Bawden’s long career spanned most of the twentieth century, and comfortably straddled boundaries and borders between the fine and applied arts. Even at only 20, studying at the Royal College of Art, Bawden demonstrated exceptional draughtsmanship, his grasp of the elements defined British design between the Wars, as well as his own imagination, which he fed by wide reading and a knowledge of history.
In the years between 1923 and 1960, Edward Bawden had grown from a rising star to be an important but somewhat peripheral figure in the tradition of British figurative art. When he left the Royal College of Art it had seemed that a successful career lay ahead of him. Despite the financial difficulties shared by many artists in the 1930s, Edward Bawden turned his talents to design work to supplement the income from sales of his pictures. But in the post-War years the recognition accorded to a number of his contemporaries eluded him, not that he sought it. He remained an artist rather detached from the mainstream. This did not cause him to change course but there is now probably a wider appreciation of his work than at any time in the past fifty years.
Even before his appointment as an Official War artist in 1940, Bawden had established an international reputation as a designer, illustrator and painter. As well as these areas, his output over the years involved murals, posters, designs for wallpaper, ceramics, lithographic prints and watercolours. The same professionalism and attention to the rigours of design would be applied whether to his witty advertising drawings for many illustrious names of British commerce and industry, including Shell, London Transport, Westminster Bank, Twining’s Teas, Curwen Press, Fortnum & Mason, Ealing Studios, Vogue, the Orient Line, Pilkington and BP. His influence on twentieth century illustration and design is incalculable, his graphic work perhaps quintessentially English.