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Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Evelyn Dunbar: War and Country

We were very fortunate to have Dr Gill Clarke for our January talk on Evelyn Dunbar. The talk was entitled War and Country and it wouldn't surprise anyone who attended the talk to know that Gill has written a book entitled just that, and is an absolute expert on Evelyn Dunbar. I've just looked up 'War and Country' by Gill Clarke on Abe books and found even second hand copies are fetching £45!

I love Evelyn Dunbar's work, thoroughly enjoyed the 'Lost Works' exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, and bought the book, so I was really looking forward to this lavishly illustrated virtual talk on 13 January. Gill met almost everyone associated with Evelyn Dunbar in researching her, and visited all the places where she'd lived, stayed or worked, apart from Evelyn herself who sadly died in 1960 aged just 54. Gill also visited the Imperial War Museum where there's a collection of Evelyn Dunbar's letters.

Evelyn Dunbar went to Rochester Grammar School which was a progressive school where I think members of the Royal Drawing Society came and taught the students and she learned to 'see, remember, reproduce' and trust your eyes. She was the youngest of five children who were keen gardeners; from school she went to the school of art at Rochester and then got a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. At the time she went, William Rothenstein was the principal when she went, he employed practicing artists to lecture to the students. Evelyn Dunbar was romantically linked with Charles Mahoney, her tutor, and in 1931 won a prize awarded by the Times newspaper.

She is well known for the Brockley Murals which she worked on from 1933-36. They were based on fables and were the most important creations of the age. There's a great blog post here about the making of the murals. They can still be seen at Prendergast School

Above one of the panels in the mural, the fable referred to is don't cry over spilt milk, and below, The Cock and the Jewel is one of Aesop's fables.

I've taken that photo from the computer, hence the strange effect. Gill also showed us illustrated letters Evelyn had written to people:

In the late 1930s, Evelyn and Charles went their separate ways, Evelyn produced quite a few garden paintings, and exhibited with Edward Bawden. In 1939, she joined the Womens' Land Army and worked at Sparsholt Farm. Evelyn Dunbar was the only female second world war artist.

 In 1942, she met Roger Foley who lived from 1912-2008. Gill knew Roger quite well before his death.

Here is Roger Foley photographed with a portrait Evelyn made of him.

They moved to Wye in 1953 where Roger was a taught at Wye College. Sadly with Evelyn's premature death, they only had 8 years of married life. I'm now going to include some of my favourite paintings, from the Womens' Land Army days and gardens she loved. This one below is 'Womens' Land Army Hostel' c1943, it can be seen at Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth.

This is 'The Fish Shop' 1943 with Roger Folley making an appearance on the bicycle!
This looks like back breaking work, it's entitled 'Sprout Picking in Monmouthshire'
Below 'Milking Practice with Artificial Udders'

And 'Canning Demonstration' 1940

The painting below is called 'Women's Knitting Party' 1940

 I love this one 'Land Army Girls Going to Bed' 1943, it reminds me of the Ravilious' 'Attic Bedroom' painting

This painting is titled 'The garden' and is a good example of Evelyn's depiction of a personal space around a house.

Not so easy to see here, but 'Winter Garden' is a wonderful depiction of her garden with her house just visible to the right of the painting.

 You can find many more examples of Evelyn Dunbar's work, the Art UK website has many of those featured here and more: 

We were going to visit the Bournemouth Arts Club celebratory 100 years of existence in July 2020 at Russell-Cotes, this exhibition 'A Mirror of Our Times: 100 years of British Art' . This exhibition, curated by Dr Gill Clarke and including some 9 works loaned from the Swindon Collection has been postponed until the 14 July-11 October. More details here.

I do hope we can visit this year, and thank you Gill for giving us such a fabulous insight into Evelyn Dunbar.

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