Gwen Raverat

Gwen Raverat bigraphy, stories - British artist

Gwen Raverat : biography

26 August 1885 – 11 February 1957

Gwen Mary Raverat (née Darwin; 26 August 1885 to 11 February 1957) was an English wood engraver who was a founder member of the Society of Wood Engravers.Joanna Selborne, ‘The Society of Wood Engravers: the early years’ in Craft History 1 (1988), published by Combined Arts.

An overview of her life and work

[[Blue plaque commemorating her childhood home on Silver Street, now part of Darwin College, University of Cambridge.]]

Raverat played a significant part in the wood engraving revival in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century. By 1914 she had completed some sixty wood engravings, far more than any of her contemporaries. Her name recurs consistently in all contemporary reviews, and the first book devoted to a modern wood engraver was Herbert Furst’s Gwendolen Raverat.Herbert Furst, Modern Woodcutters 1: Gwendolen Raverat (London, Little Art Rooms, 1920). She illustrated the first book illustrated with modern wood engravings, Spring Morning, and she exhibited at every annual exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers between 1920 and 1940, exhibiting 122 engravings, more than anyone else.

The range of her relationships can be seen in the holdings of the National Register of Archives.

The Broughton House Gallery website reproduces a very comprehensive range of her engravings.


Picture of her childhood home, now part of Darwin College.

Gwen Darwin was born in Cambridge, England, in 1885. She was part of the very influential Darwin–Wedgwood family. She was the daughter of George Howard Darwin and his wife Maud du Puy. She was the granddaughter of the naturalist Charles Darwin and the first cousin of the poet Frances Cornford.

She married the French painter Jacques Raverat in 1911. They were active in the Bloomsbury Group and Rupert Brooke’s Neo-Pagan group until they moved to the south of France, where they lived in Vence, near Nice, until his death from multiple sclerosis in 1925. They had two daughters: Elisabeth (born 1916), who married the Norwegian politician Edvard Hambro, and Sophie Jane (born 1919), who married the Cambridge scholar M.G.M. Pryor and later Charles Gurney.

She is buried in the Trumpington Extension Cemetery, Cambridge with her father Sir George Darwin and mother Lady Maud Darwin. Her uncles Sir Francis Darwin and Sir Horace Darwin and first cousin Frances Cornford (poet) are buried in the nearby Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground.

Cambridge and the people associated with it remained very much the centre of her life. Darwin College, Cambridge, occupies both her childhood home, Newnham Grange, and the neighbouring Old Granary where she lived for the last years of her life. The college has named one of its student accommodation houses after her.

Raverat’s wood engravings

Raverat was one of the very first wood engravers recognised as modern. She went to the Slade School in 1908,Reynolds Stone, The Wood Engravings of Gwen Raverat (London, Faber & Faber, 1959). but stood outside the groups growing up at the time, the group that gathered around Eric Gill at Ditchling and the group that grew up at the Central School of Art and Design around Noel Rooke. She was influenced by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and developed her own painterly style of engraving.Joanna Selborne, British Wood-engraved Book Illustration 1904-1940 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1998), ISBN 0-19-817408-X. There was some similarity between her early engravings and those of Gill, and she did know Gill, but the similarity was based mostly on her black line style at the time, influenced by Lucien Pissarro, and the semi-religious themes that she then chose.

One of her first wood engravings to appear in a book was Lord Thomas and Fair Annet in The Open Window (1911), which also featured a wood engraving by Noel Rooke.

Balston credits her with having produced one of the first two books illustrated with modern wood engravings.Thomas Balston, Wood-engraving in Modern English Books (London, National Book League, 1949). This was Spring Morning by her cousin Frances Cornford, published by the Poetry Bookshop in 1915. It was accessioned at the British Library in May 1915, which makes it the first modern book illustrated with wood engravings, as the other contender, The Devil’s Devices illustrated by Eric Gill, was accessioned in December 1915.