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Evelyn Dunbar at Watts Contemporary Gallery

Posted 7th July 2017
Watts Contemporary Gallery

Watts Contemporary, in partnership with Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, presents the first selling exhibition of studies, illustrations and paintings by Evelyn Dunbar (1906 – 1960) in our exhibition, Evelyn Dunbar: Studies, Illustrations & Paintings, from 14 July to 24 September 2017. Evelyn is an artist now considered to be amongst the most important in 20 century British art history.Bringing together 100 pictures – over half of which have never previously been shown, including a number from the 'lost studio' collection which, in 2013, brought to light works that had not been seen since the artist's lifetime – the exhibition will demonstrate why Dunbar deserves recognition as a major figurative artist of the Modern British era.

Evelyn was born in Reading, Berkshire, before moving to Kent where she lived for most of her life. While at school she won national awards for drawing. Between leaving Rochester Grammar School for Girls and going to art college she spent a year or two writing and illustrating children's books, mostly featuring winsome children.

Evelyn studied at the Royal College of Art, and between 1933 and 1936 she

A close relationship developed between Evelyn and Mahoney, subsequently leading to the jointly written and illustrated (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1937). Our exhibition brings together a number of Evelyn's original drawings for the book, both of the plants featured and of the numerous and intriguing vignettes based on the garden at The Cedars, the Dunbar family home in Rochester.

In 1937 Evelyn received a commission from Country Life to design its 1938 .For this, Dunbar created particularly inventive pen-and-ink personifications of the months, each featuring the associated work or produce. This exhibition includes a study of September, seen as a doughty lady gardener surrounded by vegetable marrows and sunflowers.

Having a Christian Scientist background allowed Evelyn to develop firm ideas about the interaction of mankind and nature. Initially limited to the context of the family garden in Kent, her ideas found a wider field of expression when, having been appointed Official War Artist in 1940 – Evelyn was the only woman war artist to be salaried throughout WW2 – she quickly became particularly associated with the Women's Land Army. Previously unseen studies for major paintings from this period, including The Queue at the Fish Shop (1944, finished painting in the Imperial War Museum's collection) can be seen in our exhibition. These and other war pictures reveal how, in recording women's Home Front activities, Evelyn could promote a gentle and unaggressive feminism.

In 1940 the Evelyn met and later married Roger Folley, then an RAF officer but later to become a leading horticultural economist. Their common interests and convictions encouraged Evelyn, after the war, to concentrate on a series of allegorical paintings and drawings which reflected her beliefs, and also her debt to Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaëlites, whose ideas about the function of art and the place of narrative in painting she acknowledged as strongly influential. Pen and Indian (ink?) sketches for (1948) - with Charity characteristically faceless - show the beginnings of what might have become a major allegorical painting had Evelyn completed it. But never one to waste a good idea, the design eventually ended up as a Christmas card.

Evelyn divided her post-war years between allegories, teaching as a Visitor at the Ruskin School, exhibiting and, towards the end of her life, recording her beloved Kent in landscapes again expressive of the synergy between man and nature. (1955) is a typical example, with agricultural activities omnipresent but subtly understated.

Sadly, Evelyn died suddenly at the age of 53, leaving behind a studio collection of some 800 works which only came to light in 2013 when a painting by Dunbar appeared on the BBC Antiques Roadshow.Having seen the show, Ro Dunbar, a relative of the artist, set to exploring the extraordinary hoard of paintings, drawings and studies hidden in the attic of her Kent home. The unrecorded works were identified with the help of Christopher Campbell-Howes, the artist's nephew and biographer (Evelyn Dunbar: A Life in Painting, on sale at the exhibition), who had been tracking contents of the 'lost studio' - dismantled in its entirety after Evelyn's death in 1960 - for some 10 years. The discovery of the Hammer Mill Oast Collection doubled the known body of Evelyn's work overnight and has enabled a reappraisal of her place in 20th century British art history.

All pictures in the exhibition are offered for sale with prices starting at £135, admission to Watts Contemporary Gallery is free.