Ravilious had a short working life from the time he left college until his tragic early death in 1942, a period of just seventeen years. although he was born in London his family soon moved to Eastbourne, where he attended the Eastbourne School of Art. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, London, where he became a pupil of Paul Nash (1893-1977) and studied alongside Edward Bawden (1903-1989), Douglas Percy Bliss (1900-1984) and Henry Moore (1898-1986). After finishing his course there he won a travelling scholarship to Italy. His first one man show of watercolours was at the Zwemmer Gallery, London in 1933.
At the outbreak of the First World War Ravilious joined the Observer Corps. In 1940 he was appointed an Official War Artist and worked at the Naval Barracks at Chatham and Sheerness, in Norway and the Arctic, and at Gosport and Newhaven. The following year he was at Dover painting the cross-channel bombardment and was sent to Scotland with the Fleet Air Arm. In 1942 he was with the Royal Air Force in Yorkshire, Essex and Hertfordshire. In late August he was posted to Iceland, but whilst taking part in an air-sea rescue operation off the coast his plane was lost.
The present work was painted circa 1937-38 at the Ravilious' home at Bank House in Castle Hedingham, near Great Bardfield in Essex, where Eric and his wife Tirzah moved in 1935. The following Eric was commissioned to do designs for Wedgwood. The plain Wedgwood vase seen here on the table was subsequently decorated with his 'Boat Race Day' design (1938). Another version of the same composition (Ravilious family collection) is illustrated in F. Constable, Eric Ravilious, London, 1982, pl. 14.