There’s a fascinating little film on Liss Llewellyn’s website, about the lost Morley College murals, The Pleasures of Life, created by three prominent inter-war artists in the late 1920s. Charles Mahoney worked in the Concert Hall, and Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious in the student Refreshment Room. Their theme was theatrical fantasy, suggested by William Rothenstein. The paintings were entirely destroyed when the college was bombed on October 15 1940.
The murals had an interesting link to the South Downs. Ravilious’ dramatic scenes were set against an East Sussex downland backdrop. And sure enough, there is the Long Man of Wilmington, the chalk hill figure which investigation by Martin Bell suggested was carved in the 16th or 17th centuries AD – although it’s likely that Ravilious, like many in the past, believed it to be prehistoric (see British Archaeology 77 July/2004).
The view, seen through the pillars of outdoor stages, is reminiscent of Ravilious’ later depiction of the Westbury white horse, as it flashes by a train carriage and is framed in one of the windows. The Wiltshire Museum, Devizes, recently acquired a dummy sketchbook which features the Westbury horse on the cover, and, among other figures, the Wilmington man inside. Ravilious was working on the book when he died in 1942, and it was never finished (see British Archaeology Mar/Apr 2013/129, above).
Over on the right of a preparatory drawing (picture at top, and in the middle above) we can see a chalk quarry. On the far left – most curiously – is another white figure. I know of no hill figures that look in the least like this, and it is presumably a conceit. It’s even possible to see a face in the quarry (my enlargement at right), though that may be in only my imagination. In the finished mural (black and white photo above) quarry and mystery figure seem to have been pushed out.
Written and produced by Andy Friend, the video was made with the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne (exhibiting Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship, until September 17). The film’s style is reminiscent of the ambitious new movie about Gertrude Bell, Letters From Baghdad, using archive images and contemporary texts voiced by actors (I wrote about the film in Salon). I’ve taken the images here from the video.