So, if you’re anywhere near London and you’ve time to spare, you might find a trip out to Dulwich to be worthwhile. I’d go again, but I think I’d try and find a coffee and a bite to eat elsewhere.