Category: The Chalk Hill Figures of Eric Ravilious

During the year of 1939, Eric Ravilious toured Dorset, Sussex, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, recording chalk hill figures for a proposed children’s book for Puffin. It was customary then to have a mock-up of a proposed book, and Ravilious had indeed produced one by 1942.

In the August of that year, while serving as a war artist, Ravilious travelled first to Reykjavik (Iceland), before arriving at RAF Kaldadarnes on September the first, to hear of a report that a Lockheed Hudson had not returned from a patrol. At first light the following morning, three aircraft left the airfield to search for the missing Lockheed, with Ravilious joining one of the crews. Sadly, after four days, they too were recorded as missing in action, with ‘death presumed’.

For decades the mock-up of the book – preliminarily titled ‘White Horse’ – was thought to have disappeared with him, however it has recently, and wholly unexpectedly come to light (for the story of this discovery, see ‘White Horse – dummy Puffin book by Eric Ravilious’ at the Wiltshire Museum website).

The text of the proposed book was to be taken from an existing publication (Downland Man, by H.J. Massingham), and although Ravilious had completed the watercolours for the book, he was unable to complete the lithography process that would have enabled a posthumous publication. Fortunately for us, the following series of six watercolours were completed (black and white photographs of which are featured on the mock-up pages), and to this day are amongst his best known works.