Edward Bawden

Roses and Rue


Not on display

Edward Bawden 1903–1989
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 504 × 654 mm
Purchased 1987

Catalogue entry

T04919 Roses and Rue 1986

Pencil and watercolour on machine-made wove paper 504 × 654 (19 7/8 × 25 3/4)
Inscribed ‘Edward Bawden’ b.r. and ‘Roses & Rue | Edward Bawden | 1986’ on back b.r.; image includes the words ‘THE GUARDIAN’
Purchased from the Fine Art Society (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Exh: The Private World of Edward Bawden, Fine Art Society, April 1987 (25)
Lit: Edward Bawden, ‘Emma Makes herself at Home’, House and Garden, Dec. 1987, pp.114–15

In the centre of the composition stands a mauve-coloured vase with pink and red roses and blue rue. A keen gardener, Bawden wrote to the compiler on 18 October 1988 in reply to a questionnaire, ‘I grow rue but my present garden is very small and there is no room for roses’. The vase stands on a copy of the Guardian on a table in the artist's studio. Next to the newspaper is a blue Stanley knife. To the right is a drawing board, while to the left is a table with a tray of paints and bottles. Behind, on a ledge and next to a yellow box, sits Emma Nelson, the artist's black cat.

In a letter to the compiler dated 26 May 1987 Bawden explained how he acquired his cat:

Emma Nelson came to me in the Spring of 1985 from the Wood Green Animal Shelter where she selected me by jumping up on to my shoulder. Her name was then Nelson and Emma was added by my granddaughter, Louise ... I know nothing about the history of Emma except that she happened to be a stray picked up at Welwyn Garden City. I couldn't have chosen a better feline friend.

The artist first painted Emma Nelson when she was about nine to twelve months old in various rooms in his home in Saffron Walden, Essex, where he had lived since 1970. In the 1987 article in House and Garden he explained that in his first paintings of Emma Nelson he had left a space into which he could fit her. However, he did not feel that this looked ‘natural’ and subsequently he painted the cat first and then arranged the room around her. In his letter of 26 May 1987 Bawden wrote:

Being a black cat, she made an excellent focal point for a painting done indoors and because a cat's nature does not allow it to remain wherever it has been plonked down and expected to stay put. I had to follow the cat and take a chance upon catching her in a good position. It meant also that the first thing that went down on the sheet of white paper was the cat quickly drawn with a brush. Fitting a background to the cat which was no more than a black spot put down at hazard on the sheet of paper turned out to be a more flexible method of working than I would have imagined it to be.

Bawden did not make any sketches for T04919 but began work on it with a light pencil drawing to which he applied a series of washes over a period of about a week.

At the time of painting T 04919 the artist regularly read the Guardian. The issue depicted in T04919 is that of Monday, 21 April 1986. The photograph at top right in the newspaper page depicts the eighty-four year old Russian-born pianist Vladimir Horowitz acknowledging applause during his recital at the Moscow Conservatory during his first visit to his native country for sixty years. However, there is no particular significance in the artist's choice of this newspaper or its title in relation to the cat.

In T04919 Bawden deliberately chose not to represent the room exactly as it was. The artist noted that he had ‘arranged [the room] a little on the basis of it being a better design’ (reply to questionnaire). He painted the table with the paint tray tilted upwards so that the bottles and tubes appear to be flattened. There is a similar distortion of perspective in the lines on the floor. The room shown in T04919 is the artist's studio where he normally worked. It faced onto his garden, which could be seen through the window although apart from the pencil drawing of a flower to the right of the vase, he has ‘given no indication of this’ (reply to questionnaire). Instead, the panes of glass have been washed in with pale blue colour.

T04919 and T04920 form part of a series of water-colours, begun in 1986, depicting Bawden's black cat, Emma Nelson. The other works from this series were shown in his exhibition at the Fine Art Society in 1987. Four are reproduced in the catalogue and a further three in the House and Garden article cited above. One of the series, ‘Self Portrait’, was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. At least two others, not including T04919, depict Emma Nelson in the artist's studio. Of these, ‘Cat with Everlastings’ (repr. Fine Art Society exh. cat., 1987, no.8 in col.) is similarly dominated by a vase of flowers.

Bawden had travelled widely, especially during his years as an Official War Artist in the Second World War, but in his later years his work became increasingly autobiographical and his home became the main subject for his paintings. All the paintings in his 1987 Fine Art Society exhibition featured its interior. When asked about this, Bawden replied that this was purely due to the ‘physical limitations of old age’ (reply to questionnaire).

In a letter of 14 August 1991 Richard Bawden, the artist's son added the following information. ‘Edward never painted cat portraits and until his last show at the Fine Art never took them seriously. So I was surprised that every painting except two should have had Emma Nelson’. However, ‘Edward used to stay when teaching at the RCA [with] Muriel Rose who was devoted to cats ... Edward used to send his bread and butter letters to Rose with a cat or two’. T04919 ‘was done overlooking the garden from the studio. The garden by then was such chaos that Edward preferred not to include it ... He would spend a long time thinking about a subject and then would work very quickly. Latterly he dispensed with much drawing beforehand preferring to work directly with the brush’.

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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