Edward Bawden watercolour

The universe is infinitely wide, a watercolour by Edward Bawden that made £8500 at Olympia Auctions.

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Titled The universe is infinitely wide, it was only previously known to scholars through an old black-and-white photograph.

Estimated at £5000-7000, it generated decent competition with the saleroom reporting both trade and private interest. Eventually it was knocked down at £8500 to a UK collector. With buyer’s premium added, the price was £10,625.

The 17.75 x 22.25in (45 x 57cm) watercolour, gouache and wash on paper was signed and dated 1932. At the time it was executed Bawden was in his 30s, living and working in the rural idyll of Great Bardfield, Essex which he found to be a welcome escape from the bustle of London. He initially took rooms in Brick House with his friend and fellow artist Eric Ravilious (1903-1942).

After marrying the potter and artist Charlotte Epton, his father purchased the house for the newly-weds and it became their permanent home.


While Bawden is now widely admired today as a printmaker and illustrator, his watercolours are rarer and arguably less well known, particularly those from before the Second World War.

Bawden expert Tim Mainstone of Mainstone Press and James Russell tracked down all such works that they could find in public and private collections and documented them in the 2016 book The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden.

Six watercolours proved elusive in their search, one of which was The universe is infinitely wide. Mainstone and Russell however located a black-and-white photograph of this particular watercolour in a small London archive.

Many of Bawden’s watercolours were exhibited in 1933 at the Zwemmer Gallery in London and later at the Leicester Galleries in 1938, both of which were commercially successful shows. The current picture was known to have been sold by the Zwemmer Gallery to Montague Shearman, an art collector who was a friend of the Bloomsbury set.

Shearman died in 1940 and, despite Mainstone and Russell’s best efforts, they could not trace the whereabouts of the work thereafter.

After it was recently consigned to Olympia Auctions from the family of Sir Duncan Oppenheim, Mainstone said he was “delighted” to be able to finally see the work in colour.

Oppenheim had hung on the landing in his London house in Edwardes Square until he died in 2003. A family member said: “We had no idea it was being so keenly looked for by Tim Mainstone and James Russell but are pleased that in bringing it 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.”