Dunbar, Evelyn

(1906 – 1960)

The Woodcutter and the Bees, spring 1933 [HMO 309]

SKU: 6689
Pencil and oil on paper
17 3/4 x 10 1/2 in. (45.2 x 26.5 cm)
Height: 45.2cm
Width: 26.5cm


Roger Folley; Alasdair Dunbar; Hammer Mill Oast Collection
Exhibited: Evelyn Dunbar – The Lost Works, Pallant House Gallery, October 2015 – February 2016, cat 25.

Literature: Evelyn Dunbar – The Lost Works, Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2015, cat. 25, page 65.

This sketch ‚Äì as well as the one on the opposite page ‚Äì was for a mural panel in the hall of Brockley County School for Boys. Both were probably prepared in case of a shortfall of artists to complete the scheme, but neither were in fact used.
The Brockley Murals
Art educators saw murals both as a training method in the classical tradition, and as
an affirmation of the value of artists to society. Sir William Rothenstein, the Principal
of the Royal College of Art, made a broadcast in 1932 on The English Artist and the
English Public’, stressing the value of honestly painted everyday subjects from nature
as a counterweight to Modernism on one hand, and the devotion even of topographic
painters to foreign places on the other. Being in daily touch with students’, Rothenstein
told his listeners, I know that there is no lack of blossom; that the English genius for
rich content still persists.’ Dr. Sinclair, the headmaster of the Brockley County School for
Boys in the London borough of Lewisham, then the suburban fringe of Kent, responded
by offering his school hall, with its five arched recesses, and a balcony with a vaulted
underside. The result, in Rothenstein’s view, was the best mural cycle since Ford Madox
Brown’s work in Manchester Town Hall.
Charles Mahoney, as a tutor at the RCA, assembled a team of younger women
collaborators, with Dunbar as the senior among them, and two who were still students:
Violet Martin and Mildred Elsie’ Eldridge. According to Eldridge’s memory in the 1980s,
they were united chiefly by their dislike of London and yearning for the country. The
chosen theme was Aesop’s Fables, which gave scope for narrative themes in landscape
settings. Dunbar painted The Country Girl and the Pail of Milk’, one of five large arched
panels, in which the main story in the foreground is perhaps less dramatic than the
before-and-after episodes of the fable drama in the background. It is fascinating, in the
light of this work, to see two of Dunbar’s newly discovered schemes for the panels on the
facing wall. Both have the same spatial design, with a winding road containing the main
subject at the bottom, and additional figures. Hercules, the god of the title, is contained
in a tondo shape, filling the arched top, (CAT 24) while in The Woodcutter and the Bees
(CAT 25), a carefully observed rural scene, the chicken hut peforms an equivalent role
in the composition, while a visually intriguing framework of green branches fills out the
bottom right corner.
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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