Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960)   BIOGRAPHY

Enquire
 
Senior Sister PMRAF Nursing Service [HMO 55]
Framed (ref: 6736)
Labelled on verso ‘RAF South Cerney 1944’ in Roger Folley’s handwriting. Pencil and watercolour on paper. 18 x 15½ in. (45.7 x 39.5 cm)

 


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


Exhibited: Evelyn Dunbar - The Lost Works, Pallant House Gallery, October 2015 - February 2016, cat 100.WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October-23 November 2016, cat 85. Literature: Evelyn Dunbar - The Lost Works, eds Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2015, cat 101, page 148; WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, eds Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 85, page 128; Evelyn Dunbar: A Life in Painting, Christopher Campbell-Howes, October 2016, page 321. We do not know the identity of this Senior Sister in Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service, and it may be that while Dunbar was at RAF South Cerney, Gloucestershire, recording the activities of women’s uniformed services that she was directed not to name her subjects. All that we know is that her subject is wearing a white ward dress underneath an RAF blue tippet adorned at the points with the Rod of Aesculapius, the classical healing wand emblem of medical services, and shoulder boards showing her rank and status. One of the artist’s rare watercolours for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, it was never submitted.



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