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Mermaids, Roses, Camels & Cows:

Wallpaper by Edward Bawden

Saturday 8th November 2014 – Sunday 29th March 2015

Free Entry


  • Exhibition includes unused designs, preliminary drawings and finished papers
  • Works from the 1920s to the 1950s produced by Curwen Press, Cole and Sons and Sanderson
  • Mermaids, Roses, Camels and Cows is drawn from the vast collection of 3,000 works at The Higgins Bedford; the largest of its kind


Mermaids, Roses, Camels and Cows: Wallpaper by Edward Bawden, a new exhibition at The Higgins Bedford showcases the ‘enchantingly personal and offbeat’ wallpaper designs produced by Bawden throughout his career. Many of the designs are still in demand today.


Tree and Cow, 1927is the earliest of Bawden’s experiments in wallpaper production and one of his first attempts at lino cutting. Still a young student, he worked on the design in his London bedsit, stamping each cow onto the paper with his foot. Harold Curwen at the Curwen Press turned the design into a lithograph and began small commercial production of the work at a time when wallpaper was firmly out of fashion.


The early works produced by Curwen included many unusual motifs. Sahara, 1928 featured camels and sand dunes and was produced for an Egyptologist at the British Museum. Mermaid, 1928 features a mermaid swimming amongst columns of stylised seaweed and a whale. More unusual still, the papers were not supplied on rolls, but in sheets that varied in size according to the dimensions of the design. It would have been a daunting prospect for even the most ambitious decorator; however, Bawden himself rose to the challenge. These unusual motifs lined almost every room in his home; Peggy Angus recalled being ‘bowled over by the flowering of inventiveness in decorations on every wall, ceiling or floor’.


The papers were sold almost exclusively through Elsbeth Little’s shop Modern Textiles, in Beauchamp Place. They never broke onto the mass market and remained in the words of one critic a ‘semi-private’ enterprise.


In the late 1930’s Edward Bawden alongside his friend, and neighbour, John Aldridge produced a series called The Bardfield Wallpapers which were exhibited at Muriel Rose's Little Gallery. Taken up by Coles, the works were to become more commercially successful then those produced previously. However, war broke out just as the designs were ready for production so it was not until 1946 that the designs started to be manufactured. Each design was offered in several colours and customers were able to specify others due to the flexibility of hand printing. The artists received only meagre earnings from the enterprise but the papers were critically well received with Periwinkle being used in the 1951 Festival of Britain. Cole & Sons continue to produce the wallpaper to order today.


In the 1950s Bawden, alongside Kenneth Rowntree and Walter Hoyle, participated in an exhibition organised by Sanderson. The abstract design was produced as a wallpaper and as a textile design. It was the last wallpaper design Bawden was to produce.


This exquisite exhibition will be accompanied by From Rolls-Royce to Printing Press, a lunchtime talk given by the curator; the perfect introduction to the exhibition, Thursday 27th November 2014, 1pm – 1.30pm. More information can be found at http://www.thehigginsbedford.org.uk/

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