Edward Bawden at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery is one of our favourite places to see art in London. Its little enfilade of jewel box rooms ensures that exhibitions are succinct and well edited, and you tend to leave feeling stimulated and refreshed rather than exhausted and slightly guilty for skipping later displays, as so often happens in longer exhibitions at larger spaces. Case in point, the perfectly-formed new exhibition on printmaker, illustrator, watercolourist and designer, Edward Bawden (1903-89).

Edward Bawden, Brighton Pier, 1958, Linocut on paper, Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford), © Estate of Edward Bawden

What is it about Edward Bawden that we love so much? Perhaps his simplicity of line, his incisive wit and his keen eye that celebrates the minor yet joyful details of British life and delights in the small and everyday. This exhibition charms us with all of this, along with stories and context that add a new layer of meaning to the images we have seen reproduced so many times, from those he designed for Shell to commissions from Fortnum and Mason. It is intriguing to see studies and mock ups that reveal his craftsmanship and his fascination with artistic process.

But the additional value that your entry ticket affords you is the revelation of a whole body of work by Bawden that we are not so familiar with. Bawden was an official war artist and his output from this time shows another side to his talent. As a student he lacked confidence in life drawing and at home rarely produced figures larger than matchboxes. But in Cairo he was ordered to create portraits of the people he encountered on his travels. So that is what he delivered, sensitive drawings and paintings demonstrating the same spare line and careful power of observation that his better-known works are distinguished by.

The ideal small exhibition, make sure to add this to your summer diary. And if you have children, check out the Little Grand Tour who are running a family-friendly tour of the exhibition on Thursday 10 July.

Edward Bawden
23 MAY – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018
— Chiara Allsup
30th May 2018