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Evelyn Dunbar. A Second World War Artist

July 14, 2011

Another amazing discovery to come out of my recent trip to the Imperial War Museum was the work

of Evelyn Dunbar, the only British female artist paid by the government to record World War Two.

She painted unsentimental images of the Women’s Land Army that are easily recognised,

yet she is largely forgotten in discussions of Second World War art today.

Dunbar was a mural and landscape painter who was commissioned by a government committee to

record scenes from the home front. In her paintings, there is a recurring theme of women adapting to

unfamiliar work and surroundings as both the war and technology moulded, framed and shaped lives.

The middle purple painting below is called The Winter Garden.

Evelyn Dunbar’s most famous commissions were part of the official schemes the British government

established for artists to record both the First and Second World Wars. During the Second World War

a structured approach to official picture collecting was taken by the War Artists Advisory Committee –

a governmental committee which had been created during the First World War and resurrected during

the Second World War. After the war, one third of the collection was allocated to the Imperial War

Museum, some of which are presently on show at their London site.

There was a strong pastoral theme in Dunbar’s work, and she was an apt choice, with Charles Mahoney,

to illustrate Gardener’s Choice, in 1937. In 1941 she illustrated A Book of Farmcraft by Michael Greenhill,

designed to help the novice farmhand and Land Girls tackle jobs on the land with greater proficiency

and safety. I love these smaller sketchier pieces of her work.

There’s a great more information about Evelyn here on the St. Barbe Musuem site and a fascinating book

by Gill Clarke available on amazon here. There’s also an old audio clip from Womens’ Hour here.

Sadly the exhibiton mentioned in the audio clip has long since finished, but some of the Bletchley School

murals, mentioned in the audio can be seen here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonamouse permalink
    October 31, 2011 12:08 pm

    Being childless not wholly documented is Evelyn Dunbar’s fostering of two boys from a Kent ‘community home’ near where the artist and her husband Roger Folley lived.

    • October 31, 2011 4:19 pm

      Thank you for the additional information, much appreciated.

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