Thursday, 21 February 2013

Market Garden in Holland (1956?)

Evelyn Dunbar Market Garden in Naaldwijk 1956(?) (c.10" x 12": 25 x 30cm) Location unknown

I've known this endearing little composition for a long time. It's one of the very few, six or seven, of Evelyn's paintings that her husband Roger kept with him long after her death in 1960, almost until his own death in 2008. I don't know what happened to it. Apart from its benign and unassuming harmony, I think he had a particular reason for keeping it, which I'll come to in a moment.

The hands just visible at the sides are Roger's. He's holding the painting up to be photographed in the same circumstances, that's to say in his sister's garden in Scotland, as the 1946 portrait Roger Folley. The photo above is one I took of the original photo, itself taken in the mid-1980s.

It wasn't until I began to look very closely at this little landscape that I realised that there was something quite unusual about it. It was the central church spire that alerted me: it didn't really say 'Kent', which is where, together with Sussex, the great majority of Evelyn's landscapes are set. There are no figures in it, so it's hardly likely to be a leftover from her wartime paintings.

The other roof-lines didn't suggest The Weald, either. Although the greenhouses might be anywhere, the turreted outline of a sort of fortress on the centre left, the spire, the pitch of the tiled roof with the gable end facing us, the capped tower on the centre right all suggested Northern Europe. But where?

Roger's work as a lecturer at Wye College and as a leading horticultural economist in his own right often took him abroad. Usually he went on his own or with colleagues, but in or about 1956 he went to Naaldwijk, in Holland, partly to gather material for his book, now out of print, called Tomatoes the Dutch Way. On this occasion Evelyn went with him.

Roger sometimes regretted that Evelyn showed little interest in painting anything but her beloved Kent and Sussex. In the summer of 1956 he and Evelyn spent two weeks on the Italian Riviera, based on a little seaside place called Ospedaletti. (They very kindly took me with them.) Despite exploration into the mountainous Ligurian hinterland and along the excitingly picturesque coast as far as Portofino and Santa Margherita, Evelyn produced nothing but a few sketches. Although finding material for Evelyn to paint wasn't the chief purpose of the holiday, I think Roger sometimes found it hard to come to terms with Evelyn's first source of inspiration being from the land, and what it might produce when intelligently looked after. The Covenant, again.

So maybe it's not surprising that her accompanying Roger to Holland resulted in Market Garden in Naaldwijk (this is my title, incidentally, for want of a better), Evelyn's only painting recording something outside the United Kingdom. Maybe we won't be very far from the truth if we imagine Evelyn setting up her summer easel in some Dutch market garden where the balance of indoor and outdoor cultivation, and of the buildings in the background, produced a harmonious and comfortable scene. Meanwhile Roger may be in those very greenhouses discussing their methods with his Dutch hosts. And, almost the last of an excessive series of maybes, I wonder if travelling away together from home for Roger to work while Evelyn painted pleasantly recalled some of their shared wartime experiences?

Thanks to Jane England for her help in the preparation of this commentary.

(Text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved.)

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Alpha and Omega (1957)

Evelyn Dunbar Alpha and Omega (The Bletchley Panels) 1957 Oil on 5-plywood (2'8" x 4'3":  81 x 132cm) Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus

In late 1956 Evelyn was commissioned by the Board of Governors of Bletchley Park Training College and Dora Cohen, the Principal and an influential figure in the world of teacher training, to design and execute a mural to decorate the new college assembly hall. Evelyn had been recommended by an old friend, Percy Horton, Master of Drawing at the Ruskin School at Oxford, where Evelyn had been a Visitor since the late 1940s.

It's unlikely that Evelyn, together with practically the entire British population, had the slightest inkling of the true recent identity of Bletchley Park. From 1938 and throughout World War 2 the premises had been one of several stations of the Government Code and Cypher School. The tenth to be established of such out-of-London centres, it was known within the GCCS as Station X. In Bletchley Park, a late Victorian mansion not far from Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, and its satellite buildings the colossi of cryptography and codebreaking, Alan Turing, Harry Hinsley, Gordon Welchman, Mavis Lever, Hugh Alexander and others took giant steps towards winning the war in cracking the various military codes used by the Germans, among them the famous naval Enigma.

By 1948 every vestige of what had been an extremely secret operation had vanished, leaving the main house standing in a wasteland of weeds and camouflaged huts. Some £500-worth of restitution, including the fashioning of an ornamental pond out of a circular ground-level concrete tank holding water in case of fire, was needed to turn the site into a suitable premises for a teacher training college, for which there was a pressing need immediately after the war. Bletchley Park, for female students only, was the last teacher training college to be established under the Ministry of Education's Emergency Recruitment of Teachers scheme, and maybe Evelyn refers obliquely to this in the 'Omega' of her title.

Evelyn spent the first half of 1957 preparing a selection of some five oil and water-colour sketches for the College to choose from. There are in fact ten, but some are different versions of the same idea:

  Evelyn Dunbar: Preliminary sketches 1, 3 and 9 for Bletchley Park Training College mural, 1957: Oil and water-colour on paper: Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus

Evelyn Dunbar: Preliminary sketches 2 and 4 for Bletchley Park Training College mural, 1957: Oil and water-colour on paper: Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus

Evelyn Dunbar: Preliminary sketches 5 and 7 for Bletchley Park Training College mural, 1957: Oil and water-colour on paper: Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus

One, an expanded version of 5 and 7, stands on its own:

Evelyn Dunbar: Preliminary sketch 6 for Bletchley Park Training College mural, 1957: Oil and water-colour on paper: Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus

The final two are the richest in invention:
 Evelyn Dunbar: Preliminary sketches 8 and 10 for Bletchley Park Training College mural, 1957: Oil and water-colour on paper: Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus

(Dimensions: Nos. 1 - 4: c10" x 17": c.26 x 43cm. Nos. 5 - 10: c.8" x 12": c.19.5 x 29cm)

After Evelyn's death in May 1960 Roger had Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 framed. They were shown at a London exhibition mounted the following October by the Society of Mural Painters, of which Evelyn had been a member since 1944. In due course the eventual owner, Oxford Brookes University, acquired the complete set. They can be seen on-line here, where my numbering follows the given sequence.

Because Evelyn's finished product turned out to be a linked pair of panels, it's sometimes assumed that the original mural commission was for two paired images. It's difficult to make a convincing complementary pairing of any of these sketches. Each design, in its various versions, stands on its own. I don't think Evelyn, at this stage, had any intention of creating a pair of images which would reflect the purpose of Bletchley Park Training College. Presumably a set of four, possibly five, I suspect Nos. 1, 4, 5 (with an alternative in 6) and 10, were submitted. One was chosen to decorate the new college hall. Unfortunately we will never know which one.

(My private idea is that Evelyn would have preferred No. 10. The design is extremely bold and the symbolism is inventive and arresting. There's a compelling left-right travel to it, typical of Evelyn. The trunk of a knotted or pollarded willow tree, symbol of wisdom, has fallen. It's rotten, no more than a husk, and the wisdom it once contained has disappeared, no matter how minutely the children explore it, sitting on it, lying on it, clambering over it, peering through where an empty branch of wisdom might have been. Two slightly older figures, both apparently girls, on the right are indicating that what the children are looking for lies out of the frame, to the right. In No.8, the red-coated girl is pulling her companion in that direction, in No.10 she is pointing. There is some new building going on in the left background, as there is in many of these sketches, maybe reflecting the building going on at Bletchley Park, maybe symbolising the personal building that learning brings with it. What a mural this would have made!)

Now we start to unravel a fascinating tangle. Curiously, I was more closely involved, although marginally, with Evelyn's Bletchley Park work than with anything else she painted. (I don't count sitting for my portrait.) In July or August 1957, when I was 15, Evelyn invited me to accompany her to Bletchley for a week, to help her mix her paints, as she put it, and possibly for company as well: at that time Roger was on the other side of the Atlantic, serving on a UK Government Commission into the citrus industry in the Windward Islands, a commitment that lasted several months. We drove to Bletchley in their half-timbered estate car, which devotees of Morris Oxfords of the period will remember with affection.

In middle of the long summer vacation the College was deserted. We had the place to ourselves. Evelyn showed me the scope of her project: a new assembly hall had recently been built, or integrated into existing premises. It was to be decorated with a large mural. There was no mention of Alpha and Omega. Evelyn's task that week was to cover the selected wall area, as far as I remember facing an extensive window area, with glue size, and then, when the size was dry, to start the preliminary squaring up and sketching in of the principal elements. Evelyn encouraged me to help with the sizing, and I remember working on trestles, which we gradually lowered as we worked down the wall, happily slapping on the size with a large wallpaper brush, maybe 9" wide.

Once the job was finished there was time to kill while the size dried. I remember going into Oxford, some 50 miles away, of which my chief memories are going to tea at the Randolph Hotel and visiting Worcester College to see Evelyn's Summer Eights.

There's not the slightest doubt in my mind that the original Bletchley project was  comparable in size to The Country Girl and the Pail of Milk, the mural which she contributed to the Brockley murals twenty years and more before. Evelyn had made several visits to Bletchley before our week there, and would return the following week to start painting in earnest, although I would not be with her. The deadline for completion was November 29th, 1957, when Princess Alexandra of Kent was due to open the new hall.

Open it Princess Alexandra did, and although Evelyn was present there was no mural to grace the scene. What had happened? 

Evelyn was 50 and probably already affected by the hardening of the arteries that caused her death three years later, although her Christian Science would not allow her to recognise this imperfection. However enthusiastic she might have been at the start of the project, I think she later recoiled from the prospect of several weeks' travel between Wye and Bletchley, or several weeks - months, even - staying with friends in Oxford. Her summers were also the occasion for the courses and summer schools she gave at The Elms, a much more convenient and less solitary way of earning for a middle-aged woman than clambering about on trestles and scaffolds. Although not yet officially opened, the hall was already in use, meaning that Evelyn's painting time was limited to the summer vacation. I think many things conspired to drive Evelyn to abandon the project, or at least to look for a compromise. It's possible that Evelyn found her own designs too banal to be of lasting interest, maybe with the exception of 8/10, which might have been too bold to please the commissioning body.

I don't know what factors may have led to delaying the start of the mural, but as 1957 advanced it all became a terrible and nail-biting scramble. The lease on The Elms expired at the year's end. With Roger away in the Caribbean, it fell to Evelyn alone to house-hunt. With misgivings Roger, now returned from the Caribbean, and Evelyn moved in November into what they called Tan House, an uninteresting house in Wye with no studio. 'It was our one mistake', Roger wrote in Evelyn Dunbar: The Husband's Narrative, a pamphlet he produced for private circulation in the wake of Gill Clarke's 2006 biography of Evelyn: 'Strangely, we did not flourish there.' They stayed there for less than a year.

There was another factor, and a new interest. A mile or two from The Elms, at a place called Mersham le Hatch, was the Caldecott Community, a children's home founded by a remarkable woman called Leila Rendel. She named her children's home, which she had founded in the East End of London in 1911 and which had been housed in various places before finally coming to rest in East Kent, after Randolph Caldecott, a late Victorian illustrator of children's and other books. Her guiding principles for the nurturing and raising of children centred on the notions of healthy minds in healthy bodies and above all consistency and stability in a caring and ordered environment.

Leila Rendel encouraged neighbours who might have something interesting or stimulating to offer to adopt - not in any formal sense - children from the Caldecott Community. In 1957 she approached Evelyn, who responded, as might be expected, very positively (Roger was less interested: his work took him for longer and longer periods abroad), and subsequently boys from Caldecott came to The Elms to stay for odd weekends and sometimes for longer, especially during school holidays. With Evelyn's particular magic with lively and intelligent 10- and 11-year-olds it worked extremely well. Only two boys were 'adopted' by Evelyn over the remaining three years of her life, and one of these was a lad called Barry Paterson. (As witness to the deep impression Evelyn made on Barry Paterson, he has remained a member of the little world of Dunbarians ever since. Robert, another Caldecott Community protégé, continues to hold a bright candle for Evelyn.)

Barry's arrival coincided, I believe, with a general re-think of Evelyn's Bletchley Park Training College commitment. The mural and any contract accompanying it was scrapped, and instead, after discussion with Dora Cohen and the Governors, it was decided that Evelyn would paint two panels, not for the hall but for the College library, where there were spaces above the two doors.

The design for the library panels was to be based on the College's emblem. This emblem consisted of a small hunting horn, originally the property of the first Vice-Principal (who also ran the library), folded in on itself to resemble something like a lower-case alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, α. The horn, occasionally used in some form of College student ritual or ceremony, in its 'alpha' shape was enclosed inside the last Greek alphabet letter, the womb-like upper-case omega, Ω. The motto of the College amplified the first-and-last meaning of the emblem, In my end is my beginning.

This motto has a direct association with a line in Revelation 22:13, almost at the very end of the Bible: I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. It tallies neatly with Evelyn's convictions, derived to a large extent from Genesis, the first book of the Bible, of the relationship between the Creator's promise to mankind of an endlessly abundant earth in return for mankind's undertaking to cherish it, and the cyclical nature of the seasons, seedtime and harvest, life and apparent death. (I write 'apparent' because in a cherished nature nothing dies: in any living thing the seeds of rebirth are present.)

A year earlier, in September 1956, Lt. Col. Noel Byam Grounds, the vice-chairman of  the College Board of Governors, had died. In due course the vice-chairman's widow, Anna Byam Grounds, donated £200 (nearly £2,700 at 2013 values) in memory of her husband's attachment to and work for the College. The governors put this sum towards Evelyn's fees, specifically for painting the two library panels. It would have been a reasonable fee for the panels, but a mediocre sum for the initially proposed mural.

Evelyn was given a free hand with the design, always within the Alpha and Omega concept of the College emblem. An earlier version of Alpha, probably made before Barry's appearance, shows a more prominent alpha-shape -

Evelyn Dunbar: Sketch for Alpha: Crayon and colour wash on paper: Private collection

- but has no suggestion of the trumpet-blowing boy leading his fellows towards better things away from the primeval sea and the foreshore.

Evelyn Dunbar Alpha 1957 Oil on 5-plywood (2' 8" x 4'3": 81 x 132cm) Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus

We can imagine Evelyn starting Alpha in late August or early September 1957. As the now abandoned mural would not feature in the November 29th opening ceremony of the new College hall, there was no particular deadline for finishing the panels. Nevertheless Evelyn intended to complete them in time and have them on display.

Providentially Barry Paterson arrived in time to spur Evelyn's imagination and to model for Alpha. On the edge of the wider consciousness and awarenesses that come with adolescence, he has come furthest inland from the sea, origin of all life, leaving other children (although some look more adult) absorbed in activities of purposeless innocence on the beach. Alpha, with a staff to help him through the lush and untamed vegetation, is looking out of the frame, and we can't see the terrain he is about to enter, only that he's at the start of his exploration. He's carrying something instantly recognisable to the students - and staff - of Bletchley Park Training College: the little hunting horn belonging to Miss Hodgson, the Vice-Principal, with which Evelyn had maybe taken a little licence to form into the 'Alpha' shape mentioned earlier.

When Alpha has found what he's looking for, will he sound his horn, and will the companions he has left on the beach follow him? Will they abandon the extraordinary childish and uninformed, indeed futile, pastimes Evelyn has given them, shrimping in the air, trying to fly a kite by means of a horse, while someone unhelpfully clutches at the string? Having no wider outlook than one's own reflection in the central pond? (This is maybe a reference to the ornamental pond at Bletchley.)

 Evelyn Dunbar Omega 1957 Oil on 5-plywood (2' 8" x 4'3": 81 x 132cm) Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley Campus

The second panel, Omega, is less subtle. Alpha's staff, transformed into a stake to hold up the dahlias and black-eyed susans, appears on the right of the painting, so presumably he has found what he was looking for. 'Omega' is represented by a large hoop up which a climbing plant or fruit tree that I can't identify has been trained, tended by a gardener. The ladder has no top to it (we shall see another such ladder in Evelyn's final painting, Jacob's Dream of 1960): so there is no upward limit to mankind's aspirations. Within the ambit of the omega is a family of four sitting or standing on a garden seat, and I wonder if Evelyn has fast-forwarded Barry Paterson into fatherhood and the achievement of the enlightenment and wisdom relayed and transmitted to him by the four other figures, students of education soon to be teachers, who take up the left hand side.

As far as I know one of Evelyn's Christian Science friends, a pleasant young woman called Marcella Allender, modelled for the serious-minded figure on the left. The blues of her cardigan and skirt, and whatever she's reading (it's not a book: could it be a sketch pad or a music score?) match exactly the colours Alpha is wearing in the earlier panel, one of the several unities between the two. A redhead student wearing the College blazer is waiting outside what Bletchley Park students would have recognised as the Principal's office. They would also have recognised the ornamental pond in the middle ground, as well as the (then) modern buildings behind the family, a legacy from Bletchley Park's wartime days.

The panels were still unfinished by November 29th, but all the same Evelyn took them to the official hall opening to give them further touches in situ. They were still not finished by the following February, when Dora Cohen, the Principal, mentioned them in her annual report, quoted in Gill Clarke's Evelyn Dunbar: War and Country:

    Although essentially completed Miss Dunbar, may we understand, still do some work on them for some time to come. She has spoken to the students of the evolution of her ideas and we have been fascinated by it. Very concisely, Alpha is represented by things untrained: vegetation, the sea, primitive sports and movements, an unclothed boy without family conventions. The dawn is coming up and the boy is turning his head away from the shadow to the lightening day. Omega gives cultivated flowers and a fruit-tree trained to the shape of Omega. There is a family, landscape, civilized girls and reading.
    After the first impact of unexpectedness most of us can truly say that the more we live with them the more we like them and even love them. There is no doubt whatever that the College has now a rare possession in trust.

In the same report Dora Cohen records that Evelyn was working as a temporary part-time lecturer at Bletchley Park, teaching there one day per week.

There are some rich and rare things in Alpha and Omega, and sometimes the viewer can overlook subtleties that would have had a compelling impact on the people for whom the panels were specifically designed. In 1969 Bletchley Park Training College was absorbed into Lady Spencer-Churchill College of Education, Oxford, which in turn became part of Oxford Brookes University in 1992. In a sense Alpha and Omega are the only relics of the teacher training college Evelyn did her best to crystallise in very difficult circumstances.

(Original text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All right reserved.)

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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Portrait (1954)

Evelyn Dunbar Christopher Campbell-Howes at 12 1954 (14" x 12": 35.5 x 30.5) Private collection

Evelyn painted this portrait in 1954, when I was 12. Only the head was finished, the rest was merely sketched in for later completion. The setting was a small conservatory Roger and Evelyn had on the western side of The Elms, the pleasant Edwardian house they rented about half a mile from the hamlet of Hinxhill, some three miles south of Wye. They called this the 'vigne', or sometimes the 'vinery'. It featured in their 1951 Christmas card.

I remember sitting for it, but not much else. Six years later, when Evelyn died, it was found among the 40-50 canvases stacked up on shelves in the store next to her studio in the last house she and Roger lived in, a place called Staple Farm, up on the North Downs not far from Wye. After Evelyn's death this portrait passed to my mother, who inscribed the frame 'Evelyn Dunbar RA 1954'. This is curious, because Evelyn was never a Royal Academician and was known not to agree with what the Royal Academy stood for, at the time.

In the 1950s Evelyn painted or drew an unknown quantity of portraits, maybe a dozen, sometimes as commissions and sometimes as gifts. Naturally very few have circulated outside the families they were intended for. An exquisite crayon portrait appeared recently, which I think shows a very subtle and sensitive mastery:

Evelyn Dunbar Edward listening to the wireless 1953 Crayon Private collection

Here the subject is a boy called Edward Hankey, then also about 12, son of some friends of Evelyn who lived in Wye.

Evelyn Dunbar Boy Reading 1960 Oil on wood Private collection

Boy Reading was the last portrait Evelyn painted. The subject is Evelyn's nephew by marriage (and my half-brother) Richard Campbell-Howes. Richard had gone, as he sometimes did, to stay with Roger and Evelyn in the winter of 1959-60, when he was 11.

He's wearing Evelyn's sheepskin slippers, of the type we have also seen in Land Army Girls Going to Bed. I couldn't say if it's the same pair, but clearly nephews may wear their aunts' slippers. He's sitting on a bentwood chair, a bound 19th Century volume of Punch open on his lap. The setting is one end of Evelyn's studio in Staple Farm. The colours of the slippers and of an Indian numdah rug, then fairly newly fashionable, pick up and complement the hanging drape behind, which itself reveals, in the top left hand corner, one of the roof timbers, a deft harmonisation of colours and textures for which Evelyn had such an acumen.

According to Richard it was fairly quickly executed, within three days, which isn't surprising: that pose can't have been very comfortable to hold for long periods. It's painted on wood, which is unusual for Evelyn, and close examination shows one or two worm-holes. Less than two months after painting it, Evelyn was dead. The portrait was labelled Boy Reading by Roger -

Evelyn Dunbar Boy Reading 1960 verso

- and some time after Evelyn's death Roger gave it to his sister.

For a non-specialist portrait painter, the quantity and range of Evelyn's portraits is not to be underestimated. Some we've seen in these essays already. Their quality is uneven: some may find the rather vacant Portrait of an Airwoman (scroll well down the link to find this) as unrewarding as Section Officer Austen is a convincing and attractive study of a young woman concentrating. There's a similar disparity between the two portraits of her husband, the uncharacteristically peevish and vinegary Roger Folley of 1945 and Roger Folley (The Cerebrant) of 1948, in which Roger is transformed into a bronzed and visionary intellectual, which is much nearer the mark.

In the 50s, with Roger and Evelyn settled in Kent and integrating themselves socially, chiefly with Wye College staff and Ashford-based Christian Scientists, portraits began to flow a little more freely. Known but inaccessible portraits, all female, include that of Anne Skilbeck, the daughter of the then Principal of Wye College, Dunstan Skilbeck; Dora Cohen, Principal of Bletchley Park Training College, and of Dora Cohen's mother; Alice Robinson, daughter of one of Evelyn's cleaners, the portrait that pleased Evelyn most; Ann and Jill Mursell, daughters of Sir Peter Mursell, a prominent Sussex agriculturalist. Evelyn died before she could complete Jill Mursell's portrait. For the Misses Mursell portraits Evelyn went to stay at the family farm at Wisborough Green, Sussex, but mostly her subjects came to her studio at The Elms. Evelyn's invariable practice was to cover up portraits in progress at the end of each session, and not to show them to the sitters until they were finished. (Mine was never finished: I never saw it until after Evelyn's death.)

Much might be - and has been - written about the relationship between portraitist and portraitee. Evelyn did admit to me once, when I was in my teens, that she had problems with faces in portraiture. She said, in a rare moment of self-revelation, that it wasn't so much a question of draughtmanship (which seemed to me to pose no problem) as of the relationship with the person portrayed. Portraiture implied a capture, a possession, at the least an intimacy, that neither subject nor artist always felt comfortable with. In retrospect it was a pity she didn't go further, but to have done so would have opened up areas of the unknown Evelyn, periods and circumstances of her life about which she never spoke.

It seems curious to me, for instance, that although she used her Dunbar siblings, especially her older sisters Jessie and Marjorie, as models, the nearest approach to portraits of them, that we know of, is the merest sketch of her sisters, with Ronald, the older of her two brothers, reduced to a marginal profile: 

Evelyn Dunbar Marjorie and Jessie Dunbar on a Louis Philippe Canapé c.1930 Pen, ink and colour wash Image by courtesy of, and with thanks to, Paul Liss of Liss Fine Art

 Apart from her husband Roger and a crayon sketch of her father-in-law 'Eb' Folley, none of her known subjects are men. There are one or two women, but the majority are children. Although she wasn't drawn to babies or young children, Evelyn had a natural affinity with pre-pubertal children, with whom she was very good company indeed.

And, I think, with whom she felt particularly at her ease. There were certain events in her life that didn't encourage her to regard portraiture as a primary means of expression. Several incidents and circumstances, to which I never heard her refer directly, had marked her and had left her wary of opening a naturally generous and outgoing nature too widely. In 1928, when Evelyn was rising 22, she spent some months in Germany, travelling via Holland. Her level of German culture, especially in music, was quite high, and she had a greater natural sympathy for the language than for her other foreign language, French. (At 16 she had been awarded a special credit in spoken German in the London General School Examination, a precursor of O Level.) Something untoward happened on this trip. We don't know what. She never spoke German again. Her only possible reference to it was that, in her own words, 'she first knew real depression at Dover'. I can only conjecture a five or six month internship or situation as a paying guest or au pair which went wrong. The Dover comment refers to her feelings on returning across the Channel to Germany after a Christmas or Easter break at home. But this is pure supposition.

In 1937-38 her relationship with Charles Mahoney came to an end, and with it the love of plants and gardening she had shared with him, as though, as she had done 10 years earlier with all things German, she wished the dead past to bury its dead. The intensity of her relationship with Mahoney, and the final agonies of splitting up, can be judged from a fascinating series of letters from her to him (none exists from him to her). Latterly there are many cris de coeur, begging Mahoney to re-examine their relationship in depth and to try to revive it, topics that most men instinctively show a clean pair of heels to. In these letters there are the first signs, too, of tensions in the Dunbar household, particularly between Evelyn and her mother and of Evelyn feeling fettered by the round of domestic tasks: in turn the other Dunbars, Ronald, Jessie and Marjorie (little is known about Alec) found it difficult to come to terms with the demands Evelyn's priorities made on them.

The threatened breach with her family widened progressively after her marriage to Roger in 1942 and her mother Florence's death two years later. Roger had been accepted by the Dunbars well and easily, but when at the end of his RAF service in 1945 he and Evelyn went to live in Warwickshire and then Oxfordshire, there were no visits from Rochester. Similarly when they moved to mid-Kent in 1950. Only Alec, the younger of her two brothers, and his wife Jill attended Evelyn's funeral in 1960. I should perhaps add that the older Dunbars had no car.

Portraiture was never the main thrust of Evelyn's work. It was undertaken as a sideline, occasionally as a commission, as a means of thanking someone or giving pleasure. After the difficulties and traumas outlined above, Evelyn was most psychologically suited to sitters with whom she felt most comfortable. (It would be interesting, but outside the scope of this essay, to analyse her representation of faces in general.) The kind of artist-sitter relationship she felt necessary for a good portrait flourished best with lively and intelligent 10-13 year olds. While I pass on the question of my liveliness and intelligence when I was 12, I'm proud to have sat for Evelyn.

(Text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved.)

Would you like to read more?

EVELYN DUNBAR : A LIFE IN PAINTING by Christopher Campbell-Howes
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