Eric William Ravilious was a British artist who, although born in London, was well known for his paintings of the Sussex landscape. He was part of a group of artists that lived and worked in Sussex before the war who did not just paint, they used many methods and skills including producing woodcuts. His landscapes of Sussex and Wiltshire are in many ways are classic representations of the British countryside on the eve of war.
On the outbreak of war in 1939 Ravilious joined the Royal Observer Corps and was stationed in Sussex where he painted views of the defence of southern Britain at this time. in December 1939 he was appointed an official War Artist and became an Honorary Captain in the Royal Marines. He produced a lot of naval related paintings at this time including one of HMS Glorious in 1940, shortly before it was sunk in action.
After a posting to Norway, where he witnessed the campaign there, he spent time on the home front painting defences in Newhaven and being attached to Royal Air Force squadrons.
In early 1942, Ravilious’ wife was ill with cancer and he requested to be posted nearer to home, where he was on attachment to more RAF squadrons, and painted them at their bases. He often went up in Tiger Moths to sketch aircraft while in flight. In the summer of 1942 he was given a posting to RAF Kaldadarnes in Iceland, and flew in on 1st September 1942.
Only a short while after posting to the squadron in Iceland, he was killed on 2nd September 1942 when an aircraft from the unit went missing in poor weather, and he joined a crew to help rescue them, but they soon became casualties themselves in the increasingly detonating weather. A tyre from the aircraft was washed up a few days later, confirming the loss of aircraft and the entire crew, including Eric Ravilious. He is commemorated on the Chatham Memorial. Like so many, Ravilious was a ‘what if’ of the Second World War: had he survived, would he be better known, what would he have gone on to achieve?
There is an excellent exhibition relating to Ravilious currently at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield and The Tate also have an excellent collection of his work. The new biography by Andy Friend is also highly recommended.