Edward Bawden – master of linocut

George Orwell might have Room 101 but the V&A has Box 101 – to be precise Circ Box 101. Circ is short for ‘Circulation’ – the department that sent travelling exhibitions around the UK between 1847 and 1977. To give an idea of scale, in 1956 Circulation loaned to 300 art schools who borrowed 1,200 framed and 6,000 unframed sets. The prints in Circ Box 101 toured to these art schools and were not formally accessioned into the Museum’s collections, being considered disposable ephemera.

Today Circ Box 101 is available to view by appointment in the Prints & Drawings Study Room and cannot be considered disposable containing as it does prints of real interest. For example C.18679-C.18682 are progressive proofs of linocut process by one of its great exponents – Edward Bawden (1903–1989). Bawden’s much-reproduced linocut ‘Autumn’ (E.713-1950) was commissioned by the Museum using funds bequeathed by the artists Ada Shrimpton and William Giles ‘for the encouragement of relief-printing in colour’. The print was shown in the 1954 ‘International Colour Woodcut Exhibition’ at South Kensington and then in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, later travelling as far as Barcelona and being temporarily lost in the Baltic en route from Gothenburg to Amsterdam.

The linocut demonstration set for ‘Autumn’ went into Circulation in August 1951 and toured to UK art schools to inspire students; it still has its original labels with the legend ‘Lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum’. The set consists of four progressive proofs using three separate blocks, ten different colours and print, re-print and stipple technique to create the final effect. The proofs show Bawden, master of linocut, reversing the standard sequence of printing from light to dark and overlapping colours to produce a third shade.

The key block is first printed in both black and indigo, divided along the greenhouse roofline to the garden wall. Bawden shows the key block in grey in further prints in order to clearly indicate the building up of colour and form.

Bawden 1

The second printing shows light green across the apples with dark grey for the townscape and sky. The bottom section is printed dark grey for tomato fruits, their leaves and the gardener’s face, with his cheek in red. Light green indicates shadows on the gardener’s clothing and cap whilst late tomato flowers are in yellow moss-green.

Bawden 2

The third printing adds stippled dark green to the centre of the apples while re-printing adds light red to the gardener’s clothing and pale grey-blue behind the tomato plant.

Bawden 3

The final printing is stippled light red for apples and vermilion for tomatoes.

Bawden 4

The complexity of Bawden’s technique can be seen by studying the apples which are first described in outline and hatching in indigo then printed in light green, stippled in dark green and finally light red, subtleties lost in some reproductions of ‘Autumn’ today. This educational demonstration set was completed in 1958 when Bawden generously gave the Circulation Department the lino block for ‘Autumn’ (CIRC.106B-1958).

The records of the Circulation Department are available for study in the Blythe House Archive & Library Study Room. For further information about the records and to make an appointment, please contact us online  A range of Bawden inspired products are available in the V&A Shop.

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