Wednesday, 11 January 2017

April (1937/38)

April 1937/38 Oil on canvas Photo: Richard Valencia © Christopher Campbell-Howes. Private collection

April is the third and last realisation in oils of the original pen-and-ink month-personification drawings Evelyn had made for the Country Life 1938 Gardener's Diary

April's immediate predecessor maybe carried a slightly different impact...

April 1937 Pen and ink drawing for Country Life 1938 Gardener's Diary. Author's photograph

Here is April, backed by a shower-cloud, advancing down the garden path gingerly, balancing simultaneously a heavy pot-grown apple tree, an empty cold frame and the most fantastic hat in all Evelyn's work. The branches of the apple tree have been espaliered to form the word April: leaves are sprouting and the first blossoms have broken out here and there. Whatever the cold frame once contained has now gone. As for her hat, there is a standard selection of spring flowers, but the most intriguing feature is a bird's nest with two small birds that the later oil version suggests might be greenfinches vainly trying to see off a cuckoo about to lay her egg in their nest. It may be too much to link this symbol of unexpected and unwelcome new life - unexpected and unwelcome at least to the greenfinches - with April apparently wearing a maternity dress, in the context of the months elapsed since August, subject of the previous post. Evelyn's husband Roger Folley once suggested to me that there was an allusion here to T.S.Eliot, without being more specific. Knowing Evelyn's love of allusion, I suspect - if Roger's suggestion is viable - that Evelyn may have had the famous first lines of Eliot's The Waste Land in mind: 'April is the cruellest month, […] mixing Memory and desire […]'

The oil version of April has several slight differences in design from the drawing: the garden path has gone, along with the spring flowers; the famous hat is even more fantastical, giving an extra prominence to the cuckoo in the nest. April is framed inside a box opening on to a sky much less promising of rain than in the drawing. The box, also a feature of Joseph's Dream, may have an unwitting importance: it implies a psychological need for security and protection, something that Evelyn was certainly short of in the immediate post-Mahoney period.

  Text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2017                                                       

Further reading?

EVELYN DUNBAR : A LIFE IN PAINTING by Christopher Campbell-Howes
is now available to order online from

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