Evelyn Dunbar was the only salaried female World War II artist, yet the importance of her work is continually being reassessed and belatedly recognised.
When a painting by Evelyn Dunbar appeared on the BBC Antiques Roadshow in 2013, a relative set to work exploring her creations and found 800 paintings and sketches hidden in the attic of Dunbar’s Kent home.
Now, the Watts Gallery have brought together 150 pictures, over half of which have never been previously shown, for the first selling exhibition of her work.
Born in 1906, Evelyn Dunbar was a youthful prodigy and won national awards for drawing while she was at Rochester Grammar School for Girls. She went on to study at the Royal College of Art and formed a close working relationship with her tutor, Charles Mahoney.
They subsequently wrote and illustrated the Gardeners’ Choice book. In 1937, Dunbar received a commission from Country Life magazine to design its 1938 Gardener’s Diary. She created inventive pen-and-ink personifications of the months, and September’s illustration can be seen and purchased in the exhibition. (It was one of my favourites!)
In 1940 she was appointed Official War Artist and quickly became particularly associated with the Women’s Land Army. She met and married Roger Folley, an RAF officer who later became a leading horticultural economist. Their shared interests encouraged Dunbar. After the war, she concentrated on a series of allegorical paintings and drawings which reflected her Christian Scientist beliefs. They showed 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 post-war years between allegories, teaching as a Visitor at the Ruskin School, exhibiting and, towards the end of her life, recording her beloved Kent in landscapes again expressive of the synergy between man and nature.
It is a truly wonderful exhibition. Visit as soon as you can!
‘Evelyn Dunbar: Studies, Illustrations and Paintings’ is at the Watt’s Gallery 14th July – 24th September 2017. Entry is free for this exhibition.