As you walk into the Edward Bawden exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Jenny Uglow writes, “there’s an immediate summery, holiday feel. The exhibition opens with posters for movies like The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), a comic classic in which an old steam engine is brought in to save a small branch line: the poster catches the tone perfectly, with a vicar shoveling coal while onlookers cheer and wave… The centerpiece is the huge, exuberant Map of Scarborough, made in 1931 for Bawden’s hotelier friend Tom Laughton. Laughton appears at the foot of the map with a cigarette in his mouth, wearing a rose-colored sweater with the word “Skylark” on it, while the artist pictures himself perched on a windowsill sketching the beach below, where girls in swimsuits mingle with fur-cloaked dignitaries. In the sea, mermaids frolic and a worried-looking Poseidon on a wobbly platform drives his steeds toward the shore.
“In time, Bawden found a new style to fit the new age. In the 1960s, his linocuts celebrated the humor and hard labor of London markets, but also the glories of Victorian engineering—visible on a grand scale in Liverpool Street Station (1961) and the soaring Albert Bridge (1966), which are visual anthems that hymn the complex harmonies of those structures’ iron lattice-work. And with Bawden’s formal brilliance goes a tender, amused feeling for the value of all life—from the seaside tourists of the 1920s to the war-time soldiers, from the creepy-crawlies of Snails for All, drawn for his children in 1945, to the snarling Tyger! Tyger! of 1974. After seeing all these, who can say that Edward Bawden, this serious if unclassifiable artist, is merely a purveyor of charm?”
For more information, visit dulwichpicturegallery.ork.uk.
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