Sunday, 1 November 2020

Oxford (c.1950)


             Oxford c.1950 Oil on paper Signed 'ED' Photograph: Sim Fine Art. Private collection

In 1948 Faber and Faber brought out Robert Graves' The White Goddess, a collection of writings drawn from many sources in which Graves attempted to rationalise the concept of a super-deity in the thought and imagination of peoples of Europe and the Near East. He recognised the need of people from the earliest times to invent or imagine a force, a presence, a deity responsible for the creation of the world and everything in it, and its subsequent rule. The notion was far, far older and more deeply rooted in the Western psyche than anything in the Bible, the Koran, the Norse gods and their Greek and Roman counterparts, and this presence, this immanence, this super-deity was, and had to be, female. It isn't known whether Evelyn had read The White Goddess, but she was certainly aware of the concept.

In 1948 Evelyn was living with her husband Roger Folley at the Manor House, in Enstone, a village a few miles north of Oxford. The post-war 1940s were among the happiest and most productive years of her life. Roger was working at the Oxford University Agricultural Research Institute, engaged in research that would lead to the publication of his classic Economics of a Fruit Farm two years later; Evelyn was teaching at the Oxford School of Art and at the Ruskin, part-time in both cases, giving her a generous platform for professional and aesthetic cross-fertilisation with her colleagues, some of them distinguished artists whom she had known and kept up with since her Royal College of Art days fifteen years and more before. She also had time to develop her own work.

I expect that it was from this period that the family notion, half teasing, half perhaps with a slight sense of exasperation, that Evelyn's female figures were always grotesquely tall and had tiny heads. It wasn't universally true, of course, but maybe there was a grain or two of justification. It was during this period, for example, that the figure of Autumn first appeared in Evelyn's sketch books, later to achieve maturity in Autumn and the Poet. Here she is:

                                        Detail from Autumn and the Poet 1958

In 1948 or thereby she had two other female figures on her easel, firstly the very fine Dorset:

                        Dorset 1947-48 Oil on canvas Photograph: Ben Taylor Private collection

- and then the elusive map-drawing Mercatora, for which I have only a photocopy of a monochrome photo:

                                           Mercatora 1946 Originally oil on canvas. Now lost (?).

(As far as is known Mercatora hasn't been seen for 70 years. The last known reference to it is in a catalogue of an exhibition of paintings by Ruskin staff, dated 1950. It was priced at 25 guineas. It must be somewhere! If anyone can shed any light...)

One of the chief and noblest characteristics of Evelyn's war painting was her largely hidden and unnoticed promotion of women's interests, a proto-feminism whose individual impact is imposssible to assess, but when taken in conjunction with all the other feminist initiatives of the post-war period is surely not without some weight. The three larger-than-life figures so far - I'll come to Oxford in a moment - variously control birth, life, death and regeneration in the context of the rolling seasons (Autumn), guarantee the inviolability of England (Dorset) and map the earth, thereby exercising a measure of control over it (Mercatora). Evelyn does not assign any of these functions to men.

In 1950 Roger Folley left Oxford, having been appointed lecturer in Horticultural Economy at Imperial College, London, at their Wye College campus in east Kent. I think Evelyn deeply regretted leaving Oxford, where she felt she had flourished, and having to come to terms with rural, not to say bucolic, Kent. They moved into a house called The Elms, which stood almost isolated on a ridge near the tiny and ancient settlement of Hinxhill, a place at some distance in many respects from Oxford, burgeoning and quick with learning and the learned.

In 1950 another literary event involving Robert Graves took place: Penguin Classics published his translation of Marcus Apuleius' The Golden Ass, a long, picaresque and often raunchy novel written in Latin in about 170AD. It was the first translation for some 40 years: two translations from the 1900s had been categorised as with 'dirty bits left out' and 'dirty bits left in the original Latin'. It's unlikely that either - or indeed any - version found a place on the Dunbar family bookshelves, but Evelyn and Roger had a copy of Robert Graves' translation, in the famous Penguin Classic paperback livery (for Latin translations) of white with purple margins, and eventually that copy found its way on to my bookshelves. I have to say, though, that unlike some of the literary allusions in her work, she never spoke to me about it.

For all its frequent barrel-scraping The Golden Ass is a deeply religious book, with death, redemption and rebirth as its underlying theme. Through inept meddling in the black arts the hero, Lucius, inadvertently turns his body into that of a donkey, while retaining his own mind. After a string of uncomfortable adventures he realises that there is only one power capable of turning him back, the goddess Isis. He addresses a heartfelt prayer to her and she makes herself visible to him.

Here is Evelyn's Oxford again, for reference:


Lucius describes Isis' appearance fully, her immense stature, her long hair, her golden tunic with white collar, her red skirt, her slippers, her blue-black mantle. She introduces herself to Lucius as Mother Nature, Woman, mistress of the elements, the first, the only and original deity. She is known by many names, she says, Artemis, Aphrodite, Proserpine, Ceres, Juno and many more, but her real name is Queen Isis. She makes a condition: if Lucius wishes to be re-created into his original human shape, he must dedicate himself to her service until his last hour. Lucius accepts and resumes his comfortable human shape. 

(We have frequently come across this notion before in Evelyn's work, or something very similar: the same promise of an endlessly abundant and bountiful Creation, in return for the same devotion to it and its Creator - or Creatress, in this case. It was a very powerful concept in Evelyn's mindset.)

Who is the figure in Evelyn's Oxford? I think she begins Oxford from the convenient premise of a visual pun: the river in the foreground is the Isis, as the Thames is sometimes known as it flows through Oxford, and the lanky figure sitting in its watermeadows can only be its eponymous deity. It has to be Queen Isis: Evelyn's figure and her clothing exactly matches Apuleius' description, and if this is deliberate the date of painting can be defined as sometime after the 1950 publication of Robert Graves' translation of The Golden Ass.

Evelyn has had to compromise with her figure to extend her lap and thighs to accommodate a maquette of Oxford University, placed adjacent to her womb as if to suggest its origin, and thereby assuming the role of mother and protectress. The dreaming spires of Oxford are only vaguely identifiable. In another visual pun the outer coat of Isis' mantle is of Oxford blue. Raised in protection of her creation, the angle of this mantle and that of her right forearm echo the shape and endorse the purpose of the spires below, themselves conceived by their mediaeval architects as fingers pointing to heaven. In the shadow of one of those spires Roger is working - or had been until very recently when Oxford was painted - in the Agricultural Research Institute. In the background there are the same neat orchards, trim hedges, carefully husbanded farmland we find so often in Evelyn's landscapes. Ploughed fields, Evelyn's symbol of promise, take up the middle distance. Low hills, possibly Hinksey and Cumnor, lie on the horizon. 

* * *

                   Evelyn Dunbar Margaret Iliffe, née Goodwin c.1933 Pen and wash Private collection.

Evelyn gave this painting to her friend Margaret Iliffe. As Margaret Goodwin, she and Evelyn had been fellow students and close friends at the Royal College of Art. Although - unusually - Evelyn has signed it 'ED', it seems to me that the Oxford above is a dummy run for a more highly finished, canvas version. Some years ago I enquired of various Oxford colleges and institutions if any had a finished version of Oxford, but none did. Perhaps by the time the oil-on-paper version that we have was finished, Evelyn had found her feet in Wye, her nostalgia for Oxford and Oxford life had waned a little, and the final canvas version was never painted.

Text ©Christopher Campbell-Howes 2020. All rights reserved



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

 



 

 



 

 

Saturday, 24 October 2020

A Knitting Party (1940)


           A Knitting Party 1940 Oil on canvas 45.7 x 50.8 Imperial War Museum, London

 In April 1940, four months after her application to the War Artist's Advisory Committee, Evelyn was finally gazetted as an official war artist. She, Dorothy Coke and Ethel Gabain were the first women artists to be appointed.

Although in her application Evelyn had requested agricultural or horticultural subjects, she was initially asked to record women's activities on the home front, particularly those of the Women's Voluntary Service. Her first mission was to Bisham Abbey, near Marlowe in Buckinghamshire, to record Civil Defence training. The result was Putting on Anti-Gas Protective Clothing, completed in mid-June 1940. By that time her mission had changed: although she had one or two women's home front activities on her easel, she was posted to Sparsholt Farm Institute, near Winchester to record Women's Land Army recruits in training. Completion of A Knitting Party was postponed and was eventually submitted the following November.

In her acceptance letter to the secretary of the War Artists' Advisory Committee, the splendidly-named Edward Montgomery O'Rourke Dickey (his associates called him 'Ted'), Evelyn said she had no money and was therefore unable to travel anywhere. Travel warrants were soon issued, but not before she had exercised her initiative by beginning a scene that only required her to come downstairs from her tower studio to the sitting room at The Cedars, the Dunbar family home in Rochester, Kent. Here members of the local Womens' Voluntary Service met to knit blankets for the armed services.

Evelyn had a problem with her mise en scène. There would be trouble, unpleasantness, even, if she left any of these ladies out, yet The Cedars sitting room was too small too accommodate in a portrayable fashion these fifteen knitters and a child, or at least a very small person, almost hidden behind the pile of blankets on the tripod table in the middle of the room. How to make the room appear larger? Evelyn has been very astute: she has made a bay where none existed in reality, behind the woman in yellow and the very small person. The fireplace wall is like a stage flat; there's nothing behind it. We can gauge Evelyn's problem by looking at three of her preliminary sketches.

                A Knitting Party 1940 Preliminary sketch 1 Pencil Private collection

Here Evelyn has managed to squeeze ten people in. There might be room for more if the focus had not also to be on what they are knitting, on the central table.

                   A Knitting Party 1940 Preliminary sketch 2 Pencil Private collection

This is worse; Evelyn has put the total up to eleven, but the balance is wrong. The right is crowded, the left, with implied space in the window bay, is untenanted.

                      A Knitting Party 1940 Preliminary sketch 3 Pencil Private collection

 This time Evelyn has explored, maybe not very successfully, the possibilities of upping the WVS roll-call by putting reflections in the mirror.

In the event, she simply invented some space on the right of the finished picture. This has enabled her to open out the window bay, allowing extra light in with the added perspective depth drawing attention to the two most distant figures. The figure seated on the captain's chair in the window bay is Florence Dunbar, Evelyn's mother, and standing on her left is Florence's niece, Evelyn's cousin, Vera Swain. In contrast with the other women, both are hatless, Florence because she is in her own home and Vera because she is family, of a younger generation, and is visiting at The Cedars.

Most of the women are knitting blankets or comforters for British troops. There are piles of completed work on the floor and on the central table. The colours are deliberate and are echoed by the décor and the upholstery and to some extent by the knitters' clothes in an unspoken solidarity with the armed services: navy blue, khaki for the army, light blue for the Royal Air Force. One of the women on the right is knitting socks, following the pattern on her lap. Surely, no one is speaking. The only sound - a sense of the ambient sound is so often present in Evelyn's work - is the intensive clicking of knitting needles.

But what about this?

                               A Knitting Party 1940 Preliminary sketch 4 Private collection


                                                                A Knitting Party (detail)

 Almost invariably in Evelyn's war paintings - and elsewhere, of course - there is some tiny detail that implies an alternative agenda to the scene. The sketch suggests that Florence's posture and attitude is absolutely deliberate, even slightly exaggerated to make the point: she is clearly looking at her watch, wondering when this sombre crew of biddies will go away. Playful subversion of this type indicates an unusually original and human approach to war painting; it's this kind of detail that can transform an otherwise fairly banal account of something not terribly extraordinary into something with another agenda, another layer of meaning.

Val Swain, Vera's husband, had business interests in the Far East, specifically Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon. The Swains came back to Britain on leave in the summer of 1940. Evelyn's and Vera's aunt, Clara Cowling, who lived at Ticehurst, near Tunbridge Wells, in a large house called Steellands (now renamed Apsley Court), kept a diary throughout the war years. The Swains stayed with Clara Cowling for some three weeks in July and August, 1940. On Wednesday, 7th August Clara Cowling wrote:

Went to Strood [that part of Rochester where the Dunbars lived] quarter to 10. Had a nice day with them all at home. Looked at Eves pictures & Florries all very nice. Home about 7-15. We are all so glad we met.

(The Swains left Steellands shortly afterwards. A month or two later they asked Clara Cowling if they might return, but by that time she had made Steellands over to Brockley County School for Boys in evacuation from Lewisham and had to refuse. An unusual coincidence: this was the school which Evelyn and others had decorated with the Brockley Murals several years before. The Swains returned to Sri Lanka, from which Val Swain, at least, did not return until the end of the war in the Far East.) 

A little plot thickens. Evelyn started A Knitting Party probably in May, 1940. She put it aside when the main thrust of her Sparsholt Farm Institute paintings started to preoccupy her. She did not pick it up again until the following autumn, when her Sparsholt portfolio was complete. The Knitting Party sketches are at the least ambivalent about the presence of a tall hatless person standing in the window. The only occasion on which Vera Swain is known to have been present at The Cedars, and in Evelyn's studio (shared with her mother 'Florrie') was on 7th August, as recorded by her aunt Clara. I'm tempted to believe that Vera was not present when the final mise en scène of A Knitting Party was composed some three months earlier, and that Evelyn added her cousin, shown folding a completed blanket, as a compliment to someone of whom she was fond but saw very rarely.
 
Text ©Christopher Campbell-Howes 2020. All rights reserved.
 
 
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



 

Friday, 9 October 2020

Two late portraits: Jill and Ann Mursell (1959/60)

                     Jill Mursell 1960 Oil on canvas Signed 'ED60' Private collection

It's always a red-letter day when previously unseen work by Evelyn makes an appearance, especially when it dates from her most mature years. Recently two late portraits appeared, studies of two sisters, Jill and Ann Mursell, both painted when they were in their teens. Few of Evelyn's portraits approach these late images in their concept, execution and finish, to say nothing of that subtle ability to suggest character. Both these studies rank highly in Evelyn's portraiture canon. 

Evelyn came late to portraiture as a mainstream activity, although her portfolios as a student at the Royal College of Art (1929-33) abound with pencil sketches and studies of her fellow students and - deliciously - the occasional caricature of RCA lecturers. In her late teens and early twenties she produced serious accounts of family members in her studio at The Cedars, the Dunbar family home in Rochester. From leaving the RCA in 1933, when she was 26, until the end of her employment as a war artist in 1945 the only formal portraits are of WAAF personnel. The period 1945-1950, when she lived near and taught in Oxford, is rich in allegorical paintings but not in portraits. In 1950 she and her husband Roger Folley moved to Wye, in east Kent: after 4 years working with Oxford University Agricultural Research Institute, Roger was appointed to the teaching staff of King's College, London at their agricultural campus at Wye College. His time in Oxford was marked by the 1951 publication of his Economics of a Fruit Farm, which became - and still is to some extent - a standard work.

In rural Kent the focus of Evelyn's work changed, moving gradually from allegory to landscape and then to portraiture. One of the catalysts for her renewed interest in portraiture was the arrival in Wye of the portraitist and former RCA student - although several years after Evelyn - John Stanton Ward. Ward and his wife Alison became friendly with Roger and Evelyn, to the extent that the two artists used to enjoy the rather Victorian pastime of going out sketching together in Wye and the surrounding area. It's my unsubstantiated belief that Ward, known nowadays for his endless establishment and royal portraits, taught Evelyn the rudiments of professional portraiture, something that was quite foreign to the deeply un-commercial Evelyn: not the execution, not the actual brush-on-canvas work (I don't think she had much to learn), but the nuts and bolts of commissions, contracts, conditions of work, scaling of charges, delivery dates and so on. 

Meanwhile, a certain Peter Mursell, after a first in agriculture at Cambridge, showed a strong interest in flying but was disqualified from taking the controls because of his poor eyesight. World War 2 found him associated with, and eventually running the Air Transport Auxiliary, a body employing civilian pilots to deliver new and repaired aircraft to RAF units, thus freeing active service pilots. At the end of the war he devoted himself to the expansion of Dounhurst, the family fruit farm in West Sussex. He was faced with a considerable learning curve. While careful to respect local knowledge, he also tapped other sources of professional advice, among them the East Malling Research Institute (coincidentally the setting for Evelyn's A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling) and Wye College. The students he occasionally received on work experience and placement were supervised by Roger, whose Economics of a Fruit Farm, which emphasised apple growing, had recently been published.

Roger and Peter Mursell got on very well - but perhaps that should read 'Folley and Mursell got on very well', because in the fashion of the time they addressed each other by their surnames. Almost exact contemporaries, they shared a love of fast machines - in Roger's case, his Norton motor bicycle - and some common experiences in World War 2: Roger served in the RAF, firstly (somewhat to his disappointment: he wanted to fly) in Balloon Command and, after training, as a night-fighter navigator with Fighter Command. By the mid-1950s Mursell, a man with a great gift for friendship, and Roger had become close enough for Evelyn to be introduced to Dounhurst and the rest of the family. 

Evelyn also had the gift of friendship, perhaps in greater measure than the more retiring and self-effacing Roger, but there was something else that drew her to Dounhurst. A devout Christian Scientist, she gave a sharp prominence to the concept that the earth and all that is in it is a permanently guaranteed gift from the creator (with or without a capital C) to mankind, on condition that mankind, from the humblest gardener to the loftiest agronomist, look after it with love, industry and intelligence in return. Among her biblical exemplars, both taken from Judaic foundation legends in Genesis, were Adam, to whom the garden of Eden was given 'to dress it and keep it', and Joseph, whose political control of agriculture in ancient Egypt marked him as a great provider for and saviour of his people. This theme, this promotion of the synergy between nature and mankind, permeates Evelyn's work and makes her one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, whose message is never more needed than today. There's hardly a post in this blog without some mention of it. To some extent in her mind Roger, through his work, inherited the mantle of Joseph. And now here was Peter Mursell, fulfilling the creator's conditions not just in his orchards, but through his growing regional and (later) national involvement in the apple industry. (For his many contributions to regional life, including a spell as Chairman of West Sussex County Council, Peter Mursell was knighted in 1969.)

Mankind-nature synergy may not have dominated conversation round the Dounhurst dinner table in the late 1950s, where the talk maybe concentrated more on Evelyn's preparedness to paint the two Mursell daughters. By chance part of a letter survives from Evelyn to Cecily Mursell (their mother):

 

     Extract of letter (p1/2) from Evelyn to Cecily Mursell, October 1958. Private  ownership

What I am able to respect is your wish about size and your preferences, and Peter's, with regard to the treatment - ie the amount of finesse and incisiveness (am not sure of the spelling of this....) and its suitability for the setting of your house when it becomes a finished object.

As to price - I think I did quote before, but without referring to actual sizes. The scale would be as follows:

approx 12" x 16" - 30gns [guineas]

            14" x 18" - 40  "

            18  x 22   - 55  "

            20  x  24  - 70 "

            22  x  30  - 80 "

(Evelyn's emphasis - 'What I am able to respect' - probably refers to her initial reluctance to accept payment.)

It's not certain when Evelyn started the portraits. The main thrust of Ann Mursell's portrait was probably complete by the summer of 1959, although it may have been started several months before. Ann Mursell, who was then 14, is sitting reading, or reflecting on what she has read, beside a window in a light and airy room. On the window-sill is a ceramic cockerel, a present from her godfather. She recalls not being the most communicative sitter, and not really wanting to have her portrait painted at all. Evelyn worked hard to put her at her ease, and it may be that her apparently pensive expression as she ponders what she has read or has seen out of the window masks a feeling that she would rather be elsewhere doing something else. The skin tones are rendered to perfection, as are the lights in her hair - which, incidentally, she cut herself in between sittings; not easy for a portraitist to deal with. 

Ann's portrait was delivered at the end of September 1959, framed in a James Bourlet frame, at that time Evelyn's preferred framer. The invoice was included. Evelyn's fee was £52.10.0, ie 50 guineas.

 

      Ann Mursell (slightly cropped) 1959 Oil on canvas Signed 'ED59' Private collection

Jill Mursell, then 18, followed, completion of her portrait possibly  delayed through absence abroad. It appears to have been ready in the first months of 1960. Was it a winter painting? Unlike her sister's portrait, there's no obvious source for the light, which suggests artificial lighting. The skin tones and the hair are very skilfully rendered, the texture and subtle shading of her jumper also. The half-smile may be just slightly reminiscent of a certain famous portrait that hangs in the Louvre. 

Jill's portrait, similarly framed, was delivered to Dounhurst in the spring of 1960. The exact date is not known. There was a problem: Peter and Cecily Mursell thought it was incomplete. The lower half of the portrait resonated with unrelieved browns. They asked Evelyn if she could add something to enliven it. She agreed to add a brooch or a necklace, and took the canvas back home with her to Staple Farm. However on May 12th she died, suddenly and unexpectedly, before she could make any alterations. Jill Mursell is among the last, if not the last, of Evelyn's portraits.

The second page of the letter quoted above continues with details of costing:

   Extract of letter (p2/2) from Evelyn to Cecily Mursell, October 1958. Private ownership

"Mary Garland" was 18" x [illegible] 

If the finish was greater & took me a lot longer it might be a bit more, but not excessively.

Our house-purchase is going forward smoothly and the removal date is now fixed for 29th or 30th of this month! So I am beginning to pack already.

It will be wonderful to have a studio again. We shall so look forward to your visiting us when we're settled.

Again thanks for the day. How are the art-classes?? Why not do the portraits yourself?!

Longing to see results

Love to all of you from both, Evelyn

 

Letters like this are pure gold to the biographer. Apart from revealing insights into Evelyn's working practices, her mention of moving house gives the exact dates of removing from Tan House, a very ordinary modernish house in Wye without a dedicated studio, to Staple Farm, a capacious farmhouse on the Downs two or three miles to the south of Wye. Evelyn converted part of the first floor into a studio (with a north light, vital to artists because of the regularity of the daylight) and an adjoining store. Roger and Evelyn spent less than a year not very happily in Tan House. 'It was our one mistake', Roger wrote many years later.

But...who was Mary Garland? Was she a member of the Garland family who lived in Wye in the 1950s? Is her portrait still extant? If any reader knows anything about this, it would be wonderful to discover yet another image from Evelyn's heyday of portraiture.

Warmest thanks to the Mursell family for their help with this essay.


Text ©Christopher Campbell-Howes 2020

 

Would you like to read more?
EVELYN DUNBAR : A LIFE IN PAINTING by Christopher Campbell-Howes
is available to order online from
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448 pages, 300 illustrations. £25


 

Monday, 16 March 2020

Evelyn Dunbar: Her husband Roger Folley as subject and symbol




 Roger Folley, the 'first portrait', 1945-46. Private collection. Forty years on, here is Roger holding his portrait for the camera of art specialist Jane England.


The husband as subject

Evelyn Dunbar became engaged to Roger Folley in February 1942. They married the following August. Evelyn had been employed since April 1940 as a war artist working for the Ministry of Information, Roger was serving with the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve, with which he had signed up in 1938. Throughout the war years it had been Evelyn's intention to paint her husband's portrait, but as with many marriages in wartime their union was more marked by separation than by being together. 

The first known portrait of Roger is a touching and intimate study of him in the very early years of their association. In the late summer of 1940 he and Evelyn went for a few days under canvas to Kettlewell in Yorkshire, a favourite place of Roger's with its ready access to the great northern hills he loved. The summer of 1940, marked by the fall of France, the Battle of Britain and the daily threat of Nazi invasion, was marked with fear, uncertainty and impermanence, and I think there may be an element of capture of the man she loved as a sort of talisman for the future in Evelyn's mind. Maybe it has to be said that at the time Roger was in a fairly low-risk posting, looking after a barrage balloon unit on the Thames estuary, but he had applied for flying training. Anyway, here is Roger asleep, mostly naked but still wearing his RAF dog tag.



'Roger Folley asleep' 1940 Private collection
 
Four wartime years later, by which time Roger had transferred from the Voluntary Reserve become Flight Lieutenant Roger Folley RAF and was serving as a navigator with 488 (NZ) Squadron, she produced a more formal portrait of him in his flying kit, but still in pencil; oils would have to wait.

 'Flt. Lt. Roger Folley RAF in flying kit'. 1944. Private collection. Roger served with 488 (NZ) Squadron, a night-fighter unit mostly but not entirely staffed by New Zealand volunteers. Evelyn used the head of this drawing as their 1944 Christmas card.

Contemporary with this pencil portrait of Roger was another by a different hand, that of Sir William Rothenstein. By now long retired - he died in 1945 - he had been Principal of the Royal College of Art during Evelyn's studentship there in the early 1930s. He had long admired Evelyn's work, describing her once in 1936 as having 'real genius', he got on with her very well, remaining in touch with her until the end of his life. Her appointment as a war artist was to some extent due to him. In 1944 he drew Roger in crayon heightened with white:

Sir William Rothenstein Flt. Lt. Roger Folley 1944 Private collection. Inscribed 'To my dear Evelyn  William Rothenstein 4.3.44' How honoured Roger felt to have his portrait drawn by one of the great men of English art is not known, but it should maybe be remembered that the 74 year-old Rothenstein, by arrangement with the Air Ministry, made similar drawings of some 150 RAF officers. Many of these now hang in the RAF Museum at Hendon, North London. 

When the European war ended in May 1945 Evelyn's employment came to an abrupt end, although she continued working to complete some unfinished war paintings. Roger was demobilised in December 1945, but took advantage of some accrued leave to hand in his uniform some weeks earlier. In those weeks they moved at Roger's sister Joan's suggestion to 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, his wartime experiences had left other scars, among them a fear of flying. After the war he flew very seldom, first mastering his aversion in crossing the Atlantic and back with Evelyn by Boeing Stratocruiser on Ministry of Agriculture business in 1952.

Evelyn and Roger called their cottage Vyner's, after the earliest owner they could find on the title deeds. Roger wrote of their initial experiences at Vyner's: '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 Roger - a second followed a year or two later - was the one shown at the top of this post. I think Evelyn's portrait of her husband reflects the uncertainties and anxieties of those early post-war days. Roger looks at the worst  a little peevish, at the best thoughtful.


 The author with Roger Folley, aged 95, with his thumbstick 'Matey', a few weeks before his death. Evelyn's 'first' portrait is on the wall behind him, with Sir William Rothenstein's 1944 crayon portrait on the right.


* * *

The husband as symbol



 In 1937 Roger Folley graduated from Leeds University with two degrees, B.Sc. and B.Comm., the second awarded by special dispensation of the Senate. A man who as a young adult counted time spent indoors as time frittered away, Roger spent his vacations and his immediate postgraduate year working on a variety of farms. Any time left over from part-time farming was devoted to rock-climbing and fell-walking in the Pennines and especially in the Lake District. His farming experience plus his degrees qualified him amply for his chosen career as an agricultural economist. His first appointment was as Costings Officer at Sparsholt Farm Institute, near Winchester, where he subsequently met Evelyn, who had been posted there in 1940 to paint Women's Land Army recruits.


Apart from other mutually attractive elements, Evelyn found in Roger a man strongly committed to the land and the intelligent management of its productivity. Evelyn's Christian Science encompassed a covenant, frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, between the Creator and mankind, whereby the creator guaranteed the means of subsistence to mankind in return for mankind's undertaking to cherish the land with love, intelligence and industry. The Garden of Eden, given to Adam (which simply means 'man') 'to dress it and keep it' as the Old Testament book of Genesis expresses it, is a symbol of that covenant. Whatever we may think about that, for Evelyn the notion was something very powerful and indeed of great happiness for her, and it became the backdrop in one or another guise of almost all her work. It developed from her mother Florence through the medium of the garden of The Cedars, the Dunbar family house in Strood (the trans-Medway part of Rochester, Kent) and was then enormously magnified through the British wartime agricultural organisation.

A biblical personage who appealed strongly to Evelyn was Joseph,  perhaps best-known to non-Bible readers for his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat given him by his father Jacob. In 1938, when her personal life and career were at a low ebb, Evelyn started a trilogy on the life of Joseph, whom she saw as a man destined to greatness in the observance and implementation of the covenant. The trilogy started with Joseph's Dream:

Joseph's Dream 1938-42. Photo: Cambridgeshire County Council. Private collection

A full account of Joseph's Dream can be found here. The painting was unfinished when war broke out in 1939, and Evelyn laid it aside. When the immediate risk of invasion and the Blitz had receded to some extent, she took it up again with a view to showing it in the New English Art Club's 1943 exhibition.

By this time she had been married to Roger for over a year. On and off during this time she had been painting The Queue at the Fish Shop, in which Roger is shown in RAF uniform cycling down Strood High Street, and in which he is cast by extension of his service role as a guarantor of the availability of fish and thereby the sustenance of the people in the queue. Is the mantle of Joseph falling on his shoulders?

 The Queue at the Fish Shop 1942-45. Imperial War Museum, London


The Queue at the Fish Shop (detail)

After the war, when Roger and Evelyn had settled (temporarily, as it turned out) in Long Compton, she took up the Joseph trilogy again in Joseph in the Pit. The background, the pit into which Joseph's jealous brothers threw him to die, is strongly reminiscent of Gordale Scar, a dramatic gorge not very far from Kettlewell, the area first visited with Roger in the very early days of their relationship. There is something about the set of Joseph's eyes, nose and hair which is reminiscent of Roger:


 Joseph in the Pit 1947 Photograph: Petra van der Wal  © The author. Private collection.



Joseph in the Pit (detail)
What we might suspect was a gradual metamorphosis of Joseph into Roger becomes confirmed with the final painting of the trilogy, Joseph in Prison:


Joseph in Prison 1947-8. Private collection. Joseph, having been rescued from the pit by passing nomads, has been sold into slavery in Egypt. Bought by Potiphar, the captain of Pharoah's guard, he is accused falsely by Potiphar's wife of attempted rape, and thrown into jail. He becomes a trusty, and is here seen doling out breakfast to his fellow prisoners.

Joseph in Prison (detail). Because of his prowess in the interpretation of dreams, Joseph is released from prison and becomes Pharaoh's right-hand man, responsible for the measures enabling the Egyptian people to be fed in time of famine. He has become a powerful agent of the covenant.

By now the Joseph-Roger metamorphosis seems to be confirmed. At the time of painting Roger had become a demonstrator with Oxford University Agricultural Research Institute; he was shortly to become a lecturer in horticultural economy at Wye College, the agricultural campus of King's College, London, a post in which he rose to obscure but global eminence in the fields of cultivation of apples and tomatoes. He too has become a powerful agent of the covenant.

Another, non-Biblical, painting which had been gestating since Evelyn's post-war move was Autumn and the Poet, almost her last major painting and one in which she attempted to express a sort of testament.

Autumn and the Poet 1960 Photograph St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington © The author. Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, Maidstone, Kent

The figure of Autumn, wrapped in a winding-sheet, offers the Poet the fruits of the earth, some of which will have come from the fields in the background, even now ploughed and ready for sowing for next year's and subsequent years' crops. In a kind of Annunciation she is telling the Poet to explain and interpret the covenant through his writing. The Poet is very clearly Roger: Joseph's mantle has fallen on his shoulders.


Autumn and the Poet (detail)


With thanks to Jane England for her help


(Text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2020. All rights reserved.)




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