Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960)   BIOGRAPHY

Design for Garderner's Choice, N.12 - circa 1935
Framed (ref: 3936)

Pen and ink on buff paper, 4.5 in. (11 cm.) diameter


In a fine gilded oak frame with peg joints.

Provenance: Elizabeth Bulkeley.

This is likely to be an early design for Gardener's Choice,
a collaboration between Charles Mahoney and Evelyn Dunbar,  produced during 1937; the book was published at the end of the same year by Routledge. The full page illustrations were produced by Mahoney, the vignettes and much of the text by Dunbar. As Elizabeth Bulkeley notes in her biographical essay, “They presented the plants that they liked to draw, paint and grow. The were sculptural and bold, yet subtle, and unusual for their time. Each was described lovingly, as if in sharing their favourite plants they were sharing their mutual happiness."

Evelyn Dunbar studied at Rochester and Chelsea Schools of Art and Royal College of Art, 1929-33. A member of the Society of Mural Painters, she painted murals at Brockley County School, Kent, 1933-36, and at the Training College, Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire, 1956-7. During Word War II she was an Official War Artist, and is known especially for her paintings of the Women's Land Army. She was a visiting teacher at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford, from 1949. Latterly she concentrated on portraits. There was a strong pastoral theme in Dunbar's work, and she was an apt choice, with Charles Mahoney, to illustrate Gardener's Choice, in 1937. In 1941 she illustrated A Book of Farmcraft by Michael Greenhill, designed to help the novice farmhand and Land Girls tackle jobs on the land with greater proficiency and safety. She showed with and was a member of the NEAC and Goupil Gallery. The Imperial War Museum, Tate and Manchester City Art Gallery hold her work. She died near her home, Staple Farm, Hastingleigh, near Wye, Kent.

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