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Unique Unpublished Bawden Book Depicting Kew Gardens Acquired for Bedford
Edward Bawden (1903-1989), A General Guide to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew . Spring and Easter, 1923. © Estate of Edward Bawden.

LONDON.- Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and Bedford Museum today announce the acquisition of an unpublished, illuminated manuscript by acclaimed British artist and illustrator Edward Bawden (1903-1989).

Entitled A General Guide to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew . Spring and Easter 1923, the beautifully illustrated manuscript is designed as a mock-up guide book to Kew Gardens , a favourite haunt of the artist. A pencil inscription indicates that this manuscript was the artist’s first book. The rare work has been purchased with help from membership charity the Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

A General Guide to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew . Spring and Easter 1923 comprises 23 pages worked with watercolour, graphite, bodycolour, drawing ink, and printed text collaged together on edge-gilt pages. It was purchased for £30,000 towards which the Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund each gave £10,000. The Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford gave the remaining £10,000. The book will go on display in Bedford Gallery at Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum from 29 June until 5 September 2010.

Bawden produced many book designs during his career, but he describes this particular manuscript as his first, as demonstrated in a pencil inscription on the title page which reads “To Eric Ravilious, my first book”. This dedication is also a rare written example of Bawden’s friendship with fellow artist and illustrator Eric Ravilious (1903-1942).

Bawden created this book whilst a student at the Royal College of Art. It is an extremely early example of his lifelong fascination with Kew Gardens , a subject he returned to throughout his career and which the Art Gallery ’s collection reflects.

Tom Perrett, Curator at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and Bedford Museum , said: “This beautifully illustrated manuscript represents an extremely early example of Bawden’s work and, viewed as a series of early watercolours and pen and ink illustrations, it provides an important, if not unique, record of the development of Bawden’s style. We’re absolutely delighted to have acquired it for Bedford Museum , which already contains items which the artist donated to us towards the end of his life.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “The vibrant, stylish illustrations and lettering in this work capture the sleek style of 1920s graphic design and exemplify Bawden’s flair for colour and composition. It is wonderful that this rare manuscript – the artist’s first book – has now been acquired for the Cecil Higgins Gallery and Bedford Museum , where it will be cherished within the wider Bawden collection for years to come.”

Born in Essex , Bawden studied at the Cambridge School of Art and Design before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. He went on to become one of the most successful British graphic artists of the 20th century. His output was of consistently high quality and extraordinary variety: it included watercolours, prints, murals, designs for ceramics and textiles and commercial design work for clients including London Underground, Twinings, Fortnum and Mason and Shell. In particular he is recognised for his strong sense of design and the uniquely observant, often sharp sense of humour that characterises much of his work.

Very different from Bawden’s later work, A General Guide to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew . Spring and Easter 1923 shows the influence of eminent graphic artists Aubrey Beardsley and Claude Lovat Fraser both of whom Bawden greatly admired in his student days.

Between 1981 and 1989 Edward Bawden donated the contents of his studio to the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery . Today the collection, which numbers around 3,000 items and is the largest of its kind, illustrates Bawden’s entire career from his early days at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s through to commissions he received in the 1980s, as well as covering every medium he worked in. As an early example of Bawden’s stylistic development and his first book, this important piece is a significant and special addition to the collection.

Bedford Museum | Tom Perrett | Cecil Higgins Art Gallery | Edward Bawden |

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