Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 31 Jan 2022

White Horses by Eric Ravilious and Anne Pattullo: recreating Eric Ravilious’s “lost Puffin”

In 1939, the editor and book designer Noel Carrington was beginning to commission works for a new series of books for Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books. This was a series called Picture Puffins and was based on a similar Russian series that Carrington and fellow artist Peggy Angus admired and collected. One of the early commissions was for a book about the Bronze Age and Neolithic figures – the horses and giants – cut into the chalk downs of Dorset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

Carrington knew just the person who could assist with suitable artwork: Eric Ravilious. Ravilious was fascinated by these mysterious and iconic figures and had already produced watercolours featuring some of them.

Ravilious was keen and almost immediately began to undertake trips to work on sketches of figures he had not yet done. This is the genesis of the “lost Ravilious Puffin” that has intrigued art historians and researchers for decades.

While initially extremely keen, by 1941 Ravilious had had second thoughts. He and his wife, Tirzah, were coping with a new baby and Ravilious was also now an official war artist and didn’t feel able to continue work on an additional project. He wrote to Carrington to say that now was not the time to pursue the Puffin commission and suggested it be postponed.

And just a little over a year later, Ravilious was dead. An RAF spotter plane which was searching for another craft which had failed to return from a routine patrol was itself lost over Iceland. The four-man crew plus observer Ravilious were declared missing in action: “failed to return, death presumed”, the official RAF notification would state.

Over the years there had been rumours that rough drafts for the abandoned Puffin title existed. But if this was the case the material certainly wasn’t amongst the papers and art works that Ravilious left. And then in 2010, the artist Roland Collins, then 92, a friend of Carrington, found that he had the dummy amongst his papers. It was very slender indeed, little more than penciled notes scribbled into a standard Puffin template that was used for all prospective publications in the series. But it gave a good indication of what Ravilious and Carrington had had in mind for the book, including the works that Ravilious had planned to include.

It is from this that Ravilious’s “lost Puffin” has been so lovingly recreated. Using Ravilious’s own watercolours and adding to these her own black-and-white illustrations and a text by Joe Pearson, illustrator Alice Pattullo has produced White Horses: English Hill Monuments, a recreation of what the Picture Puffin might have looked like had Ravilious lived to complete the commission. Clearly a labour of love, the title was published in 2019 by Design for Today in partnership with the Penguin Collectors Society. Copies are still available but one imagines they must be very limited.

Everything about this little book is a joy. The production and printing are excellent and the decision to put the explanatory text in a wrap-around paper jacket, thus enabling the “lost Puffin” to appear exactly as it might have done if published in the 1940s, was a stroke of genius. Seeing Ravilious’s wonderful watercolours in the context that many of them were originally produced for is thrilling, while Alice Pattullo’s supplementary black-and-white illustrations are sensitive and period-appropriate and Joe Pearson’s simple but informative text is perfectly judged.

One reads White Horses with a genuine sense of astonishment – a long-lost Picture Puffin containing some of the most quintessentially English watercolours imaginable has been convincingly recreated in every detail. It costs £15.00 plus £2.50 P&P and can be ordered directly it from Design for Today HERE.

What an unexpected pleasure it was to come across this.


Alun Severn

February 2022



Eric Ravilious elsewhere on Letterpress


Eric Ravilious


High Street by J.M. Richards and Eric Ravilious


High Street by J.M. Richards and Eric Ravilious – revisited