Every year I find that Christmas galvanises me into making sure that I’ve used or enjoyed the previous years presents before more come along. And so it was that I found myself making the time to read (not just look at the pictures) of this book.

Evelyn Dunbar – Illustrated envelope to Charles Mahoney

Evelyn Dunbar was born in 1906 and never wanted to be anything other than a painter. She had a natural talent which she developed through school and various formal societies of art. I loved these illustrated letters which are works of art in themselves.

Evelyn Dunbar – Illustrated envelope to Jane Carrington

Her first public commission was a painting in the series of Brockley murals which were frescoes’ in a boy’s county school. Evelyn had a natural love of gardening and a wide horticultural expertise which put her in good stead to combine it with her artistic abilities and to illustrate a variety of books and gardening manuals.

Evelyn Dunbar – Gardener’s Diary 1938

The outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 put paid to the little gallery that Evelyn had just opened that year over her sisters shop. Conditions for artists were grim and she struggled to make ends meet. She wrote to the War Advisory Committee (WAC) which had been set up to keep artists from being killed fighting and to keep culture and art thriving through the war, to be selected for a role as a war artist.

Evelyn Dunbar – A Knitting Party

Artists were appointed on merit to make a record of the war be it either fact, drama or human emotion. They were commissioned to paint anything from general life in war-torn Britain to land work to the making of armaments. I love this painting above of women knitting comforts for soldiers. You can almost hear the needles clicking and I love the composition and the way the mustard yellow snakes a pathway that leads your eye through.

Evelyn Dunbar – Hospital Train

Evelyn was commissioned to paint several scenes of nursing life in WW2. This is the Hospital Train which brought evacuees’ up into safer areas and soldiers to where hospital’s had space to tend to them.

Evelyn Dunbar – St Thomas’s Hospital in Evacuation Quarters

This was a fairly ground breaking composition back in Evelyn’s day. She has recorded several nurses duties within one painting by taking snapshot’s of various grade nurses at their duties. This is the kind of composition that we are very familiar with now through photography and mosaic making software.

Evelyn Dunbar – Potato Sorting, Berwick

She also spent a lot of time at training camps for the Women’s Land Army where she documents communal life (such as below) or women training and then providing agricultural support. It was important to show the enemy that Britain was thriving and continuing to have a cultural life and so these paintings became part of a popular  touring exhibition. These paintings have become important documents of the change in role that women discovered which had  hitherto been the province of men.

Evelyn Dunbar – Land Army Girls going to Bed

Evelyn’s work provides authentic detail and social historic content. They encapsulate a moment which is maybe why they are popular again at this time where we are relatively nostalgic.

Evelyn Dunbar – The Queue at the Fish Shop

I love the colour palate that Evelyn painted with. I don’t know if it is just representative of the colours widely used and available during the war or whether she enhanced certain aspects, but I love the greys matched with teal and mustard which identify the painting as her work. She captures the monotony of war and the enforced waiting here, which was a side of war life not often documented.

Evelyn Dunbar – Alpha and Omega

When the war was over, so were the regular commissions and Evelyn almost started out again. It’s here that I find her story so inspiring because by now you’d think she was a famous national artist and that she probably had it made for life but actually it reminded me that we can easily fantasize other people’s journeys and hers was a struggle as much as we probably feel our own creative journey’s are.

Evelyn Dunbar
She really sadly died suddenly aged just 54 years old whilst out walking with her husband one evening. Apart from liking her work in an aesthetic way, Evelyn Dunbar’s life reminds me to not be elated by the highs or destroyed by the lows of the creative path but to  live each day fully and to paint.
Edited to add: When I published this WordPress awarded me with a gold star as it was 365th post!
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