Frances Castle reviews ‘Edward Bawden At Home: A Working Life’, newly published by Random Spectacular.
Edward Bawden At Home: A Working Life is an intimate and beautifully designed book from Simon and Angie Lewin’s Random Spectacular imprint. It’s been published to accompany an exhibition at the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden, themed around Edward Bawden’s home life and the work that was inspired by it. The written content takes the form of essays by Iris Weaver, Richard Bawden, Peyton Skipwith and Christopher Brown, each discussing time spent at Bawden’s home. Apart from his son Richard, who gives a child’s eye view of post-war life at Brick House, Great Bardfield, these are memories from the latter part of Bawden’s life, when, after the death of his wife Charlotte, he resided at 2 Park Lane in Saffron Walden.
Of the two houses it is Park Lane that really shines in this book – in his eighties, because of limited mobility, Bawden was forced to take inspiration from his very closest surroundings. With renewed energy he began to use his house as subject matter, painting the garden and the house’s interiors. Iris Weaver points out that Edward found pleasures and unexpected surprises when painting in-doors, such as the play of light, and shadow patterns through windows. During this period he sent a steady stream of work to The Fine Art Society in London, building up an impressive collection of autobiographical work which in 1987 opened as an exhibition entitled ‘The Private World Of Edward Bawden’.
Peyton Skipworth states that Bawden’s immediate environment was an extension of his personality; his house in Park Lane was decorated by his own work and that of his family and friends. The wallpapers he had designed for the Curwen press covered the walls, and books he had illustrated lined the shelves. His living space was a carefully curated exhibition of his own personal taste, the tools of his trade on display; his huge Albion printing press took up most of one room, and his specially built studio was stacked with his own paintings and artwork.
The book is illustrated with related images from across Bawden’s career, including commercial illustration as well as drawings and paintings. There is also a series of photographs of 2 Park Lane taken by Roy Hammans shortly after Edward’s death – ‘I spent the best part of a sunny December day there lighting and recording the interior’. These are a fascinating if lonely document – a stage set where the actors have departed. Even Bawden’s cat, Emma Hamilton – who is present in many of the paintings – is absent. It is interesting to see how many of the photographs cross over into Bawden’s later work; the living room with the print of the pagoda at Kew over the sofa, and the landing window with two chairs, and his pigeon paper on the walls. A particular favorite of mine is the tea caddy displayed on the front cover of the book that can be clearly seen in his earlier booklet design for Barrows Stone Record.
Edward Bawden is having a high profile year, with a career-spanning exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, work in the Ravilious & Co exhibition at Compton Verney and the afore-mentioned ‘At Home’ exhibition at the Fry Gallery. For anyone interested in his world, this beautiful little book is a fascinating glimpse into his home life.
Edward Bawden At Home: A Working Life is out now and available to buy here, priced £17.95.