Hastings gallery reopens with ‘lost’ Eric Ravilious painting on show

An Eric Ravilious watercolour thought missing and last shown publicly some 80 years ago has gone on display in Hastings.

Friday, 28th May 2021, 10:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 9:48 am
Art historian and curator James Russell with Mackerel Sky by Eric Ravilious. Photograph: Justin Lycett/ hn14902 (3)

Mackerel Sky, which the celebrated British artist created in 1938, is said to have last been exhibited in 1939 when it was sold to a private collector.

The current owner has loaned the piece to Hastings Contemporary, on Rock-a-Nore Road, which reopened yesterday (May 27) following the latest easing of lockdown restrictions.

The gallery announced last week that the ‘lost painting’ would feature in its new exhibition Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach – a look at the popularity of the seaside among the work of British artists from the 1920s to 1970s.

Mackerel Sky by Eric Ravilious, which is on show at Hastings Contemporary. Photograph: Justin Lycett/ hn14902 (2)

Guest curator of the exhibition and art historian James Russell, who curated a celebration of Ravilious’s watercolours at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2015, was contacted about the work in spring last year.

Speaking on Wednesday, he said: “Ravilious is now considered one of the most important artists of his time.

“To discover a work from the peak period of his career – and such a wonderful watercolour as this one – is one of those moments that you lie in bed at night dreaming about.”

Mr Russell said he has been searching for ‘lost’ works for about five years and that it is an ‘important quest for him personally’.

Art historian and curator James Russell with Mackerel Sky by Eric Ravilious. Photograph: Justin Lycett/ hn14902 (1)

Speaking of the collector loaning the work, he said: “It was by complete chance that this exhibition was coming up and they very kindly loaned it.

“It fit absolutely perfectly – fishing boats, on the beach.

“It’s a wonderful sort of accessible watercolour that any one can enjoy but it’s also a very beautiful moden work.”

Ravilious, born in 1903, grew up in East Sussex and studied at Eastbourne School of Art.

He served as a war artist in the Second World War and is known for his watercolours of the South Downs and other English landscapes.

He was declared missing in action in 1942, aged 39, after accompanying a Royal Air Force rescue mission off Iceland that did not return.

It is thought about 25 to 30 of his known works are missing.

Mr Russell said: “There are some really intriguing ones and I have done some detective work over the years and tried to follow trails of where they might have been and have not managed to find them.”

He added: “For something like this to show up is very exciting for me, and for British art of that time it is an important discovery.”

Mackerel Sky is signed and dated May 1938.

Mr Russell said Ravilious may have been in Tollesbury, Essex, at that time.

“He painted several slightly similar pictures but this is by far the best,” he said.

It is one of three Ravilious paintings on show as part of Seaside Modern – also featured are Rye Harbour and Anchor, and Boats, both painted in 1938.

The exhibition, which was due to run last year but was postponed due to the pandemic, features pieces by more than 60 artists – there’s also works by LS Lowry, Barbara Hepworth and Paul Nash.

Speaking of the postponement and the cancellation of exhibitions due to the pandemic, Mr Russell said: “I was very lucky that all my work had been postponed rather than cancelled.

“This is opening at just the right time and it’s a celebration of the British seaside and its history, as well as being an interesting art show.”

“I hope people will enjoy it. It’s an uplifting kind of exhibition.”

Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach runs until October 31.