A lost watercolour painting by Essex artist Edward Bawden has been found after 80 years, and is now up for auction.

Edward Bawden was born in Braintree in 1908 and was one of the Great Bardfield artists - an influential community of artists from the mid-20th century. He died in Saffron Walden in 1989.

Although he is widely admired today as an illustrator and printmaker, his role in the 1930s as a critically-acclaimed modern painter has been largely overlooked.

Over three years, Tim Mainstone of Mainstone Press and Bawden expert James Russell set out on a quest to track down Bawden's pre-war watercolours.

Saffron Walden Reporter: Brick House by Edward Bawden, showing his home in Great BardfieldBrick House by Edward Bawden, showing his home in Great Bardfield (Image: Edward Bawden)

They documented all those they found in public and private collections for their book The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden, but six watercolours remained elusive.

However, recently Tim spotted one of the watercolours illustrating the poster for Olympia Auctions' sale of fine paintings, works on paper and sculpture on Wednesday, June 12.

The painting, entitled 'The universe is infinitely wide', is estimated to fetch between £5,000 and £7,000.

Tim said: "Many of the 'missing' 1930s watercolours were exhibited in 1933 at the Zwemmer Gallery in London and later at the Leicester Galleries in 1938.

"Almost all the paintings were sold to private collectors and had not been seen since…one 1932 watercolour shown at Zwemmer’s had the intriguing title, 'The universe is infinitely wide'.

"It was purchased by Montague Shearman, a fascinating character, friend of the Bloomsbury set and a major art collector.

"Shearman died in 1940 and despite our best efforts we could not locate his Bawden painting.

"What we did find however, in a small, little-known London archive, was a black-and-white photograph of the watercolour.

"Ever since I’ve wondered whether it would pitch up and have always wanted to know what it would look like in colour…well, I’m delighted to announce that it has just come to light."

When Montague Sherman died in 1940, the Redfern Gallery London held a posthumous exhibition of his collection, and around that time the picture was acquired by Sir Duncan Oppenheim - who went on to become chairman of British American Tobacco and chairman of the council at the Royal College of Art, as well as being a painter himself.


The painting is sold by Sir Duncan's family, who said: "Our father loved this watercolour and it hung on the landing in his London house in Edwardes Square W8 until his death in 2003.

"We had no idea it was being so keenly looked for by Tim Mainstone and James Russell but are pleased that in bringing it to Olympia Auctions for sale - they and many others now know more of its history and will have a chance to see it in all its glorious colour."

At the time Bawden created this watercolour - named for a line in Wordsworth's Sonnet XIV - he was in his 30s and living in Brick House, Great Bardfield, firstly with his friend and fellow artist Eric Ravilious and later with his wife Charlotte Bawden.