Wednesday 1 May 2024

Country Life 1938 Gardener's Diary (1937)

Country Life 1938 Gardener's Diary: cover

It's ironic that this little book, among the lesser works of Evelyn's career, and of which so few copies have survived,  should have had such a strong influence on the horticultural direction of Evelyn's work from the late 1930s onwards. Diaries of this type don't usually  outlive their usefulness. The copy shown above is lucky to have found a lasting home in the library of the Royal Horticultural Society, in Vincent Square, London. Here's the background.

In late 1933, having completed a postgraduate year at the Royal College of Art, Evelyn rented a newly refurbished studio at 99, South End Road, Hampstead, from Noel Carrington, writer, designer and publisher, eventually of Puffin books. At least part of Evelyn's reason for renting this top-floor studio was to provide an artistic roof not only over her head but also that of Charles Mahoney, her recent RCA mural tutor and fast becoming her lover, who had no premises in which to work. Mahoney and Evelyn were working on an extensive project, the Brockley murals, featured in some depth here.

Her presence in Hampstead also allowed Evelyn to keep up with that coterie of creative spirits which the writer and art critic Herbert Read was later to call a 'gentle nest of artists'. The 'gentle nest' rivalled Bloomsbury in the variety and quality of its nestlings. One such, until he retired as Principal of the RCA, was Sir William Rothenstein, for whom Evelyn was a favoured protégée; another was Noel Carrington. It was via Carrington that Evelyn was commissioned to provide a set of decorative drawings for The Scots Weekend, a dip-into miscellany compiled by Donald and Catherine Carswell, two exiled Glaswegians who had settled in Hampstead. It was Evelyn's first such venture.

Mahoney, by no means a Hampstead socialite, led Evelyn into the ambit of another coterie, initially through his involvement with the garden and its design at Brick House, Great Bardfield, in Essex. This house was shared between the artists Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, with their respective wives Charlotte and Tirzah. Both artists - together with Mahoney - were tutors at the RCA, appointed as young bloods to ginger up the teaching staff by Rothenstein in the late 1920s, although neither taught Evelyn. By the time in the mid-1930s that Evelyn and Mahoney had become such frequent house guests at Brick House that they were nicknamed 'Adam and Eve', the Raviliouses had moved elsewhere. In a sense Evelyn had become a link between Hampstead and Great Bardfield. The link, such as it was, did not last beyond Evelyn's and Mahoney's separation in September 1937.

In addition to his other activities Noel Carrington worked for the magazine Country Life, commissioning, editing and publishing its various satellite publications. Great Bardfield was closely involved: Ravilious produced the Country Life Cookery Book in 1937; in 1936 Bawden was commissioned to prepare the Country Life Gardener's Diary for the following year; and Evelyn was commissioned in 1937 to prepare and illustrate the Country Life 1938 Gardener's Diary

* * *

To some extent Evelyn modelled her Gardener's Diary on Bawden's of the previous year, providing space for observations, reminders and remarks about the weather - not featured here - interleaved with richly subtle and imaginative pen-and-ink personifications of the months of the year, many engaged in seasonal activities, together with suitable gardening quotes from a wide sweep of sources, ranging from the biblical Book of Job to the late 19th century socialist horticulturalist Shirley Hibberd (a man, but I'm sure you knew this already.). The illustrations of the months are the book's greatest delight; such was surely Evelyn's pleasure with the images that appeared from the end of her pen that she later worked some of her creations up into oils. There was a darker side, however: some of her images have secondary, autobiographical levels. They testify to hard, not to say cruel times following Mahoney's abandonment of her, and the beginning of what she called her 'crisis years', 1937-1940. One has only to look at April's hat to conclude that something very strange is happening.

Here are the complete months. The occasional links take you to essays on Evelyn's later oil versions. There are echoes of one or two of the months, for instance January below, in her An English Calendar of 1938.








Sincerest thanks to the Royal Horticultural Society for permission to photograph the Country Life 1938 Gardener's Diary.


Text ©Christopher Campbell-Howes 2024. All rights reserved.


Further reading...

by Christopher Campbell-Howes

is available to order online from:

Casemate Publishing | Amazon UK | Amazon US

448 pages, 301 illustrations. RRP £30

Friday 12 April 2024

'Princess Caroline' (c.1952)

Princess Caroline Oil on canvas c.1952 Signed 'ED' Photograph ©Bonhams Private collection

In the mid- to late 1950s, in what were to be the last years of her life, Evelyn applied herself sporadically to a long-held ambition, the creation of books of rhymes and stories, games and activities for children. Unable to have children of her own, she enlisted friends and their children to help her in these compilations. A possible collaborator in Princess Caroline was a schoolfriend from 35 years before, Constance Breed (as she later became), wife of the Rector of March, Cambridgeshire, and her children. 

Under the Sky: Verses for Children by Constance Breed; Decorations by Evelyn Dunbar. C.1952. 

None of these projects was ever completed. Evelyn died in 1960, when she was 53. The only insight we have into them are the many sketches she left behind of children skipping, leap-frogging, playing tig, hiding and seeking and so on, some with suggestions of titles. (There is a 1924-50 compilation of Evelyn's images of children here.)


 Sketch for Some Games, c.1952.

The inscription at the foot of the right-hand page of the Some Games sketch above appears to mention 'Puffin', and perhaps Evelyn was also thinking of producing something in the Picture Puffin list, a  popular series of books for children first envisaged by the publisher and designer Noel Carrington. Carrington had commissioned pre-war work from Evelyn and had once been her Hampstead landlord, but nothing came of this connection. More fully-worked sketches lead us towards what might have been:



 Some Games Sketches 1: 'Atishoo, atishoo, all fall down'. Water colour, c.1952


 Some Games Sketches 2: Skipping. Water colour, c.1952


 Some Games Sketches 3: Ring-a-Ring-o'-Roses. Water colour, c.1952

These children represent Evelyn's own cultural and social milieu: middle class, white, prosperous, cultivated. Some of them will be World War 2 children, variously designated by later demographers as the Silent Generation or Baby Boomers. The ring of children in Sketch 3 above have danced their way into Princess Caroline; Evelyn has cleverly insisted that the ring is unbroken behind the giant tulip.

 At least three sketches exist inscribed Princess Caroline, in which a girl is washing her long blonde hair in a tub out of doors. In the lower left-hand corner of Sketch 1 below, much reduced, the same figure - we can suppose - is just discernible standing inside a tulip-type flower and is looking out, as though from a sailing ship's crow's nest.



 Princess Caroline Sketch 1 Pen and water-colour c.1952 Photograph © Liss Llewellyn Private collection


Princess Caroline Sketch 2 Pen and water-colour c.1952 Photograph © Liss Llewellyn Private collection

                       Evelyn Dunbar - Princess Caroline

 Princess Caroline Sketch 3 Pen and water-colour c.1952 'Evelyn Dunbar' Studio signature stamp Photograph © Liss Llewellyn Private collection

 * * *

Princess Caroline, not the best-known of children's rhymes, runs:

Princess, Princess Caroline,

Washed her hair in cowslip wine.

Cowslip wine makes it shine:

Princess, Princess Caroline.

(The original, or perhaps the parody, of this fairly ancient rhyme was scurrilously applied to the future wife of George II, Princess Caroline of Anspach, substituting 'turpentine' for 'cowslip wine'.)

In the oil version of Princess Caroline we have the subject, again standing in the tulip flower, allowing her long blonde hair, freshly washed and shining, to hang over the edge of a petal. Given the work and thought that went into Evelyn's composition, it seems likely that she intended it, suitably reproduced, to feature prominently in a collection of sometimes unfamiliar children's rhymes, maybe as the frontispiece.

Another possibility is that Evelyn, having selected it from a water-colour original, worked it up into oils as a gift, perhaps personalising it with recognisable images of children, especially the robust lad lying on his back on a tulip leaf, and the girl opposite him, both apparently gazing at the cascade of freshly-washed blonde hair from the flower above.

* * *

In 1947 Evelyn was appointed to the staff of the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford by the Master, Albert Rutherston. Rutherston, brother of Sir William Rothenstein, for whom Evelyn was something of a protégée, had anglicised his surname, as did many people of German extraction, in the shadow of World War 1. Evelyn, Rutherston and his circle enjoyed an amicable relationship, one that continued after she left Oxford to settle in Kent in 1950, while continuing to teach at the Ruskin as an occasional Visitor.

The circumstances of the subsequent history of Princess Caroline are vague. A possible scenario is that it was a gift from either Rutherston or Evelyn to Patricia Koring (the subject of several of Rutherston's portraits, sometimes described as his muse) in recognition of a family birth, maybe as something suitable for hanging in the nursery. Evelyn provided a frame for it, possibly adapting the frame that originally enclosed her similarly-sized Woman with a Dog  (1938), retrieved from the New English Art Club's 1947 exhibition.

Princess Caroline was sent for auction in 2023. It's always a special moment when a hitherto unknown canvas by Evelyn, unseen in public for some 70 years, makes its appearance.

With thanks to Emeritus Professor Kenneth McConkey for his input and to Anne Skilbeck for hers.


Text ©Christopher Campbell-Howes 2024. All rights reserved.


Further reading...

by Christopher Campbell-Howes

is available to order online from:

Casemate Publishing | Amazon UK | Amazon US

448 pages, 301 illustrations. RRP £30