Raverat, Gwendolen Mary, 1885-1957 (née Darwin, artist)
Gwen Raverat, the daughter of the astronomer Sir George Howard Darwin (1845–1912) and his wife, Maud du Puy (1861–1947), of Philadelphia, was born on 26 August 1885 in Cambridge, where she spent her childhood. Her father was professor of astronomy and she had two uncles at Cambridge, while her mother's uncle by marriage was Sir Richard Jebb, professor of Greek.
By the age of ten Gwen Darwin was already drawing continuously from life and strongly wished to become an artist. In 1908 she went to the Slade School of Art, then under Frederick Brown and Henry Tonks, where she learned painting, but she taught herself wood-engraving. At Cambridge before the First World War she found herself a member of a group of talented young men and women, of whom the most prominent was Rupert Brooke. She fell in love with Jacques Pierre Raverat, a young French mathematical student from the Sorbonne who was continuing his studies at Emmanuel College, and persuaded him to become a painter and join her at the Slade. They were married in 1911.
At the outbreak of war the Raverats were living in Cambridgeshire, but in 1915 they went to Le Havre to be near his family. Jacques Pierre Raverat, by then suffering from disseminated sclerosis, tried to join the French army as an interpreter. He failed, and the couple returned to England and lived at Weston, near Baldock, Hertfordshire, where their two daughters were born: Elizabeth on 26 December 1916 and Sophie Jane on 20 December 1919. In 1920 they went again to France and lived at Vence, where Gwen Raverat nursed her husband through his long final illness, until his death in 1925. She then returned to England to live at the Old Rectory, at Harlton, near Cambridge. In 1941 she moved into rooms in Cambridge, and finally took the Old Granary at the end of the garden of her birthplace, Newnham Grange.
Apart from illustrating 'Spring Morning' (1915), a little paper-bound book of early poems by her lifelong friend and cousin Frances Cornford, Raverat's work until the 1930s consisted of single prints. These were widely exhibited, and gave her a standing among fellow artists and collectors. She was a founder member of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920, and active on its committees, which met at her studio in Mecklenburgh Square, London. After 1932, when the Cambridge University Press published her engravings for a second edition of The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children, selected by Kenneth Grahame, her work was in continual demand from publishers. Her last important work was the writing of 'Period Piece' (1952), a perceptive account of her upbringing and family. She contributed art criticism to 'Time and Tide' between 1928 and 1939.
After a stroke in 1951 Raverat could no longer engrave, but she continued to paint. She died in Cambridge on 11 February 1957.
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- ARCHON code (for CUL materials): University Archives (GBR/0265) X