During her recovery from a mastectomy for primary cancer and closely followed by the death of my father, the artist Eric Ravilious, in 1942, my mother, Tirzah, wrote an entertainingly direct and perceptive autobiography of their life together. She was thirty-four and the mother of three young children. As a student, she had excelled as a wood engraver. She now rediscovered the creativity that had lain virtually dormant throughout her married life. She began painting in oils, but also produced a series of captivating images of local Essex houses and shop fronts, (1944–1949). She soon developed her own distinctive style, where each one was lovingly recorded with a mixture of print and collage which she assembled and sometimes constructed into a 3D model in a shallow box frame. This early example, Semi-detached Villas, has the barge boarding and paint work picked out in ochre against the dark brown house, and the deep wooden frame painted white gives an added spatial dimension to the image set back behind the glass. A quantity of sketches of architectural details suggest that all her subjects were from real life. The key to the success of Tirzah’s series of houses is that as a painter might set about portraying a human face, so Tirzah, by isolating the subject and stressing the features that most interest her, brings out the individuality that had originally attracted her to her subject. This picture was once owned by her friend, Kenneth Rowntree.
Eileen ‘Tirzah’ Garwood attended Eastbourne School of Art (1925–28), where she was taught by Eric Ravilious (1903–1942) whom she married in 1930.
She first exhibited in 1927, at the Redfern Gallery, and an early woodcut shown at the 1927 Society of Wood Engravers’ exhibition received significant praise in The Times. Such was the originality of her printmaking that she exerted an influence over Ravilious’ own wood engravings. She was also commissioned by the BBC in 1928 to illustrate Granville Bantock’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and made whimsical but exacting observational pictures that were popular with children and exhibited by the Society for Education in Art. While recovering from emergency mastectomy surgery in 1942 she wrote her autobiography, Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All (published posthumously in 2012). After Ravilious’ death that same year, Garwood remained in Essex until her remarriage in 1946. She was again diagnosed with cancer in 1948 and died in 1951. In 1952, a memorial exhibition was held at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne