Dunbar, Evelyn

(1906 – 1960)

Clara Cowling gardening, circa 1928

SKU: 11176

Oil on board

Height: 38.1cm
Width: 36.2cm


The Artist’s Studio; thence by descent

Clara Cowling, who died in 1946, was Florence Dunbar’s elder sister, hence Evelyn Dunbar’s aunt. A Yorkshirewoman and a devout Christian Scientist, she moved south to the Kent-Sussex borders with her husband Stead Cowling in the early 1920s. Stead Cowling was a wealthy Bradford woolmaster, who sold his business on his retirement in order to buy an estate called Steellands, on the northern edge of the village of Ticehurst. Here the Cowlings were fairly close to the Dunbars, who lived in Rochester, maybe an hour to the north. In addition to painting in a Sunday kind of way, Clara Cowling was (like her sister Florence) a dedicated and green-fingered gardener. Dunbar perhaps owed as much to her aunt Clara in the way of gardening practice and philosophy as she did to her mother Florence. In the late 1920s and 1930s Dunbar looked on Steellands almost as a second home, visiting as often as she could. The Cowlings part-financed Dunbar’s Royal College of Art studies, and helped to keep her afloat in lean years thereafter. Clara Cowling died in 1946, surviving her husband by 12 years

In Dunbar’s oil sketch, probably done in the late 1920s, the vibrant brilliance of the greens is both an actual and a symbolic background to the energy, dedication and (let it be said) the freshness of the beliefs and faith of her aunt Clara. She is seen here digging a shallow trench at the edge of one of the woods with which Steellands abounded. Whatever she is going to plant lies hidden in the trug in the foreground, but we can perhaps guess at spring bulbs en masse: the Steellands daffodils were famously splendid.

We are grateful to Christopher-Campbell Howes, author of  Evelyn Dunbar: A Life in Painting, for the above text and the image below:


Cowling in Steellands garden, circa 1930


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Dunbar, Evelyn

1906 – 1960

Evelyn Dunbar studied at Rochester School of Art, Chelsea School
of Art (1927) and the Royal College of Art (1929’33). She painted
murals from 1933 -36 at Brockley School, a collaboration with her
RCA tutor (and lover) Cyril Mahoney (1903’1968) and in 1937
they wrote and illustrated together Gardeners’ Choice. 

In 1938 she set up the Blue Gallery in Rochester, exhibiting her
own work alongside that of Edward Bawden (1903’1989) and
Barnett Freedman (1901’1958) and others. In 1940 she was
appointed an official war artist, becoming the only woman (amongst
36 men) to be given a full time salaried position by the WAAC. 

She held her only solo exhibition at Withersdane, Wye, Kent
in 1953, although the WAAC included numerous pieces in touring
exhibitions ranging from Aberdeen Art Gallery to MOMA, New York. 

A posthumous exhibition was held in 2006 at St Barbe
Museum and Art Gallery, and in 2015 Liss Llewellyn mounted a
major retrospective of her recently rediscovered studio at Pallant
House Gallery. 


Evelyn Dunbar
Study for July, Gardeners Diary 1938, 1937
Evelyn Dunbar
Studies for Mercatora, an allegorical painting (whereabouts unknown) [HMO 173]
Evelyn Dunbar
Colour study for sub-gallery spandrels at Brockley County School for Boys [HMO 551]
Evelyn Dunbar
Portrait of the artist Margaret Goodwin