Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960)   BIOGRAPHY

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Roses of Britain [HMO 783]
Unframed (ref: 6284)
Oil on canvas
29 ½ x 20 in. (75 x 51 cm)

 


Provenance: Roger Folley; Alasdair Dunbar; Hammer Mill Oast Collection


Exhibited: Evelyn Dunbar - The Lost Works, Pallant House Gallery, October 2015 - February 2016, cat no 78.

Literature: Evelyn Dunbar - The Lost Works, Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2015, cat. 78page 123.

Shop window display for the artist’s sisters’ The Children’s Shop on Rochester High Street. Design and lettering by Dunbar.





The Children’s Shop & Commercial Design
"There was clearly a strong entrepreneurial streak in the Dunbar family. In December 1938 an article in The Chatham News proclaimed that ‘Although today there are half-a-dozen flourishing businesses associated under the name Dunbar, the family was unknown in Strood when the twentieth century was born.’ 
William, Evelyn’s father, had come south from Scotland some time in the latter years of the nineteenth century, first to Reading and then briefly to Bournemouth before finally setting up in business as a bespoke tailor and draper in Rochester, Kent, ‘the archaeologist’s and the historian’s heaven’ as Richard Church described it. 
During the interwar years as the Dunbar children grew to 
maturity the name became ubiquitous in Rochester High Street: Evelyn’s brother Ronald branched out into radios and bicycles while two of her sisters, Jessie and Marjorie, opened The Children’s Shop. For several years the living accommodation above this shop at 244 High Street was also the family home until William bought The Cedars across the Medway at Strood.
Jessie and Marjorie were only one year apart in age, they never married and were like
twins living for each other happy in themselves, delighting in their work dressing small
children, and firm in their in their adherence to the Christian Science faith in which their
mother had reared them. They established The Children’s Shop soon after the end of
World War I and Evelyn, though still in her early ‘teens was happy to help. Even when her
commitments at the Royal College of Art and Brockley shifted the focus of her activity
to London, she continued to assist designing headed notepaper (CAT 79) and other
stationery (CAT 77), lettering publicity panels and painting the delightful signboard for
the shop with its frolicking mice and sparrows (CAT 76).
In 1938, some eighteen years after opening The Children’s Shop, the two sisters
expanded their business interests when they took over a well-established haberdashery
further down the High Street, including, according to a notice in The Chatham News, its
stock of rare silks: they renamed it The Fancy Shop. Their brother Ronald’s business
had by then expanded to such an extent that he took over Strood Hall and in December
that year advertised a Home Comfort Exhibition and a Miniature Radiolympia with:
‘TELEVISION, FREE DEMONSTRATION DAILY: FURNITURE, a representative selection of the most up-to-date and attractive styles for Bedroom, Dining Room and Sitting
Room: CHILDREN‘S WEAR and TOYS: Knitting Wools, ART NEEDLEWORK and Fancy
Goods’. The gros point panel Opportunity (CAT 75) embroidered in wools from The
Fancy Shop and copied from a 1936 painting by Evelyn might well have been one of the
pieces of Art Needlework included in this display.
With the opening of The Fancy Shop at 168 High Street Evelyn took over the first floor
to show paintings and items of antique furniture; she named her department the Blue
Gallery and in March 1939 staged an ambitious exhibition of work by friends including
Charles Mahoney, Allan Gwynne-Jones, Kenneth Rowntree and Edward Bawden as
well as sculpture by Bainbridge Copnall. However, with war looming on the horizon,
times were not propitious and the gallery soon closed and Evelyn found employment as
an Official War Artist. The Christian Science Reading Room took over the vacant space
in The Children’s Shop under the care of Jessie and Marjorie. "
Peyton SkipwithShop window display for the artist’s sisters’ The Children’s Shop on Rochester High Street. Design and lettering by Dunbar.




Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960)

The importance of Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960) in the history of British 20th century art is continually being reassessed and belatedly recognised. A gifted draughtswoman: youthful prodigy; brilliant student at the Royal College of Art under Sir William Rothenstein and a galaxy of teaching staff including Allan Gwynne-Jones, Alan Sorrell and Charles Mahoney; principal muralist at Brockley School; book illustrator; devout Christian Scientist; official World War 2 artist, the only woman artist to be salaried throughout the war; post-war allegorist and much-loved teacher; subtly insistent feminist; devoted plantswoman, gardener and inspired advocate of 'green' values; warm and witty but self-effacing personality with many accomplishments including, unexpectedly, rock-climbing and playing the banjo; but above all a very individual artist of spirited imagination and consummate technique, whose work, which hangs in all major UK galleries and several overseas, defies ready classification.

Born in Reading, Berkshire, into a merchant family, Evelyn Dunbar moved in childhood to Kent, where she lived for most of her life. A close post-RCA relationship with Charles Mahoney, with whom she shared the painting of the Brockley Murals, also led to the jointly written and illustrated Gardeners' Choice (1937). Her Christian Scientist background helped her to develop firm ideas about the interaction of mankind and nature. Initially limited to the context of the family garden in Rochester, Kent, her ideas found a wider field of expression when, having been appointed Official War Artist in 1940, Evelyn Dunbar quickly became particularly associated with the Women's Land Army. Her remit to record women's home front activities also allowed her to promote a gentle and unaggressive feminism.

Evelyn Dunbar's relationship with Mahoney ended in 1937. In 1940 she met and married Roger Folley, then an RAF officer but later to become a leading horticultural economist. Their common interests and convictions encouraged Dunbar, after the war, to concentrate on a series of allegorical paintings and drawings which reflected her beliefs, and also her debt to Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaëlites, whose ideas about the function of art and the place of narrative in painting she acknowledged as strongly influential.

Evelyn Dunbar divided her postwar years between allegories, teaching as a Visitor at the Ruskin School, exhibiting - as she had done before the war - in a rather dilatory and self-effacing way, and, towards the end of her life, recording her beloved Kent in landscapes again expressive of the synergy between man and nature. Evelyn Dunbar died suddenly at the age of 53, leaving behind a studio collection of some 800 works, major and minor, which only came to light in 2013 and for the public presentation of which Liss Llewellyn Fine Art has been responsible. Among them was a wealth of paintings and drawings bespeaking, as does her entire œuvre, a warm and cheerful personality working in the best humanist tradition of English art, and a modest and imaginative woman of deep convictions, richly gifted in her means and techniques of expressing them.

We are grateful to Christopher Campbell Howes for his assistance.

See all works by Evelyn Dunbar