Friday, 26 May 2017

Some Learned Scholars from VIa 1925

Some Learned Scholars from VIa 1925 Water-colour (7 x 12in: 17.7 x 30cm) Signed 'Evelyn M. Dunbar'. Photograph: Michael Shaw ©Christopher Campbell-Howes. Private collection.

Evelyn was 18 and in her last year at Rochester Grammar School for Girls when she painted Some Learned Scholars from VIa, a farewell memento of some of the friends with whom she had come through school, here maybe looking back on their shared experiences. Despite depriving herself - and us - of her friends' faces, she has contrived through an artful combination of clothes, stances, hair styles and accessories to assign a personality to each, even the girl on the extreme right, who looks hardly out of primary school. It's encouraging to see Evelyn looking beyond her home environment for her subjects, although maybe not very far.


Almost, if not exactly contemporary with Some Learned Scholars is this impenetrable photograph:

Hockey? Drama? Social history? A photograph from Evelyn's sixth form days at Rochester Grammar School for Girls. (Dunbar family archive)


Evelyn (4th from the left), who won her school hockey colours, has her eyes down for bullying off while being framed by two acolytes holding placards saying 'Georgian'. Why? Is this part of some pageant? I'm afraid we shall never know. Nor will we know, except by guesswork, whether any of the girls here also feature in Some Learned Scholars from VIa.

Text ©Christopher Campbell-Howes 2017
 

Further reading...
EVELYN DUNBAR : A LIFE IN PAINTING by Christopher Campbell-Howes
is available to order online from
http://www.casematepublishing.co.uk/index.php/evelyn-dunbar-10523.html
448 pages, 300 illustrations. £25

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Still-life: the complete œuvre (1920-1946)


Pansies and Violas 1946 (approx. 9½" x 13": 24 x 33cm) Photograph: Petra van der Wal © Liss Llewellyn Fine Art. Private collection.


Still-life was never really Evelyn's genre. To my knowledge there are only six in her entire canon, and I've reproduced them all here. The genre didn't appeal to her because for Evelyn life was never still, never unproductive: life had to move, to seethe, to regenerate, to be vital and compelling. In almost the totality of her work people are present, people moving, working, playing, fulfilling her calling to express creation, and mankind's relationship with it, in all its energy and power, actual and spiritual.

What Evelyn did produce in this form owes almost everything to her mother Florence, a doughty and indefatigable painter of still-lifes, almost always floral. Pansies and Violas, above, can perhaps be taken as Evelyn's tribute to her mother, who died in 1944. It's the first of Evelyn's post-war paintings, and the first to come from Vyners, the cottage in Long Compton, Warwickshire, where she and her husband Roger Folley set up their first married home. It's as though, having put her war painting behind her, the first item on her to-paint list was an in memoriam to the mother to whom she owed so much. I don't think she painted another still-life thereafter, unless the undated 'Bramley Apples in a Colander' is an exception.




'Bramley Apples in a Colander' nd (14 x 16in: 36 x 40cm) Photograph: Bert Janssen ©Christopher Campbell-Howes. Private collection.


I suggest - although I'm not convinced that it matters very much - that 'Bramley Apples in a Colander' may come later in Evelyn's career for no better reason that in the period 1938-47 apples appear quite often as a sub-theme in her work. They even stray into her war painting: A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling is all about apples, and a Bramley, similar in tone and texture, appears in a bowl of apples at the top of the painting. (It has to be said, however, that Bramleys, which used to be the preferred English cooking apple before being supplanted by European varieties, were very common indeed.)

 


It's likely that a study of a cineraria in a pot comes from Evelyn's late teenage years, when she shared a tower studio with Florence at The Cedars, the Dunbar family home in Strood, Rochester, Kent. 



'Cineraria with Letter' nd (20 x 14in: 51 x 36cm) Photograph: Bert Janssen ©Christopher Campbell-Howes. Private collection.

It's difficult to identify this particularly with Evelyn, or to distinguish it from Florence's work, other than by an un-Florentine sense of depth, some deft handling of shadow and by the inclusion of something extraneous, in this case a letter and envelope. However, the family provenance is immaculate, so no one needs doubt Evelyn's authorship.


The most surprising, indeed enigmatic, of Evelyn's still-lifes is perhaps the earliest. She's trying her hand at impasto, and certainly the roses below have a tactile quality, almost 3D feeling to them: 

 'Floribunda Roses' 1920 (18 x 16in: 45 x 40cm) Inscribed on verso 'Evelyn Mary Dunbar 1920 aged 14'. Photograph Michael Shaw ©Christopher Campbell-Howes. Private collection.

14! But there's just a little uneasy niggle: most floribunda roses flower in late spring and summer, so that if Evelyn is painting from the life and not from a copy, these roses must have been painted in the spring or summer of 1920, when she was 13; her 14th birthday wouldn't have fallen until December 18th, 1920. The inscription suggests that it may have been entered for an exhibition, perhaps one organised by the Rochester and West Kent Art Society, of which Florence was a member. Whether or not the inscription is strictly accurate, Floribunda Roses is an extraordinarily assured and competent piece of work and, like Cineraria with Letter above, maybe a rite of passage.



Pink Felt Hat nd Water colour on paper. Signed 'EMD' Photograph: Petra van der Wal ©Liss Llewellyn Fine Art. Private collection.

Pink Felt Hat was discovered among Evelyn's residual studio, one of the hundreds of artworks rediscovered in a Kentish oast house in 2013, having lain undisturbed since a few months after her death in 1960. I'm not aware of any context for it, nor whose hat it was to be immortalised like this, nor what fancy took Evelyn to stand it on top of a brass jug and back it with a bed-sheet. But I'm glad she did.

Finally, 'Kippers':

'Kippers' Oil on canvas nd (10 x 15in: 26 x 38cm) Photograph Bert Janssen ©Christopher Campbell-Howes. Private collection.


Nothing to say, except maybe to wish the viewer bon appetit. If you like kippers, that is.


Text ©Christopher Campbell-Howes 2017


Further reading...
EVELYN DUNBAR : A LIFE IN PAINTING by Christopher Campbell-Howes
is available to order online from
http://www.casematepublishing.co.uk/index.php/evelyn-dunbar-10523.html
448 pages, 300 illustrations. £25

Monday, 22 May 2017

Girl and a Birdcage c.1929

Girl and a Birdcage Oil on paper (14" x 10": 35.2 x 26.2cm) c.1929 Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust, Carlisle

Girl and a Birdcage is set in the scullery in The Cedars, the Dunbar family house in Strood, Rochester, Kent. Like the previous post, the subject is Evelyn's sister Jessie, who has just brought in an armful of tulips, daffodils and forsythia. A pale spring sunshine is flooding the room. Jessie is perched on the edge of the large glazed earthenware sink, filling a jug with water for the flowers. There are more bowls and pots beneath the sink. The surround sound, often hinted at in Evelyn's work, is almost as important as what is seen. The spring sunshine has encouraged the canary in the cage in the top right-hand corner to sing: this canary, or one of its friends, we've already seen: it appeared, more clearly defined, in Study for Decoration - Flight.) The water will be gurgling into the jug and maybe overflowing if Jessie does not pay attention, because Evelyn's brush has caught her sister when she too is singing. What she is singing remains a mystery: Tiptoe Through the Tulips, or even I Lift up My Finger and I Say Tweet-tweet, both of which came out in 1929, need not necessarily be taken as serious suggestions.



Girl and a Birdcage was the earliest of Evelyn's paintings to be thought of sufficient stature to be bought by a gallery, admittedly a few years after it was painted. In 1934 Sir William Rothenstein, Principal of the Royal College of Art, from which Evelyn had graduated the previous year, bought it for the Carlisle City Art Gallery. Rothenstein, always ready to promote his former students, had instituted a fund at Carlisle for the acquisition of works by up-and-coming artists, with himself as Honorary Advisor. He arranged for Evelyn to be paid £5 for Girl and a Birdcage, £328 at 2017 values. 

Text ©Christopher Campbell-Howes 2017 


Would you like to read more?
EVELYN DUNBAR : A LIFE IN PAINTING by Christopher Campbell-Howes
is available to order online from
http://www.casematepublishing.co.uk/index.php/evelyn-dunbar-10523.html
448 pages, 300 illustrations. £25