Ravilious Country

downsMy trip to the Sussex Downs during the Easter holidays already feels impossibly distant, but the memories of the quietly beautiful landscape have remained vivid and continue to inspire. There is something primal about the gently undulating hills and bleached, chalky soil; despite their close proximity to a number of bustling towns and cities, they are remarkably untouched by modernity. The scenes that Eric Ravilious captured in his quintessentially British watercolours of this area are still instantly recognisable today. No housing estates or motorways have sullied these peaks; they are an unchanged link to Ancient Britain, whose marks remain etched into the chalk face.

Downs in winter

We stayed in the small village of Firle, which Ravilious often stayed on the outskirts of with his friend Peggy Angus. Her cottage, Furlongs, was frequently host to raucous parties of bohemian artists coming to descend for the weekend, roughing the spartan conditions with typical bonhomie. We were delighted at the thought that Ravilious probably drank at the pub we stayed in, and came into the village to use the post office and village shop, which Virginia Woolf also would have done when she rented Little Talland House on the main street in 1911. Ravilious painted many pictures of Furlongs and its surroundings, but I had no idea of where it was, and in the snowy, freezing conditions we endured during our trip, it wasn’t exactly the weather to go roaming across the Downs to find it.

IMG_6066

Thank goodness for Donna; she had done her research, and was sure she could direct us to the right place. So, we jumped in the car and drove a short way outside of the village before branching off down a tiny lane. In the distance we saw a little flint cottage, but the track leading up to it was marked ‘Private’. Had I been alone, I would have hesitated, but with strength in numbers, we were determined to press on. Imagine our joy when we reached the top of the lane and found Furlongs, unchanged! It was somehow even more special to find Furlongs than it was to see Charleston; the unexpectedness of it, its lonely position and its surprising familiarity were strangely touching. It was quite the pilgrimage.

eric-ravilious-furlongs

17 comments

  1. Such a beautiful spot even in that terrible weather! Couldn’t let you miss seeing it knowing how special it was for you, but so glad my memory held up! It was such a thrill to see it too.

  2. You always choose the most wonderful places to visit, Rachel.
    Ravilious must have kept his beloved English countryside in mind when he was away fighting. Poor man – to have died so young is a real tragedy for us all.
    Thanks for reminding us of his lovely work.

    1. It was a pilgrimage I’d wanted to make for a long time, Chrissy! Yes, he was a war artist – but quite right, he didn’t have to go – and such a shame he died so young. He and his wife both died very young – I always feel so sad for their children.

  3. Sorry, I’ve just looked him up on Wiki and see that he wasn’t actually fighting but working as a war artist. Still – a brave and exceptionally gifted man.

  4. How interesting, like your photos and the paintings together. Do you think Pat Barker based her artist character Paul ?? on Ravilious in her WW1 Books?

    1. Thanks – glad you enjoyed them! I’m not sure about that…perhaps Paul Nash? He was a contemporary of Ravilious’ and was also a war artist…

  5. I think I would have braved the elements as well, Rachel. I’m sure you are glad that you did. How exciting to come upon Furlong and to let your imagination roam. I think I would love these rolling hills and peaceful settings.

  6. Hello, this sounds lovely. Over the past year of two I’ve developed a mild obsession over the glorious artwork of Eric Ravilious and intend to get some of those books on his paintings sometime. So inspiring!

      1. Yes I think I must get them this year! For my recent birthday I got a lovely big book on his friend Edward Bawden, well it’s ‘Edward Bawden and His Circle’, by Malcolm Yorke, and there is some information on Eric Ravilious and a few of his pictures. It’s a fascinating book full of illustrations, although I haven’t read it through yet.

  7. Here I am enjoying an unusually extended Spanish spring and yet I find myself unexpectedly nostalgic for Ravilious Country. There is something quietly compelling about his pictures that can’t help but draw you into his world.

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