Dunbar, Evelyn

(1906 – 1960)

Dorset, late 1940's

SKU: 11175

Oil on board

Height: 34.3cm
Width: 40.6cm


The Artist’s Studio; thence by descent

Literature: Llewellyn, Sacha, and Paul Liss. Portrait of an Artist. Liss Llewellyn, 2021, p.384.

Dorset belongs to the most productive period – in terms of quality – of Dunbar’s life. When her employment as a war artist finished when World War 2 ended in 1945, she went to live in the south Midlands with her husband, the horticultural economist Roger Folley. Various images, mainly allegorical, pent up during the war years, now found their expression, among them Dorset. Dunbar had no particular connection with the county, but she greatly admired the writing of Thomas Hardy, for her the most elemental of English novelists. Characters who look outside the frame have a special significance in Dunbar’s work, and here her figure, supposedly seated at the top of Portland Bill, is looking through her fingers at HMS Victory slowly disappearing over the south-western horizon on a voyage that will culminate in Trafalgar. She is Anne Garland, heroine of Hardy’s The Trumpet Major, whose suitor Bob Loveday is serving on the battleship. Dunbar perhaps empathised with Anne Garland, as she portrays her, in her own feelings when Roger Folley, a wartime night fighter navigator, was involved in continual RAF sorties a year or two before. We can imagine that Dunbar has squared up her oil sketch because the figure of Dorset is too cramped, and she wants to re-assess the basic proportions on another canvas. We can further imagine that it may have taken Dunbar several re-workings before she finally found an acceptable proportional relationship of dress to body, arms to torso, head to neck and particularly hair, collectively expressive of the majesty, beauty and protective commitment of Dorset. 

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

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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