Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Evelyn Dunbar


I've just started a new blog-project,  a series of commentaries, some short, some essay-length, about the paintings of my aunt, Evelyn Dunbar. It's over there, on the right, under Other Effusions.

Evelyn died suddenly in 1960, at the age of 53. She'd been out gathering peasticks with her husband, my uncle Roger Folley, near their house on the North Downs in Kent. May 12th was the date, so almost exactly 52 years ago. Whom the Gods love, die young...

Most of the information about her on Google says that Evelyn was the only female salaried Official War Artist, employed during World War 2 to record women's contribution to the war effort. This isn't strictly true: there were at least 4 other female War Artists, and the government (actually the Ministry of Information) paid Evelyn a maintenance allowance plus so much per painting. She was never paid a salary. The government accepted most but not all of her work. The Imperial War Museum holds a good selection of her work, ranging from paintings of the Blitz civilian evacuation measures to the work of the Women's Land Army. Other examples of it are in Tate Britain, Manchester and Sheffield City art galleries and elsewhere.

Evelyn was much more than a war artist, though. Throughout her work there's a theme of countryside, especially of the Kentish Weald, which she loved deeply. Gardens, farming, husbandry of all kinds she saw - and painted and drew - as man's side in a covenant between Mankind and Nature. Nature will provide endlessly for Mankind's benefit and survival: in return Mankind must cultivate, respect and love the Nature of which he is heir and steward.


She drew the little self-portrait above, of herself wearing a rhubarb-leaf sun hat, sometime in the late 50s. She was a very remarkable person, endlessly cheerful, generous and kind, energetic, a great lover of life and creation and a model of content. At the same time she was modest and unassuming. She was wonderful company and an unforgettable person. There's a full reminiscence of her here, something I wrote a few years ago (and have updated since) partly as an aide-mémoire for her biographer, Dr Gill Clarke, whose exemplary and very readable biography Evelyn Dunbar: War and Country came out in 2006.

I'd like this project to take on the form of a part-work, eventually building into a very personalised catalogue raisonné. I don't expect posts will be very regular. Do please enjoy it, if it's the sort of thing that appeals to you, and if you have friends who you think would enjoy the occasional excursion into Evelyn's world, then please pass the word on.

And top o' the mornin' to yez, Bob. 

9 comments:

Z said...

It must have been the most terrible shock when she died suddenly so young. I'm not sure that we ever stop missing someone we loved, and I hope that writing about her brings her back to you to some degree.

Christopher said...

Z, that's a very kind and sensitive comment, and of course it's perfectly true. There's also an urge to set so many inaccurate records straight before senility creeps in (OK, OK, I heard you think that subversive thought).

Vicus Scurra said...

Very glad that you are doing this.

Christopher said...

Vicus, how kind. Thank you!

Martin said...

A worthy project, Christopher. I'll certainly be keeping my eye open for new posts.

Christopher said...

Thank you, Martin. And thank you for registering as a follower of my Evelyn Dunbar blog. May you be the first of many.

Rog said...

Who amongst us hasn't looked at a discarded Rhubarb leaf and wished we had the nerve to adopt it as a hat?

Strood hil brings back memories but I was horrified to follow links and discover that Wye College has been closed down. Madness.

Christopher said...

Very true, Rog. Or a tea-cosy.

And the closure of Wye College was a dreadful mistake.

Anonymous said...

...i thort u'd gon 4 gud with this blog! & who's the "Bob" u greet in such Irish manner?