Thursday, 20 December 2012

Roger Folley (1945-46)

Evelyn Dunbar Roger Folley 1945-46
Accreditation of the image above is rather complicated. Evelyn's 1945-46 portrait of her husband, completed shortly after his demobilisation from the RAF in December 1945, is in a private collection.
 The photograph above is one I took in November 2011 of another photograph, itself taken about 1985: Roger, 40 years on, is holding his own portrait up for the camera.

Shortly before the time of painting, Evelyn and Roger had moved into their first married home together, a small cottage in the Warwickshire village of Long Compton. It was a big adventure for them both. Roger, then 33, had survived the war as a night-fighter navigator. Although unharmed physically in any way, his wartime experiences had left various scars, among them a fear of flying. He never flew again, although he remained a life member of the RAF Association.

For Evelyn many things changed. With the ending of the war her commissions from the War Artists Advisory Committee finished abruptly, together with her fees and allowances. Exhibition at the Royal Academy of her last and greatest war painting, A Land Girl and the Bail Bull, in October 1945 marked the end of the most productive period in her life. Although now free to follow her own artistic paths at her own pace, she had little to no work on hand.

They had gone to Long Compton, in a part of England unfamiliar to both of them and a long way from Evelyn's family in Kent, at the invitation of Roger's sister, who lived next door in a house called The Old Orchard. Roger and Evelyn called their home Vyner's Cottage, after a previous occupant. Vyner's Cottage needed a great deal of work doing to it. An unheated stone outbuilding became Evelyn's studio.

In his unpublished pamphlet Evelyn Dunbar: The Husband's Narrative of 2007 Roger describes this immediate post-war period, fairly bleak in some ways:

So it came to pass, that when I was demobilised in December 1945, Evelyn found herself, at the age of 39 years, yoked to a husband of 33 years, one who had always been provided for and was sadly lacking common knowledge and the ways of the world, and without a thought for age. In short, the complete greenhorn. For her part, Evelyn had had a sheltered upbringing and extended studentship. She was the more experienced, but still living at home.

In January 1946 there was no obvious employment for a farm economist. Neither party made a move towards a return to Sparsholt [Farm Institute]. I felt I had outgrown the job. I do not recall actively looking for work, nor were we in the hope of 'something will turn up'. We were in limbo, for the best part of a month, and then the unexpected happened. My sister offered us the use of a vacant cottage adjoining her house at Long Compton. With more pull than push, we leaped at the chance. The Dunbars gave us some furniture, and we moved there, not fully appreciating what a haven The Cedars had been.

'Long Compton is [...] completely rural and with job prospects infinitely worse than Strood. [Strood is the trans-Medway part of Rochester where the Dunbar family home, The Cedars, was.] Only a better man than I could have forged a living there. Somehow we existed until, in the Spring, I learned of a vacancy in the North Cotswold District of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. There was little competition and I was appointed. Confident of the security of salaried employment, we could look forward, and our married life began. Evelyn had her first experience of housekeeping, but her painting was handicapped. The cottage had few rooms, low ceilings and low windows. Nevertheless she made her first portrait here...'

'Her first portrait', i.e. of her husband - a second followed a year or two later - was the one shown above. I think Evelyn's portrait of her husband reflects the uncertainties and anxieties of those early post-war days. Roger looks at the worst peevish, at the best thoughtful.
 The author with Roger Folley, aged 95, with his thumbstick 'Matey', a few weeks before his death. Evelyn's portrait is on the wall behind him, together with Sir William Rothenstein's, briefly described in Girl and a Birdcage. Author's photograph.

Many thanks to Jane England for her help.

(Original text © Christopher Campbell-Howes. All rights reserved.)


Further reading...
EVELYN DUNBAR : A LIFE IN PAINTING by Christopher Campbell-Howes
is available to order online from
448 pages, 300 illustrations. £25

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