Eager OCA students from as far away as Yorkshire and Cardiff travelled by various means to meet up in South London to attend the study day at the Dulwich Picture Gallery where there is an exhibition of watercolours by Eric Ravilious.
For some time now a series of important exhibitions have taken place at both this venue and at the Courtauld Gallery. These two galleries have been able to specialise in small exhibitions of forgotten, neglected or underestimated artists that are not normally shown at the larger London venues. The artist Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) is a case in point. In his time he was a highly respected artist and teacher at the Royal College of Art who unfortunately lost his life while working as an Official War Artist.
In his time, Ravilious worked mainly as an illustrator, muralist, designer and as a water-colourist. In todays art world hierarchy, this combination of talents might relegate him to a lower status but this exhibition proves otherwise. His return to prominence began with a major exhibition of his work at the Imperial War Museum in 2006 and now this retrospective of Ravilious’ watercolours further establishes him as an important 20th century English artist.
The students who attended the day were mainly following the painting and drawing courses and this exhibition was an object lesson in how to find topics of unerring interest, how to construct a composition and how to use watercolour in a unique and creative way. Although Ravilious worked directly on a composition in pencil without preliminary sketches, he was not afraid to destroy unsuccessful attempts. This selection process kept the quality of his work high, as amply demonstrated by this excellent show.
Students were quick to use their sketchbooks, make notes of interest, analyse the pictures technically and later to include their findings in learning logs. Meeting up at lunchtime, they compared notes and opinions as well as sharing information on their respective courses. For a distance learning college this first hand student interaction is very important and having a tutor at hand to answer questions is invaluable.
The Dulwich Picture Gallery also has a fine collection of old master paintings. Among those is a painting by Rembrandt which holds the Guinness Book of Records title for being the most stolen painting from a public gallery – having been stolen 4 times and returned 4 times. Now firmly attached to the wall, our students were not tempted to try their luck.
Earlier this year, as a publicity stunt, the Gallery commissioned a Chinese copy of a painting to hang in the gallery and invited the audience to find which one was the fake. Now hung next to the original, this copy of a Fragonard painting was a source for lively discussion and comparison.
The session ended with students talking about their drawings, sharing their insights and all agreeing that the day had been well worth the effort of finding their way to this enterprising South London Gallery.
James Cowan. OCA Tutor