Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Phoebe Peto Willets-Dickinson (1917-1978)   BIOGRAPHY

Young woman in a beret, probably a Land Army girl, circa 1940
Framed (ref: 7030)
Inscribed Phoebe Dickinson Tannachie, West Malvern, Worcs, on the canvas return
oil on canvas 
18 x 16 1/2 in. (45.5 x42 cm)


Provenance: With the artist until 1978; thereafter by descent

Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 88. 

Literature: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 88, page 132.

On the basis of the inscription on the stretcher -Tannachie was the family home until at least 1943 - this painting is likely to date to one of the artist's trips back home to Worcester during her holidays as an art student in the late 1930's early 1940s. It equally seems likely that she painted this before marrying Alfred Willets in 1942, a conscientious objector whom she met in the Land Army. 

The model is likely to be  a Jewish refugee, possibly a fellow member of the Land Army in which the artist serverd.  A green felt beret was standard issue headwear for women in the Women’s Timber Corps section of the Land Army (but not for regular Land Army girls, who wore a brown felt brimmed hat). 

By 1942 all male British subjects between 18 and 51 years old and all females 20 to 30 years old resident in Britain were liable to be called up, with some exemptions: Provision was made for conscientious objectors, who were required to justify their position to a tribunal, with power to allocate the applicant to one of three categories: unconditional exemption; exemption conditional upon performing specified civilian work (frequently farming, forestry or menial hospital work); exemption from only combatant service, meaning that the objector had to serve in the specially created Non-Combatant Corps or in some other non-combatant unit such as the Royal Army Medical Corps. 

Phoebe Peto Willets-Dickinson (1917-1978)

Nee Dickinson, Phoebe studied at Birmingham Art School and The Royal School of Art London between 1934 and 1940.

During the second world war Phoebe served in the land army, it was here that she met Alfred, a conscientious objector who she married in 1942. First they lived in London and then later in the 1950's in Watford.

Phoebe's early works concentrated on portraits, flowers and still lives, the colour and style very much the Modern British School of realism.

Later when they moved to Cardiff in 1957 Phoebe and Alfred were early activists in the Direct Action Committee and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She served 6 months in prison for civil disobedience for trying to block the entrance to the Atomic Weapons Research establishment at Foulness Island. In 1965 she was ordained a Deaconess.

In the 1950s's (in oils) and 1960's (when she experimented with different media)  her style became  was increasingly surreal in spirit. Her paintings  engaged predominantly with subjects deeply important to her, anti war, equal rights and the ordination of women.

We are grateful to Ann Dowden (nee Willetts) for assistance

See all works by Phoebe Peto Willets-Dickinson