Birley Centre event recalls war artist lost in action

The Ravilious family shop at the back of the Grand Hotel
The Ravilious family shop at the back of the Grand Hotel

IT WAS on September 2, 1942 – almost 70 years ago – that Eric Ravilious, Eastbourne’s most famous artist, was lost off Iceland while serving as an official World War II artist.

In December 1939 Ravilious had been invited to become an Official War Artist. He immediately accepted, as he saw it as an opportunity to improve and evolve as an artist.

Eric Ravilious

Eric Ravilious

Before travelling to Iceland he spent several months learning how to sketch from the air and was excited by the opportunity to explore the Arctic landscape and coast.

He went on to produce numerous watercolours and one fine set of lithographs on a wide range of war subjects.

In September 1942 he was posted with the Royal Air Force to Kalderdarnes on the south coast of Iceland.

It was there that he and four airmen disappeared while flying on a reconnaissance mission in very bad weather conditions.

Eric Ravilious was one of only three British war artists to be killed on active service during World War II. He was aged 39.

Eric Ravilious was born in Acton, London, in 1903. When he was a young child his family moved to Eastbourne where his father had an antiques shop.

They lived in a house in Charleston Road which is off Green Street.

His father later had two antique shops – one in Carlisle Buildings and the other in Grand Hotel Buildings (pictured).

Eric attended Eastbourne Grammar School and went on to Eastbourne College of Art on a Scholarship from 1919 to 1922.

He went on to win a scholarship to the Design School of the Royal College of Art in 1922.

He experimented in various media and was particularly successful in wood engraving.

In a relatively short career he produced a considerable body of work – murals, watercolours, designs for Wedgwood pottery glass and furniture, wood engraving and lithographs for book illustrations.

By the end of the 1930s he had however come to regard watercolour painting as his most important art form.

The Towner has the largest collection of his art in this country and so it is appropriate that the Friends of the Towner are presenting a special afternoon event at The Birley Centre on Sunday, September 2.

The event will feature two well known experts on Eric Ravilious – Dr Alan Powers formerly Professor of Architecture and Cultural History at the University of Greenwich, and James Russell writer and author of the popular series “Ravilious – A Life iin Pictures”.

The two speakers will present the life and works of Eric Ravilious in words and pictures, including new and unpublished material.

Tickets cost £15 (to include refreshments) and are available from the Tourist Information Centre or on the door.

Pictures: Eric Ravilious at work.

Above: The antiques shop in Grand Hotel Buildings which was owned by his father.