Significant Eric Ravilious painting of Beachy Head comes to Eastbourne

A wartime artist's striking painting of Beachy Head is to go on display at the Towner Art Gallery.

Thursday, 25th January 2018, 2:50 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 12:21 am
The iconic painting by Eric Ravilious

Beachy Head by Eric Ravilious had been in private hands since its making and only rarely shown –but now it has been added to the gallery’s permanent collection.

This has been made possible at no cost to the local authority thanks to support from Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, The Monument Trust and Eastbourne Arts Circle.

Arguably the artist’s most important peace time nocturne, Beachy Head, 1939, is an iconic Ravilious watercolour.

It depicts the downland hills and white chalk cliffs of Beachy Head, the world famous landmark which is one of the most striking features of the Sussex coastline.

The painting shows the cliff in the year of the outbreak of the Second World War, shortly before it was to be altered by the barbed wire military defences erected to secure the cliff from enemy invasion.

Alan Powers describes Beachy Head as one of Ravilious’ ‘most perfect compositions, uncluttered by objects or detail’.

Speaking about the acquisition, Towner’s head of collections Sara Cooper said, “We are absolutely delighted to have acquired Beachy Head for our Collection.

“Like many galleries, our acquisitions budget is becoming increasingly small and we are therefore incredibly grateful for the existence and support of organisations like Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, The Monument Trust and Eastbourne Arts Circle who make the purchase of major works such as Beachy Head a possibility for us.

“This acquisition will enable Towner to reaffirm the connection between Ravilious and the Eastbourne area which he so loved and returned to paint again and again.”

Born in London, Ravilious was a painter, designer, book illustrator and wood engraver. He moved to Eastbourne with his parents at a young age and went on to study at the Eastbourne School of Art, where his early talent was recognised.

He was awarded a place in the Design School at the Royal College of Art (RCA), where he studied under Paul Nash, and met fellow students with whom he would form lasting personal and professional relationships, including Edward Bawden, Douglas Percy Bliss, Barnett Freedman, Helen Binyon, Enid Marx and Peggy Angus.

Ravilious was appointed an official war artist in World War II and received a commission as a Captain in the Royal Marines. He was killed in 1942 at the age of 39 while accompanying a Royal Air Force air sea rescue mission off Iceland that failed to return to its base.

Viewed by many as the home of Ravilious, Towner holds one of the largest and most significant public collections of works by the much loved and respected Sussex artist.

The first acquisitions of Ravilious’ work for the gallery’s collection were made in 1936, while the artist was still alive, and Towner has continued to acquire his work ever since, assisted by generous loans and gifts as well as purchases.

Stephen Deuchar, Director, Art Fund said, “We admire Towner’s ongoing and ambitious development of its arts collections, and this latest acquisition is a work of great beauty and importance, which will be surely be loved and admired by the gallery’s audiences. Art Fund was happy to help.”

Sir Peter Luff, Chair of NHMF, said, “Eric Ravilious is one of the 20th Century’s most important artists. His role as a Second World War artist cost him his life when he was killed in action in 1942, but also, poignantly, introduced his work to new audiences.

“Beachy Head is probably Ravilious’s most famous work, a fine demonstration of his distinctive style. Saving this fine, evocative picture for the nation is a fitting tribute to Ravilious and to all those who have died protecting our nation – which is precisely what the National Heritage Memorial Fund exists to do.”