Edward Bawden

Emma Nelson by the Fire


Not on display

Edward Bawden 1903–1989
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 498 × 645 mm
Purchased 1987

Catalogue entry

T04920 Emma Nelson by the Fire 1987

Pencil and watercolour on machine-made wove paper 498 × 645 (19 5/8 × 25 3/8)
Inscribed ‘Edward Bawden’ b.r. and ‘Edward Bawden 1987’ on back b.r.
Purchased from the Fine Art Society (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Exh: The Private World of Edward Bawden, Fine Art Society, April 1987 (26)
Lit: Edward Bawden, ‘Emma Makes herself at Home’, House and Garden, Dec. 1987, pp.114–15

T04920 depicts the artist's black cat, named Emma Nelson, lying in a pink and blue patterned basket (see previous entry on T04919). The basket rests on a pink and green striped rug over the sand-coloured floor of Bawden's studio in his house in Saffron Walden. To the left is a grey armchair draped with a white and sand coloured piece of fabric. Just visible is a maroon cushion. In the background is a stark grey gas fire, its element glowing orange. The version of this entry approved by the artist stated that the fire was electric, but Richard Bawden, the artist's son, has said that it was a gas fire (letter to the compiler dated 14 August 1991). A fuller view of Bawden's studio, also featuring Emma Nelson, is depicted in ‘Four Chairs and a Cat’, 1986 (repr. Bawden 1987, p.115). T04920 reflects Bawden's longstanding interest in depicting interiors and, in particular, his working environment.

The patterns on the rug, on the cat's basket and on the blanket over the chair, as well as the linear pattern of the brickwork and fire bars, particularly interested Bawden. In a reply to a questionnaire returned to the compiler on 18 October 1988, the artist said that he liked these patterns because of ‘their decorative value - also their flattening effect on the form’. The artist has painted the lines on the floor in such a way that it appears to tilt upwards. Commenting on this Bawden wrote, ‘[I] generally paint in front of the motif even if it is not as I see it’ and added ‘I don't wish perspective to be my master’ (reply to questionnaire).

In a letter of 14 August 1991 Richard Bawden added the following information:

Although the house is covered with his early wallpapers, yellowed by nineteen years of nicotine, his studio being an extension was painted brick and not alas the wallpaper known as Rustication [1938–9] ... The nasty tartan fur lined cat ‘basket’ came from the local charity shop ... The rug on the floor used to be in the bathroom at Brick House, Gt. Bardfield, bought by my mother on a trip to Portugal or elsewhere. The curtain draped over the armchair hung in the spare room at Gt. Bardfield, and I am fairly sure must have been designed by Marianne Straub who lived in the cottage directly across the road and who at the time, I mean the late fifties, was chief designer at Warners. The cushion, at a guess because there is not much showing, was probably covered by a piece of hand blocked cotton by Barron & Larcher who had a studio in Painswick until the outbreak of war. The gas fire I cannot help you with, only I think Edward has improved its design.

The artist approved a draft version of this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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