Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960)   BIOGRAPHY

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Study for the background to The Queue at the Fish Shop
Framed (ref: 7897)
Inscribed with colour notes.  Pen & ink on paper.  13 x 21 in. (33 x 53.3 cm)

 


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


Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 107.  Literature: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, eds Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 107, page 151; Evelyn Dunbar: A Life in Painting, Christopher Campbell-Howes, October 2016, pages 285-291. The Queue at the Fish Shop, perhaps the best-known of Dunbar’s war paintings and one of the most abiding images of wartime Britain, was, curiously, never a War Artists’ Advisory Committee commission, although gladly accepted by them. It dates from Dunbar’s 1942 engagement to Roger Folley, and the finished picture, now in the Imperial War Museum, can be seen in the light of Dunbar’s commitment to her future husband. The sketch was made from the first floor of Dunbar’s brother Ronald’s household emporium in Strood High Street. Dunbar was obliged to reduce Hill’s fish shop in height and to elongate it in order to accommodate the queue eventually painted in front of it. The fish shop and the adjacent properties were demolished in the 1960s to ease traffic congestion, although the original name, Angel Corner, survives. Christopher Campbell-Howes


We are grateful to Christopher Campbell-Howes for assistance.



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