Olive Mudie-Cooke stands out from amongst the very few British female
artists at the front during the First World War for her ambition and
range, her dramatic use of light and shade and subtle sense of colour.
Above all, her work gives a strong sense of an individual, freshly-lived
The artist explained to the Imperial War Museum ‚Äì when she
requested permission to reproduce two of the watercolours they had
commissioned ‚Äì that she was creating the portfolio With the VAD
Convoys in France, Flanders, Italy ‚Äúchiefly as a souvenir album for the
VAD ambulance drivers with whom I worked during the war‚Äù. More
than a souvenir, the portfolio is a rich artistic response to her nearly fouryear
service as an ambulance driver.
To take just two: Italian Convoy: The Crush at 11B Hospital, Genoa
makes use of two colours with black, giving soft blue night-time lowlights
and half shadows and a pale yellow for highlights, with the ambulance
headlights boldly done and then wiped across to create the beam; Ypres
Cloth-Hall and Cathedral creates an unsettling, precarious contrast
between the dark tower of the cloth-hall and the lighter cathedral ruins.
Mudie-Cooke’s suicide at the age of only thirty-five, after the
painful ending of a relationship, cut her career short. George Clausen
hinted at greater promise left unfulfilled in his obituary for her
memorial exhibition, complimenting her strength, individuality and
uncompromising search for beauty.
Commentary by Kathleen Palmer, Curator of Exhibitions and Displays at the Foundling Museum. She was
previously Head of Art at the Imperial War Museum, where she curated and authored the 2011
Women War Artists exhibition and book.