Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960)   BIOGRAPHY

 
Studies for Putting on Anti-gas Protective Clothing, 1940, study b.
Framed (ref: 7675)
Pen, ink and wash 
10 3/4 x 15 in. (27 x 38.5 cm)

 


Provenance: The Artist's Family; thence by descent


Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 79b. 

Literature: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 79b, page 120.

By 1943 there were 7.25 million women engaged in war-related employment , the majority in agriculture, manufacturing and civil defence.
Evelyn Dunbar, the only woman to receive a full time salary, was commissioned to produce ‘agricultural and woman subjects’

Although recording the role  of women was one of the stated aims of WAAC as Brian Foss has pointed out the scheme nevertheless favoured images of women performing conventional roles - for instance the  predominance of paintings of  women as nurses  inspite of  the fact that in 1943 munitions worker outnumbered nurses  by 100 to 1 is noticeable.  Dunbar, as the only wpman to be salaried as an  Official War Artists delighted in showing women at work in all of the essential roles they performed during the war.

In July 1940 the Tate Gallery included this compartment painting in an exhibition of wartime art and it was also included in the Britain at War exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York the following year.
Putting on Anti-gas Protective Clothing (Art.IWM ART LD 247)

For Dunbar the Second World War offered new opportunities to explore the relationship between people and the natural world. In pictures examining how the war effort affected the home front, we see Dunbar move out of the realm of the domestic garden and into the productive world of farming. Her principle subject,the Women’s Land Army, gave rise to compositions such as ‘Men Stooking and Girls Learning to Stook’ (1940) and ‘Milking Practice With Artificial Udders’ (1940), closely related to her illustrations for A Book of Farmcraft. As well as demonstrating Dunbar’s experimentation with new painting techniques, these pictures served a didactic purpose in showing the correct ways of undertaking manual tasks.



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