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VM inspiration: Eric Ravilious at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

Although the Imperial War Museum hosted an exhibition of British painter and wood engraver Eric Ravilious’ work in 2003, his name is little known to an entire generation of VM practitioners. This is a big omission. There is a fashion for heritage looks including ‘Scandi’ and mid-century modern, with which Ravilious’ distinctive woodcut techniques chime perfectly.

The ‘Caravans’ image above is both nostalgic and quintessentially English to contemporary eyes. Its presence, or a variation of it, in the background of a store window, or glimpsed through a window set in a window, would make a perfect foil for mannequins in hiking gear to suggest the simple pleasures of a walk.

‘The Lifeboat’ might be a classic backdrop in any fashion retailer’s window behind a row of mannequins in beach wear, but would also work as inspiration for resort-based lifestyle brands too: Think Cuba, Fat Face, or Jack Wills.

Ravilious (1903 - 1942)  was born into a London family who relocated to Eastbourne, where he grew up. Studying art and finally attending the Royal College of Art he was taught by Paul Nash, who inspired his use of wood-cuts. This very time-consuming process allows the precision of etching’s multiple images, but the end result is softer and more gentle.

Ravilous and his wife, also an artist, moved to London, then Essex, in search of topics for his paintings and book illustrations, with projects including the decoration of the Midland Hotel at Morecambe (another ‘must see’ for VM people).

The world Ravilous depicted will be forever England, and typifies UK seaside resorts including perennial family favourites: Southwold, Aldeburgh, Whitstable, Lyme Regis, and Salcombe. There is an almost sepia-toned nostalgia to this image.

Employing humble, everyday objects in his images, Ravilious sets a scene, both typically British and timeless, embodying a past England (and southern England at that), as portrayed in popular TV series such as ‘Foyles War.’ Here we see a typical market gardening greenhouse, many of which covered the British countryside at the time, with rows of potted cyclamens on the shelves and vine-trained tomatoes above.

This image would make the perfect backdrop to a garden display, to a delicatessen window or to any Spring/Summer fashion window.

Images inspired by the soft, high-summer greens here would sit behind any fashion range or window for an interior-located furniture display. The muted palette of near-monochromatic greens is made complex by the textural differences of the trees and shrubs, but is gentle enough not to distract from any merchandise.

This train carriage landscape would make the perfect backdrop to any fashion story on travel or even, as it is reminiscent to our eyes of the Hogwart’sExpress, a back-to-school window.

This image, depicting suburban Guy Fawkes celebrations on 5th November, contains so many charming details to inspire Fall/Winter graphics themes. Try the Catherine wheel, or any of the fireworks exploding on the skyline.   

Like Nash, Ravilous was also a war artist, and today his images of the pre- and inter-war period are iconic. He died when an aircraft he was in was lost near Iceland. Without the red, white, and blue circles on the plane wings, a cropped version of this image would be perfect for both vacation and travel windows.

The world Ravilious depicted will be Forever England, and with his increasing popularity he might now be thought of as another ‘Lowry.’ His work remains a shorthand for a particularly English mood, suggesting continuity, trustworthiness, and permanence, tropes that many retailers aspire to, and that visual merchandisers seek to convey in in the brands they promote.

Exhibition on until 31 August 2015.