Peggy Angus painted the Cement Works in 1934: the Alpha Cement Works, the building of which was so agonisingly documented by Virginia Woolf. On this wonderful new dawn we are fantasising about all kinds of things: remaining part of Europe of course, but also cancelling projects like HS2 (the high speed train to Birmingham) and giving the money to libraries; lunch clubs; schools; parks; PEOPLE. It’s a not a question of ‘dream on’ any more; it’s now a perfectly plausible dream that a government ‘that plumbed the depths of individualism, self-interest, small-mindedness and hard-heartedness’ (letter from a Guardian reader yesterday) has, finally, had to listen.


Eric Ravilious and Helen Binyon painted by Peggy Angus at Furlongs in the mid 1930s. More by Peggy Angus tomorrow; when this Post will be written, as usual, at breakfast time, either smiling or crying. But there is a tinge of optimism in the air. Yes, yes, we know that Bloomsbury is a bubble, and has Keir Starmer, but really there is cf. this video by the excellent John Harris here. (If the lovely people who wrote to us about the last Persephone Letter are reading this Post – Lydia has of course thanked you all and we shall renew the thanks on the next Letter. But we were hugely grateful and cheered. Thank you very much.)


Back to Helen Binyon, a marvellous artist but the cause of so much (measured) distress to Tirzah; in 1937 she and Eric thought of separating because of Helen. It’s painful to read of Tirzah ‘wavering between strength and despair’. But through all this she looked after the children, cooked and cleaned, and did her decorated papers, waiting, presumably, for the day when she could become a full-time artist. And Helen, too, went on working hard at all her artistic endeavours. This is The Flower Show 1939 (by which time she and Eric were no longer together and she was in love with John Nash).


This Design on Paper by Diana Low (1911-75) dates from the 1930s. Her affair with Ravilious began in 1933 and is painful to read about in Long Live Great Bardfield especially because, as Andy Friend puts it, ‘a guilty Eric showered Tirzah with criticism for being no fun, doing too much housework and lacking her own initiative.’ Yet when Tirzah wrote about Diana eight years later she had the generosity to praise the young interloper (because of whom ‘something had changed in our relationship to one another which would never be restored’) as ‘very attractive, full of energy … and she dressed more beautifully than any other woman I have met’. The famous portrait of Diana by William Nicholson is in this good piece about the Towner exhibition here. And several of Diana’s paintings are here.

Tirzah monday

A second week of art (from the Towner exhibition) by the women in Eric Ravilious’s circle. Tirzah Garwood’s The Wife is often reproduced but The Husband is seen more rarely. There is some very interesting detail in Andy Friend’s book about why the Curwen Press calendar with a dozen wood engravings by Tirzah never appeared. Oliver Simon had asked the 21 year-old Tirzah to do twelve wood engravings for a 1930 Calendar and she completed a series ‘of startling originality and accomplishment’. But Oliver Simon took offence at a line drawing Tirzah had done for a BBC libretto of Ivanhoe showing Rebecca at the stake; he deemed it anti-Semitic, ‘an interpretation that squares with neither the visual evidence nor the artist’s lifelong sensitivity to prejudice…Ravilious tried to make light of the rejection’s ultimate significance but, reinforced by a negative reaction to her BBC drawings from the critic Gerald Gould, the blow to Tirzah’s confidence had longer term consequences.’ This is a fascinating and distressing theme: the damage to a young woman’s confidence done by criticism (often male criticism) and, paradoxically, her impulse to retreat into marriage and motherhood. Which is what happened. Although, in Tirzah’s case, she was a working artist between 1929 and the birth of her first child in 1935, it’s just that a lot of her work was ‘helping’ Eric Ravilious or designing papers which, although now in the V & A, were not reproduced at the time.


Enid Marx Abstract Pattern 1925. Next week on the Post, more of the women in Ravilious’s group of friends, especially Peggy Angus (who turns out to be connected to one of the authors we publish this autumn; these are Malachi Whitaker, Judith Rossner and Diana Tutton and she was connected by marriage to one of them…).


This is Helen Binyon’s Royal College of Art ‘MemoryBook’ in 1924 when she was 22. The skill and deftness and humour of these young women, Tirzah and Helen, is unbelievable. There is a marvellous timelessness about this watercolour e.g. the girl in Oxford Street or Peggy Angus sketching in Hampstead Lane. It sounds a bit shrill and annoyingly feminist, but why oh why aren’t the women in Ravilious’s ‘set’ as well known as him?! Well we know why. And one day, not so far off, Tirzah will have an exhibition of her own, and so will Helen. (Please delete the words ‘dream on’ should they spring to mind.)

Helen B

Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood had a deep and abiding love for each other but one of the painful aspects about Long Live Great Bardfield, for those of us who are even more interested in her than in him, is that he was unfaithful to her. Yet, undeniably, Helen Binyon (1904-79) was an extraordinary and fascinating person.’The Tea Party’ dates from the 1920s.


In September it will be 75 years since the death of Eric Ravilious. Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship, English Artist Designers: 1922-42, an exhibition consisting of over 300 works of art by Ravilious and his circle has now opened at the Towner Art Gallery. The curator, Andy Friend, author of a new, profusely illustrated book (which we sell in the shop at a nice reduction) is quoted here as saying that the exhibition has ‘an extraordinary group of women. Like most histories of art, the women connected to the Ravilious story have too often been relegated to cameos and supporting roles, but works in the exhibition reveal them as major forces in art and design of the period. Women in this network did not have the opportunities or recognition some of the men had because of the construct of the art market, or because they got married or the role of women at the time.’ They will be celebrated on thePost this week and next. This is Tirzah Garwood‘s Four Seasons: Spring 1926 (she was 18).

the awakening conscience copy

‘The Awakening Conscience’ by Holman Hunt 1853 is again well analysed on the Tate website here. When searching for an image to illustrate the word adultery this is the first that comes to mind. But it was a bit harrowing to put in ‘categories': these are meant to be enticing and to persuade Persephone readers to want to buy the books!

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