Afternoon in the Field was shown by Eric Ravilious in November 1933, in his inaugural one-man exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery on Charing Cross Road, London.This exhibition contained a body of work that Ravilious had produced whilst staying with Edward Bawden at Great Bardfield. 1932 was a tremendously fertile period for Ravilious, and he worked feverishly with Bawden as the pair strove to fulfil their shared ambition of reinventing the English watercolour tradition. While this example echoes the work of earlier British watercolourists – such as John Sell Cotman, JR Cozens, Turner, and Palmer – the artist also challenges this tradition with his bravura approach to the medium, which combined both dry and wet brush techniques, and a myriad of striated, scored and cross-hatched marks.
This painting, like others from Ravilious’ oeuvre, captures everyday English rural life in the interwar years, and is a timeless depiction of rustic living. The location is most likely to be inspired by the Essex landscape around Bardfield, as with the majority of the works in Ravilious’ 1933 exhibition. The scene appears to contain a straw rick and a barn amongst the buildings in the distance, which would indicate that this was a farm, and perhaps the very same site where Ravilious painted The Tractor (now in the collection of Birmingham Museums). Furthermore, there are some traces in pencil of figures threshing in the middle ground of the work, which would lend this theory more credence, even though Ravilious decided not to include them in the final composition.
Ravilious only had three solo exhibitions in his all too short life: another with the Zwemmer Gallery in 1936, and one at Arthur Tooth & Sons in 1939, before he was tragically lost in an air-sea rescue mission off the coast of Iceland, whilst working as an Official War Artist.