English Garden Delights

Artist or maker:
Bawden, Edward (b.1903, d.1989)
dated by commission
Place of production:
Essex, England, United Kingdom
oil on panel
Type of object:
mural paintings
Accession number:


Nine panels with repeating motifs of buildings, fields and foliage arches make up Edward Bawden's celebratory image of the English countryside made just after World War II. The mural was commissioned by the Orient Line Navigation Company for its new liner the 'Orcades', launched in 1947. It demonstrates Bawden's nostalgia for the lost English countryside as well as his strong sense of modern design.

The Orient Line Navigation Company had lost four of its eight liners during the war. The 'Orcades' was the first built after the war; she was named after a ship that was lost in 1942 and was designed to carry 770 first class passengers and 742 tourist passengers. She was launched in October 1947 and went on her maiden voyage to Australia in December 1948. The luxury liner boasted all the usual features including an air-conditioned first class lounge, the original location of Bawden's painting. 'Orcades' continued to sail until 1972.

Edward Bawden grew up in Braintree, Essex, in a family of ironmongers and studied design at the Royal College of Art. He was a versatile artist making paintings, wall murals, and book illustrations as well as designing advertisements, textiles, crockery, wallpaper and garden furniture. He painted murals and designed menu covers, ceramics and textiles for two Orient liners, the 'Orcades' and the 'Oronsay' (see Victoria and Albert Museum). He was inspired by the ideas and works of the 19th-century designer William Morris, although stylistically he utilised the spareness and flatness of mid 20th-century British art. Like his contemporaries, he was interested in the English countryside, seen as an idyllic haven in the years before intensive farming began to change the landscape. He was an official war artist and evacuated from Dunkirk and interned in Morocco.

Bawden used the format of a mural divided into different panels in several contemporary commissions. The 'Oronsay' mural of c. 1949 was painted in 11 divisions; it featured the English country pub. Bawden also gained success with a similar divided mural for the Festival of Britain Exhibition in the Lion and Unicorn pavilion (1950-51). The pavilion's theme was British character and tradition; Bawden's subject was aspects of country life. Bawden used these multiple panels to divide up his compositions into alternating areas of light and dark. Each panel could be free-standing, but placed together combined to make a larger pattern suggesting repetition and permanence. These compositions have been compared to his more commercial design work where form is conventionalized and scale becomes irrelevant. Bawden went on to paint many more murals from 1958 on, including for large companies such as Pilkington Glass, Morgan Crucible Company, Associated Electrical Industries, as well as Hull University and Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford.

Phillippa Plock, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
2110 x 6480 (9 panels, each panel: 2110 x 717 approx.)
Signature & date:
not signed or dated


Commissioned by the Orient Steam Navigation Company in 1946 for the 'Orcades' steamer, for £600; acquired by Michael Behrens (d. c. 1990) after the ship was broken up in 1973; sold in the Michael Behrens sale, Christie's, London, 8 June 1990, lot 282; then to a Rothschild Family Trust.
Waddesdon (Rothschild Family)
On loan since 1998



Douglas Percy Bliss; Edward Bawden; Godalming; Pendomer; 1980; p. 154.
Neil McCart; Passenger Ships of the Orient Line; Northamptonshire; Patrick Stephens; 1987; p. 187, ill.; photo of panels in first class lounge on 'Orcades'.

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