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Edward Bawden on Liverpool St Station

October 15, 2009
by the gentle author

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Edward Bawden made this huge linocut of a smoke-blackened Liverpool St in 1960. It extends to almost five feet in length, so long that to allow you to see the details of this epic work I must show it here in two panels.

When I first visited the station it was just like this and I remember it as a diabolic dark cathedral. As a student new to London, I arrived back from Cromer one Sunday on a late train after the tubes had closed and spent a terrifying night here, shivering on a bench. Sitting awake, I watched all through the small hours as the trucks rattled in and out of the station, racing down the slope onto the platforms, delivering newspapers and mail sacks to the waiting trains.

But as this print reveals, Edward Bawden had a keen eye for elegant nineteenth century ironwork and, even before it was cleaned up, he was alive to beauty of the station. Contemplating Liverpool St on the BBC television programme Monitor in 1963, he said “I think the ceiling is absolutely magnificent, it is one of the wonders of London.” And he knew it well, because for nearly sixty years – between 1930 and 1989 – he travelled regularly through the station, whenever he took the train back and forth between London and Braintree station, just one mile from his home at Brick House in Great Bardfield, Essex.

He is one of my favourite twentieth century British artists and the span of Edward Bawden’s career is almost as wide as the Liverpool St arches. After leaving the Royal College of Art, he began designing posters for London Transport in the nineteen twenties, then became a war artist in World War II and was busy creating prints and paintings, alongside murals, wallpapers, commercial illustration and design, right up until the late eighties. I particularly admire his unique bold sense of line that gave an unmistakeably appealing graphic quality to everything he touched.

Appropriately enough, this Winter you can take the train from Liverpool Street up to Bedford  to visit the Edward Bawden retrospective at the Bedford Gallery (from the archive of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery) that runs until 31st January.

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