Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Scots Week-End (1936)

Evelyn Dunbar: Frontispiece to The Scots Week-End and Caledonian Vade Mecum for Host, Guest and Wayfarer (eds. D. and R. Carswell, Routledge, London, 1936)
This and the drawings below should enlarge if you click on them

I glance back for a moment along the straightish path of a chronological unfolding of Evelyn's work to something she started in 1935 and finished the following year. At the time she was working on the Brockley murals, and I find it surprising that she felt able to undertake a book illustration project while her very demanding mural work was still in progress.

In 1935 Evelyn spent much of her life with the artist - and her former Royal College of Art tutor - Charles Mahoney, who was the leading light in the Brockley School mural project. Mahoney and Evelyn shared a studio in South End Road, reasonably enough at the southern end of Hampstead Heath. Near neighbours, in Keats Grove, were Catherine and Donald Carswell, authors and journalists. Catherine Carswell, a Scotswoman who had written controversial biographies of Robert Burns and D.E.Lawrence (her favourable 1915 review of his The Rainbow had cost her her job with the Glasgow Herald) is now recognised, partly through her novels, as a leading proto-feminist.

The Carswells had put together a miscellany, following a briefly popular trend for dip-into bedside anthologies, entitled The Scots Week-End and Caledonian Vade-Mecum for Host, Guest and Wayfarer, of which it might be unkindly observed that you risked falling asleep before reaching the end of the title. In looking for an illustrator I think they had no need to look further than Charles Mahoney, just round the corner in Hampstead, so to speak, if only to consult him. Judging from Evelyn's subsequent correspondence about the subject with Mahoney, it seems probable that he successfully recommended her to the Carswells as an illustrator, maybe partly on the strength of her having illustrated several children's books in the early 1920s.

How welcome Evelyn found the commission is difficult to assess. It was well paid, probably £20 in two instalments, a total of roughly £1200 at 2013 values, but all the same she found it difficult to divert her creative energy from the Brockley murals and her own similarly demanding private work. She wrote to Mahoney in September 1935:

[...] can you tell me why it is that whenever I get going on these blooming Scotch illustrations with vigour and spontaneity all my spontaneous and lively feelings completely desert me, and I am left clutching an unwilling, unwieldy pen, scratching at laborious and second-rate expressions of stereotyped and 5th rate (so it seems to me) ideas? I'm trying my best and I mean to get over it, but jobs of that kind seem to mesmerise me into a kind of stupidity and inability. Write me a few comforting and inspiring lines [...]




Evelyn Dunbar: Vignettes from The Scots Week-End and Caledonian Vade-Mecum for Host, Guest and Wayfarer (eds. D. and R. Carswell, Routledge, London, 1936)

In the light of this maybe it's not surprising that there's such a mixture of styles in Evelyn's drawings. As might be expected, she did her homework, although against much adversity. The frontispiece, at the start of this essay, features a giant thistle, emblem of Scotland, growing out of a ruined castle set among mountains. Its branches are adorned with people and animals undergoing various activities - fishing, hill-walking, dancing, barking - associated with Scotland.

The top left-hand drawing above is the vignette introducing The Holiday Friend, which unexpectedly turns out to be a rather coy and pawky - and decidedly un-feminist - manual of flirtation, even seduction, in Scotland. In several cases Evelyn was not given the text she was supposed to be crystallising, and had to guess.

So The Holiday Friend vignette shows a couple standing on a symbolic heart-shaped pincushion. In Victorian times and a little later such pincushions, with the two pins Evelyn has stuck in them, were tokens of love to be exchanged on or after parting, the pins symbolising the pain of separation. Evelyn's couple are straight out of, appropriately, a Robert Burns poem, O wert thou in the cauld blast:

O wert thou in the cauld blast, on yonder lea, on yonder lea,
My plaidie to the angry airt, I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee.

[Résumé: If you were out in the cold in that field, I'd protect you from the wind with my tartan cloak]

Travelling is in a different style altogether, with Evelyn commenting on the Scottish weather as experienced by two caped cyclists heads down against the rain on a moorland road that has no visible end.

Centre right, Outdoor Games, shows a gentleman in 18th century town dress, complete with Tam o' Shanter bonnet with ribbons flying, playing peever, a Scottish version of hopscotch.

Lower left, to head the chapter entitled Rights and Wrongs (for which Evelyn did not have the text) shows a Scottish High Court judge in full fig.

Lower right, for a chapter called Non-human Natives, we have a brace of grouse, a Scottish or Aberdeen terrier, and a splendid heraldic beast, possibly from the arms of clan MacDonald of Sleat, although I'm not aware of any particular significance in this.

Evelyn Dunbar: Vignettes from The Scots Week-End and Caledonian Vade-Mecum for Host, Guest and Wayfarer (eds. D. and R. Carswell, Routledge, London, 1936)

The model for Mirth and Dancing is Evelyn's sister Marjorie, whom we will glimpse again in Gardeners' Choice, the book that followed The Scots Week-End.

Bottle and Wallet is an enjoyably cartoon-like rendering of two ultra-stereotypical Scotsmen of the type that Evelyn was familiar with from the pages of Punch, the satirical magazine founded in 1841. Several leather-bound volumes of 19th century back numbers of Punch, originally from The Cedars, the Dunbar family home in Rochester, eventually found their way to Roger's and Evelyn's bookshelves.

Evelyn's father, William Dunbar, who died in 1932, was a Scot originating from Cromdale, a village and a range of hills on Speyside to the north-east of Grantown on Spey, now in Highland Region. Evelyn was thus half Scottish, but rarely made anything of it. To the best of my knowledge she went to Scotland only twice: once in 1943 to paint Potato Sorting, Berwick and once, during one of Roger's RAF leaves, to climb in the Cairngorms. (On this occasion Evelyn took the opportunity to visit her father's native village.)

Evelyn had a fund of stories which she loved telling. I think the following tale may have come from her father. We can assign it with neither authorisation nor shame to one (or both) of the Scotsmen in Evelyn's drawing:

An ageing and solitary widower, Great Uncle Sandy, had developed certain eccentric culinary habits, characteristic of which was his practice with porridge, to which he referred in the plural as 'them'.
    To save himself the trouble of daily preparation, he would make enough in one batch to last him a fortnight.
    One morning towards the end of the second week the residual crusts and scrapings looked so unappetising that not even Uncle Sandy could face 'them'. But at length he hit upon the notion of placing the one luxury he allowed himself, viz. a dram of malt whisky, in front of his porringer, promising himself this treat once 'they' were finished.
    Slowly and painfully he forced himself to consume 'them' until at last his porringer was empty, whereupon, with that truly Scottish tendency to defer gratification, he lifted the glass, observed 'Weel, Sandy, my man, ye're gey easily fooled!' - and poured the whisky back into the bottle.


Evelyn's final drawing introduces the last chapter of The Scots Week-End, entitled To the stranger within our gates. Her admonitory finger warns all who tease the Scots. H'm...



(Original text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved.)

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Christmas cards 1951-54


Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1951 Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection

These images should enlarge if you click on them

By the time Evelyn and Roger prepared their 1951 Christmas card they had already lived in The Elms, a pleasant late Victorian (1884) house half a mile or so from the Kentish hamlet of Hinxhill, for about a year. One of the features of this house was a modest conservatory built on to the west wall, with access from the garden and directly from Evelyn's studio.

Evelyn's design shows a faceless woman, the sort of Flora or Pomona or deity in representing Nature that we've seen in earlier Christmas cards, balancing a basket of grapes on one knee, surrounded by a vine from which stylised bunches of grapes hang. The prop on the right really did exist: the vine spread over most of the underside of the glazed roof and needing propping up. Beneath the drawing she has written 'Elms, Hinxhill, Ashford and sunshine in the vinery'.

Roger's most impenetrably Rogerish verse reads:

SOUS LES VIGNES [Under the vines]

Plucked in the autumn their rotund effulgence
Their saccharose store of celebratant
In the azurine spheroids conpendant:
Filtered in summer the actinic glare
By the exuberant emerald tissue
Enveloping its territory anew:
Exemplary plants, tho' unreasoning,
Reason's outmoded in their policy
Of - ramify, fortify, fructify!


They called this conservatory the 'vigne'. It was here that Evelyn painted my portrait, to be featured in a forthcoming essay, in 1954.


Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1952 Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection

I pause briefly to reflect on what a useful gift annual Christmas cards of this type are to chroniclers and biographers.

Roger's verse reads:

OUTWARD BOUND

By the Statue of Liberty a mendicant mused,
Half-aloft in the twilight rubescent, suffused.
Remote from the fervour, relieved of the scale
Of the continent's life, he sought the true tale:

How destiny nested, migrant-like, among
The ambitious stones; began a universal Song
Whose echoing phrases rose in crescendo
From countless citizens on the sidewalk below.


Evelyn's illustration shows a female figure, another Flora or Pomona, clutching branches in either hand, cradled in an ectoplasmic cloud with a symbolic sun as its head. She has written 'Transatlantic journey' beneath. The reference is to Roger crossing the Atlantic to take part in a series of conferences in New York and elsewhere on the economics of fruit growing. On the outward bound leg of the journey he would have travelled with the sun, consistently with Evelyn's design. At the base of the design there's a suggestion of the Atlantic, which is relevant in an unexpected way: Roger (who went on his own) sailed to the United States, not simply because in 1952 the transatlantic passenger air service was fairly undeveloped, but also because after his wartime experiences he decided he never wanted to fly again.

Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1953 Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection

Roger's verse reads:

DISCOVERY
What do you see within the hall?
Some pictures framed and on the wall.
What do you see within the frames?
The paint, resolving diverse claims.
What do you see within the paint?
The artist's eye, served with restraint.
What do you see within the eye?
Oh . . . colour, form, tonality . . .
And in these three what do you see -
Incomprehensibility?
 - Another's world; a mystery.

In the late autumn of 1953 Evelyn held the only retrospective solo exhibition of her career. It took place in Swanley Hall, Withersdane, a residential and administrative part of Wye College, a short distance outside the village. Evelyn's Christmas card design, underneath which she has written 'Wye exhibition' is simply about art exhibitions in general, not specifically about hers, so the work on display has no reference to her own paintings.

The exhibition was entitled 'Evelyn Dunbar - Paintings and Drawings 1936-1953'. In order to assemble the 26 paintings and drawings she had to 'borrow' most back from the galleries and private individuals into whose hands they had passed. An English Calendar was already in Withersdane (where it still is), and Wye from Olantigh had never left her studio.

The Imperial War Museum lent six of her wartime paintings, including Milking Practice with Artificial Udders and The Queue at the Fish Shop. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I believe she took advantage of having this last painting back in her own hands to add a tiny detail: the medal ribbon of the General Service Star on the left breast of the cycling RAF officer (actually, of course, Roger), which he could not have been awarded at the time the painting was delivered to the War Artists Advisory Committee.

The Education Department of Cambridgeshire County Council lent the iconic Joseph's Dreams. Mary Landale, her friend and former pupil at the Ruskin School, lent Dorset and The Poet Surprised by Autumn, an early version of what was to become Autumn and the Poet. Most fascinating for anyone, like myself, wanting to account for as much as Evelyn's work as possible, a Mr L.F.Herbert lent one, possibly two, of the trilogy of allegorical paintings featuring episodes in the that Genesis story of Joseph to which Evelyn attached such importance. Joseph's Dreams is the first of the three, followed by Joseph in the Pit and Joseph in Prison. The location of these last two is unknown.

I went to Evelyn's exhibition (I was 11) and have a very faint recollection of these last two, and of others in the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-Joseph saga, notably A Ram Caught by his Horns in the Thicket (see Genesis, Chapter 22) and The Butler's and The Baker's Dreams. (Ibid., Chapter 40.) These recollections may easily be flawed. I suspect that the two missing Joseph paintings date from the years 1945-50, which Evelyn spent in the ambit of Oxford University. During this period, maybe as a release from the constraints of her war paintings, she turned a closer attention to allegory, represented by Oxford, Dorset, the so far lost Mercatora, the early versions of Autumn and the Poet - and these two Josephs, if they can be conveniently listed as such.

In the early 1950s Evelyn, who had a great gift for friendship, became a close friend of Eileen Skinner, a disabled journalist living in Wye and who often served as a model for the classes Evelyn used to run at The Elms. Few would have witnessed Evelyn at work in her studio more closely and for longer than Eileen Skinner, who is said by some commentators eventually to have became Evelyn's amanuensis. (I've never understood exactly what this meant: Evelyn took both pride and pleasure in her personal letters, and Roger was perfectly competent in dealing with household correspondence.) Eileen, who died in 2008, incidentally as Roger's next-door neighbour in Wye and predeceasing him by 5 months, recorded that Evelyn liked to paint repeatedly a subject that particularly appealed to her, especially her Joseph series.

I can endorse this to some extent. Long after Joseph's Dreams was sold to Cambridgeshire Education Authority in 1948, another version, whether earlier or later I don't know, used to hang above the dining-room door at The Elms. In the very sparse documentation of Evelyn's life and work there is sometimes a chance mention of a second version of a known painting (Dorset, for instance). Although plural versions may also turn out to be oil sketches, they further increase the number of Evelyn's paintings that are lost or unaccounted for, as well as befogging my recollections of what I did or didn't see all that time ago. 


Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1954 Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection

I don't know whether this refers to something specific, some student relationship of which Evelyn and Roger were aware. Evelyn's drawing (she has added 'Student Life at Wye College' beneath) shows the narrowest of spaces between the two unidentified Wye College students. If some art can be defined by the space it occupies, the importance of the middle ground between the boy and the girl becomes evident. Any wider, and the implied closeness would be lost: any narrower, and their shoulders would be touching, and the point of Roger's very clever interior rhymes would be lost:

KALEIDOSCOPE

Youth of both sexes flexes demonstrably
Casting its wrapping, mapping new frontiers;
Learning to measure leisure by industry.
First, in alliance, science and ready mind;
Joy of retailing, detailing formulae.
Truantly, second, beckoned by fellowship;
Gone in a whirl a pearl of experience.
Third, a renewal. Refuel from text books;
Tests fast approaching; coaching and seminars.
Graduands totter, blotter all hieroglyphs;
Futures confront them, hunt them through latter days,
Loth to surrender tender claustrality.


There was no Christmas card for 1955.

(Original text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved.)



Sunday, 20 January 2013

Wye from Olantigh (1953)


Evelyn Dunbar Wye from Olantigh 1953 (14" x 18": 35.5 x 45.8cm) Private collection

Evelyn produced this most finished of her known landscapes in time for her only solo exhibition, held in the autumn of 1953 in Swanley Hall, Withersdane, a residential and administrative premises of Wye College. The exhibition was entitled 'Evelyn Dunbar - Paintings and Drawings 1938-1953'. There were 26 exhibits in all, many borrowed back from the Imperial War Museum, from other galleries and from private individuals to whom she had given or sold paintings. Her multi-frame An English Calendar was already there.

Olantigh is an estate north-east of Wye, in Kent. We're in early summer, maybe a year or two earlier than 1953. It wasn't a commission. It was painted for no other  - or better? - purpose than of recording a scene which pleased her. She may have had its eventual sale in mind. In the early 50s Evelyn had a loose arrangement with a London dealer, but her delivery of work was so erratic that the arrangement petered out. As always with a painting that particularly pleased her or which stated something important to her, she devoted a great deal of time, sometimes years, to finishing a canvas, that is - in Evelyn's case - giving it a depth of paint to exclude any suggestion of the canvas beneath. Certainly in Wye from Olantigh she has taken time to build up the relative thicknesses of layers of greens and yellows to express the intensity of the midday sun on the lush pastures of May in Kent, the Garden of England, although the outer branches and foliage do not have the same precision as, say, in A Land Girl and the Bail Bull.

These trees, beeches, oak and elm, are in full and proud leaf. Elm would disappear some 15 years later, victim of the Dutch elm disease which progressively destroyed all mature British elms as it moved northwards. The same view today would have several gaps in it, including the repoussoir trees on the left and right edges which lead the viewer's eye downwards towards the cattle in a shady nook and the blue-grey silhouette of the squat tower and nave of Wye Church, maybe half a mile away. A magical touch, worked with the tiniest of brushes, is the outline of the tower of Ashford Church on the horizon, some eight miles away in the heat haze. (It may not be visible in the photo above.)

Pure landscape is one of the least known of Evelyn's activities. By 'pure' I mean landscape undertaken for the pleasure of recording it, not as the moral and symbolic backdrop against which so many of her outdoor dramas, especially the allegories and her wartime Women's Land Army paintings, are played out. Her pure landscapes, like Wye from Olantigh, are simply unadorned and unsentimental portraits of 'a landscape loved and worked in equal measure'. They are invariably - as far as I know: so much may be lost - of The Weald, that area of mostly fertile farmland and woodland of Kent and Sussex cradled by the North and South Downs.

In a sense her landscapes are the small change of her output. I suspect she gave many away as mementoes to friends or pupils. In an earlier essay I mentioned Evelyn's obituary in The Times, which presumably for lack of more accurate information claimed that after World War 2 she painted little but was 'absorbed in country pursuits'. I've sometimes wondered what the obituarist meant. Did she ride to hounds, make corn dollies, breed pheasants or angle for eels in the river Stour? (None of these sounds remotely like Evelyn.)

However country walks were a staple of her existence, and on the many country walks I remember sharing with her she was never without pencil and sketchbook. She would often stop to set down a field gate, a clump of trees, the set of some coppiced hazels, a bramble thicket, some middle-distance roof-tops, whatever.

This was her often daily communion with the land she loved. If there was something that especially took her eye she would return later, with easel and water-colours. Some artists feel a need continually, over and over again, to draw or paint a person they love, in all lights and circumstances and moods: with Evelyn it was the land. There was no need for the spectacular, snow- or cloud-capped mountains, waterfalls, rough seas; nor for anything chocolate-box or postcard-worthy, cottages with roses round the door, shepherd's delights: the Wealden landscape was enough and more.

Here is another example of Evelyn's day-to-day landscape work. It's not so highly finished as Wye from Olantigh, but it's a simple, unpretentious and uncomplicated account of The Weald. A label on the back in Roger's handwriting, which tells us something about its provenance, says Sussex Landscape. People who know East Sussex well may identify it, if that's important: a clue may lie in the distant ring of hill-top trees on the right-hand horizon. Evelyn had an aunt, Clara Cowling, who lived in a house called Steellands (now called Apsley Court) at Ticehurst, whom she used to visit sometimes: maybe the view southwards towards the South Downs on the horizon is taken from near Ticehurst.



Evelyn Dunbar Sussex Landscape undated (12" x 18": 30.5 x 45.8cm) Private collection


The land fed her, visually, imaginatively, spiritually and of course physically. Without it there was nothing. There was no alternative means of survival. It was the Creator's gift to mankind, a gift made in return for caring for it. Evelyn put a Christian Scientist gloss on this, finding the clearest expression of it in the Abraham-Jacob-Joseph saga in Genesis, summed up in the words 'the Lord will provide'.

The transmission of this message was her life's work. Love the land, look after it, and it will never fail you. This is the Creator's promise.

It's typical of Evelyn that she should have transmitted these ideas so positively. Only once in all her work, in a central feature of the late Autumn and the Poet, does she emphasise the negative, what will happen if you don't look after the land. Throughout her work there's the same trust, cheerfulness, contentment, happy acceptance of the condition the Creator has laid down for mankind's survival.

After Evelyn died, unexpectedly at the age of 53, Roger was left with the problem of what to do with all her remaining work. In a store room adjoining her studio there were stacks of canvases, maybe 50, not to mention bulging portfolios of her other work, drawings, water colours, pastels, sketchbooks and all the paraphernalia of an artist who rarely threw anything away. Among the paintings was Wye from Olantigh, which Roger gave to his sister and which has been in the family ever since. One or two remaining paintings were sold, and most of the rest, including an unknown number of everyday landscapes, were given away to friends and family.

Sussex Landscape was also among the 10 or so paintings which Roger kept. Towards the end of his life, in 2007, by which time he was very blind, he set about disposing of them suitably. At an especially poignant moment he asked me, by letter, if I would like a landscape called Sidelands by which to remember Evelyn. (The Cerebrant, which I would have preferred, had already been donated to Manchester Art Gallery.) Conscious of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I replied that didn't know of it. Roger said he would send me a photograph of it, and this is what arrived a few days later:



Evelyn Dunbar Sidelands (section) (undated) Location supposedly Imperial College, London. Photograph R.R.W.Folley

Roger's sight was too poor for him to aim the camera accurately. I would have loved this painting, with its open gate inviting and admitting the viewer through to the tidy, organised farmland beyond, just as in the Brockley mural The Country Girl and the Pail of Milk, an invitation carrying all that Evelyn stood for. I wrote to Roger accordingly, but when I arrived by car from France a month or two later to collect it, he had donated it to Wye College. In his blindness he had confused Sidelands with Sussex Landscape.

(Text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved)





Friday, 18 January 2013

Christmas cards 1946-50

Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1947 (February) Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection
(This and the following illustrations should enlarge if clicked on)

This was Evelyn's and her husband Roger's 'Christmas' card for 1946. For some reason, maybe connected with a delay at the printer's, it wasn't sent out until the February following, several weeks into 1947. Unusually, there is no verse from Roger.

Evelyn's entirely characteristic drawing of a young woman carrying a tray of such abundant fruit that some has spilled on to the ground is entirely in keeping with her beliefs about the Covenant, the contract between nature and mankind. The earth will be endlessly productive and generous, provided mankind looks after it properly, with skill, devotion and intelligence. At the time, Roger was working in the Oxford University Economic Research Institute, concentrating on agriculture.

The figure's hat, decorated with apples, pears and cherries, is a complete delight.


Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1947 Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection

Roger's verse reads:

Before the leaves are full, green fruit buds burst
Into pink and white blossomings to light
A flowery arch 'neath which Pomona trips
And holds the stage through summer's play: at first
The fruit is set, then filled and swollen tight
Till falling leaves a curtain make. Our lips
Sound an approval sweet and oft-rehearsed
In winter's poesy, ere green buds burst.


At the foot of her drawing Evelyn has added, in her own handwriting, 'R. [i.e.Roger] begins to pursue the economics of fruitgrowing.'

Again, a most endearing hat, and a blossom-hemmed cloak to whirl round the dancing figure, whose swish and swoosh you can almost hear. Presumably she's Pomona, tripping on the light fantastic toe and holding the stage through summer's play, as in Roger's complementary poem. I can just remember the endless heavy snows of the winter of 1947: I wonder how many of Evelyn's and Roger's friends were warmed and cheered by this very original greeting?


Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1948 Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection

Evelyn's dancing pig, captioned in her own hand 'The export drive....', moves as gracefully, in his way, and as energetically as Pomona from the year before, although maybe he hasn't yet realised that what is being exported is bacon and sausages...

Roger's somewhat compressed verse reads:

Leaf from our Notebook

Deck out these roughs as for export,
Despatch them to one's clientèle....
With cheerful word of good report
For Christmas and Année Nouvelle.


Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1949 Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection 

Evelyn's very simple, and I expect last-minute, drawing shows - as she writes beneath - The Manor House at Enstone. Enstone was the Oxfordshire village to which Roger and Evelyn moved in March or April 1947, in order to be nearer Oxford, where they both worked, than their previous cottage in Long Compton, in Warwickshire.

Here Roger had an upstairs study in which Evelyn painted her second portrait of him, now known, in line with Roger's 2005 request, as The Cerebrant. Evelyn had much better studio facilities than at Long Compton, and Oxford, Summer Eights and the first studies for Autumn and the Poet were painted here. I remember clambering about on the wall at the front of the property until told to stop. 

Roger's unusually un-mystic verse reads:


Let no distance separate
Vision and the real state
Knock, and let us welcome you
To an annual rendez-vous.
See the garden and the ground,
Come inside and look around,
Climb upstairs and scan the view,
Share our simple tea for two.
 Evelyn Dunbar Christmas Card 1950 Pre-publication presentation
 (?) 1955 © Estate of Evelyn Dunbar: private collection 

If Evelyn's and Roger's Christmas cards can be taken as a compressed joint biography, it's clear that in 1950 things changed radically for them. Evelyn's unusual - and very beautiful - drawing of the three Christian Graces, Faith, Hope and Charity, stand motionless in a space like the sort of carved niche in cathedral walls you often find weather-eroded statues of saints in. Faith and Charity are holding hands for mutual support. There's no movement, unlike the dancing pigs and Pomonas from the previous years. Faith and Charity are facing inwards, staring upwards, maybe questioningly, at the slightly taller figure of Hope, the only one of the three to look towards the viewer, and with a compelling irony Evelyn has drawn her without eyes to see, or indeed a face at all.

Underneath Evelyn has written 'The turn of the half century, with Faith, Hope and Charity'.

(Faith, Hope and Charity are personifications of three abstract qualities which St Paul wrote about in the New Testament, in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. 'Charity' has always given Bible translators problems, because there's no word in English to carry the full meaning of St Paul's original Greek word αγαπη, agapé, which means human love without necessarily any sexual element, the love of a mother for her child, the love one has for one's friends, and, especially in Evelyn's case, the love a creator can have for his or her creation. 'Platonic love' doesn't fully express St Paul's meaning either: it's wider and deeper than that. The King James Bible gives 'charity', more modern versions fall back on 'love'.)

It's as though these three women and what they stand for have been reduced to nothing, with only themselves to fall back on, as though they were saying to each other 'Was it for this that we worked so hard, that we suffered, and gave so much of ourselves?' Maybe Evelyn is calling to mind the sweat and sacrifice of so many of her war paintings, wondering whether it was all worth it, not in terms of the place of women in post-war Britain, but in the much wider world.

But at least Hope is there. Roger's sub-Tennysonian poem reads:

Athwart its diamond hangs the century,
And Time an even loading constitutes
Between th' opposing, vacillating scales
Which weigh the progress of humanity.
The dear-enbosomed hopes of fifty years,
Twice mortified, twice purified, again
Are withered in the blast of imminent
Catastrophe.
And yet defeat is not
The end, else would the sorry story cease.
New strength, fresh hopes, illimitable spans
Affirm resurgent viability.
Survival must foreshadow victory.


What 'imminent catastrophe' is this? A backward glance shows that towards the end of 1950 things really did look very black indeed. The Korean War is almost forgotten now, but in the late autumn and early winter of 1950 it seemed to US President Truman that the most expedient way to protect and preserve the pro-democratic, anti-communist government and people of South Korea from the invading Chinese communist forces, supported morally by Stalin's Russia, was to arrest their progress with atomic weapons, known at the time, with an apprehensive shiver, as the A-bomb, and a little later as the H-bomb. In other words, to unleash another Hiroshima. The Western world was horrified. This is the bewildered discouragement Evelyn's figures express.

(In fact the A-bomb was never used, and the war dragged on until an armistice was signed in 1953.)

In their personal lives much was about to change. In 1949 Wye College, the mid-Kent Horticultural Economics Department campus of Imperial College, London, advertised for an economist. Roger was appointed. He takes up the story:

Careerwise it was too good an opportunity to miss: for Evelyn it meant sacrifice, severance of her ties with the Ruskin and her friends there. I was to start at the beginning of the academic year 1950-51. Wye had many attractions. The College had international status and would give me a chance to make horticultural economics a recognised discipline. We would live on the spot and, being so much nearer, might expect the occasional visit of Evelyn's family. There had been no contact since we left in 1946. [Actually 1945] Evelyn accepted the sacrifice and was hauled off to a third new beginning.¹

Roger took up his appointment in September 1950. No house was immediately available, so for some weeks he commuted between Enstone, where Evelyn remained, and Wye, staying in hotels during the working week. This unsettled existence explains why the address on their 1950 Christmas card is still The Manor House, Enstone. A few weeks before Evelyn's 44th birthday in December, 1950, and after spending a final homeless week in which they 'lived from the car, retiring at night to one of four woodland clearing sites in rotation',² they took over the lease of The Elms, a large late Victorian house built in 1884, standing on its own on a ridge about 3 miles south-west of Wye.

I suspect there's some expression of personal feeling in Evelyn's drawing. She had loved Oxford, and the opportunities it had offered to develop her painting. All that was finished, although she continued to teach at the Ruskin as an occasional visitor. She may have taken some pride in Roger's rise in his professional field and the realisation of the role she saw him occupying as a sort of latter-day Biblical Joseph, agent of the Covenant. She may have well have entered the menopause just at the time when the promise of more settled circumstances might otherwise have led her to consider starting a family, despite having suffered a miscarriage at some unspecified time before. According to Roger, who was mostly silent about it, this miscarriage was caused by Evelyn's then habit of doing handstands against the wall, something which wouldn't have been in the least improbable for this very remarkable woman.

Despite these unpromising beginnings to the fourth and final part of her career, Evelyn came to love The Elms and Wye College. Their 1951 Christmas card, to be seen in due course, is much more positive.


¹ Roger Folley: Evelyn Dunbar: The Husband's Narrative (unpublished) May 2007
 
² ibid.

(Original text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved.)

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Oxford (?1948)

Evelyn Dunbar Oxford ?1948 Private ownership, image courtesy of Sim Fine Art

Oxford was perhaps the third of a succession of allegorical subjects painted by Evelyn in the immediate post-war years 1946-50. During this period she and her husband Roger lived firstly at Long Compton, in Warwickshire, and then at Enstone, in Oxfordshire. Their involvement with Oxford University grew steadily in these years, Roger working with the Oxford University Economic Research Institute and Evelyn teaching at the Oxford  School of Art and, from 1948, at the Ruskin School.

Probably the earliest of the three allegories was the now lost Mercatora, of which the subject, which owed something to Roger's wartime experiences in the RAF, was navigation. Dorset came next, followed by Oxford, although this ordering is based on a mere mention by Roger associating Dorset with Long Compton, which they left in 1947.

A full oil sketch for a fourth allegory was started at Enstone, towards the end of their stay there. Entitled The Poet Surprised by Autumn, it was the forerunner of her greatest painting, Autumn and the Poet of 1960. If I include in this catalogue two Biblical allegories from this period, Joseph in the Pit and Joseph Released from Prison, both of which are in unknown private ownership, it's clear that Evelyn found allegory a very powerful vehicle of expression.

Evelyn Dunbar The Poet Surprised by Autumn 1949 Private collection

So where is the allegory in Oxford, and who is the figure in Evelyn's painting? She looks reasonably contemporary, someone who might not have merited a second glance if you'd passed her in the streets of Oxford in 1948, although fashionistas might raise an eyebrow at her garb, even in Oxford. In fact, she's much, much older, older than the water-meadow on which she sits, older than time immemorial. Who is she, and why has Evelyn chosen to dress her in those really quite bizarre clothes, and in those particular colours?

It came to me as something of a spine-tingling discovery that there's an acceptably precise description of her in a passage from Apuleius' The Golden Ass, a long picaresque novel written in Latin in about AD170. Before developing this idea I'm bound to say that never in any conversation or correspondence with Evelyn or Roger do I remember either making any reference to this connection. Always wary of making unsupported assumptions, however hard I might will them to be true, I would - with regret - have dismissed any connection between Apuleius and Evelyn if it wasn't for two confirmatory factors.

The first is the name of that stretch of the river Thames that flows through Oxford, and the second is the nature and purpose of Evelyn's figure as Apuleius describes it.

For all its barrel-scraping The Golden Ass is deeply religious book, with death, redemption and rebirth as its underlying theme. Through inept meddling in the black arts the hero, Lucius, inadvertently turns his body into a donkey, while retaining his own mind. After a string of uncomfortable adventures he realises there is only one power capable of turning him back, the goddess Isis. He addresses a heartfelt prayer to her, and she makes herself visible to him. He describes her appearance fully, her stature, her long hair, her golden tunic with white collar, her red skirt, her slippers, her blue-black mantle. There are other accoutrements, jewels, weapons and symbols that you might expect an originally Egyptian deity to be adorned with.

Isis introduces herself as Mother Nature, Woman, mistress of the elements, the first, the only and original deity. Clearly, she's got the whole wide world in her hands. She's known by many names, Artemis, Aphrodite, Proserpine, Ceres, Juno and more, but her real name is Queen Isis. She makes a condition: if Lucius wishes to be re-created into his original human shape, he must dedicate himself to her service until his last hour. Lucius accepts.

Had Apuleius been writing two or three hundred years later, when the cult of the Virgin Mary was making its first stirrings, he might well have included her in the list of Isis' aliases. In the history of religions, Christianity is a comparative newcomer. Swathes of more or less sophisticated religions preceded Christianity, or were taken over by it. Nor, apparently, did Apuleius know anything about the Jewish tradition, or he could well have included Eve - which means 'life' - in the list. The theologian Geoffrey Ashe doesn't have much trouble in conflating Isis in her various guises, particularly as a timelessly ancient pagan goddess, with the Holy Mother of God, Eve, and the Virgin herself.¹

The more you go into this, the more you become aware, if you didn't realise it already, that from the earliest dawnings of humanity people have needed some concept of a supernatural being, or spirit, or invisible presence, responsible for the created world, something endlessly beneficent, whose favour can be earned by reciprocal promises of love and service. Motherhood, which we all know and mostly respect, is the nearest tangible, day-to-day experience of this, and it's not surprising that Isis introduces herself to Lucius as Mother Nature. Goethe, in his play Faust, calls this elemental quality das Ewigweibliche, the ever-womanly. Evelyn would have had no problem with this deity being a woman. Nor with her ordinariness, or even dowdiness, in this painting: her power needs no reinforcement with jewels or finery.

Isis offers the same conditional guarantees to Lucius as the Old Testament Jehovah offers to Abraham and his descendants, especially Joseph, in Genesis: the same promise of an endlessly abundant and bountiful Creation, in return for the same devotion to it and its Creator - or Creatress, in this case. This is the constant thread through Evelyn's life and work, which I've called the Covenant in these essays.

Evelyn has had to compromise with the figure of Mother Earth, Gaia, Ceres, Isis, whatever you prefer to call her, in order to be able to extend her lap and her thighs to accommodate the maquette of Oxford University on her lap, so placed adjacent to her womb as to suggest that she has given birth and therefore assumes the role of mother and protectress. The dreaming spires are only vaguely identifiable: Evelyn has stylised them. Oxonians and devotees of the TV series Inspector Morse or its successor Lewis may argue endlessly over them. The outer coat of her mantle - another visual pun suggesting the mantle of Isis, maybe that of the Virgin Mary, whose cloak is traditionally blue - is of Oxford blue. Raised in protection of her creation, its angle and that of her right forearm echo the shape and endorse the purpose of the spires below, themselves conceived by their mediaeval architects as fingers pointing to heaven.

In the shadow of one of those spires, somewhere in the body of the university, Roger is working in the Economic Research Institute, the self-styled Cerebrant whom we saw, as painted by Evelyn, among his books in his study at The Manor House, Enstone, in the previous post. Roger had left Leeds University in 1936 after four years' study with two degrees, B.Sc (Hons) and, by special dispensation of the Senate, B.Comm. Between graduating and taking up his first post as Costings Officer at Sparsholt Farm Institute, where he met Evelyn in 1940, he worked on various farms in his native Lancashire and in the Cotswolds, with such aptitude and energy that he could claim, much later, that by his twentieth year he was managing a 250-hectare farm.² (It's possible that this farm, on the Gloucestershire uplands, was the setting for Evelyn's Singling Turnips.)

If you google 'R R W Folley' an immense list of Roger's publications appears. Most are professional papers, with the occasional article thrown in. His three major publications, Tomatoes the Dutch Way, The Economics of a Fruit Farm and Intensive Crop Economics feature here and there in the Google second-hand booksellers' lists. Most of his publications appeared after he left Oxford in 1950 to live in Kent and work at Wye College, then the agricultural research campus of Imperial College, London, between Ashford and Canterbury. At the time when Evelyn was painting Oxford, Roger was on the first rungs of the ladder leading to agricultural economics being recognised internationally as an academic discipline, and he himself as one of its leading exponents.

If you compare the background landscape of Oxford with Evelyn's iconic painting Joseph's Dream, the key to so many of her beliefs, the similarities are obvious. Although Oxford is less finished than Joseph's Dream, there are still the same neat orchards, trim hedges, carefully husbanded farmland. Ploughed fields, Evelyn's recurrent symbol of promise, take up the middle distance. The Covenant, the contract between mankind and nature, is in full operation. Roger has accepted the mantle of Joseph as the agent of the Covenant, and this is Evelyn's benediction, no less powerful for her invocation of the pagan deity Isis.

Oxford was never exhibited, to my knowledge, nor sold. At some stage it was given to a friend. It has only recently resurfaced.

(Text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved.) 


¹ Geoffrey Ashe The Virgin Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd London 1976

² Roger Folley That's Farming,That Was Article in Wye College magazine 1991

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Roger Folley ('The Cerebrant') (1948)

Evelyn Dunbar Roger Folley (later named The Cerebrant) 1948 (2'6" x 2'2": 76.5 x 66.4cm) Manchester Art Gallery: Author's photograph

Evelyn completed this very fine second portrait of her husband, Roger Folley, in the late summer of 1948. She may have felt that the first rather liverish portrait she painted of him two years earlier did not show him to his best advantage.

At the time Roger, then 35, was working with the Oxford University Economics Research Institute, travelling into Oxford daily from their home at The Manor House, Enstone. Roger had made himself a study on the top floor of The Manor House, and it is here that Evelyn captured him in a characteristic pose: as Roger said to Evelyn's biographer Gill Clarke, 'It's a celebration of Thinking (as distinct from Doing - with reason)'.

Family legend has it, however, that what Roger was actually doing was sitting very still watching birds in the trees outside. It took Evelyn three afternoons to complete the main features, including Roger's bronzed face and arms. It had to be done in the afternoon because that was the time at which the summer sun streamed into Roger's study, making this painting as light and airy as its predecessor had been sombre.

The rest she finished at her leisure in time for the portrait to be presented, probably at Easter 1949, to Roger's father, E.W. Folley (1872-1968), a retired headmaster in the Lancashire town of Colne. Folley senior's parents had christened him Ebenezer William, Ebenezer being a name of some consequence in the unbending Methodist circles in which they moved. (Through some miracle of linguistic compression the original Old Testament Hebrew means 'hitherto the Lord hath helped us'.) For all that, he was known in and around Colne as 'Ebby' or 'Uncle Eb', and latterly, having devoted his later life to the promotion of music, literature and cricket in his native town, as 'Mr Colne'.

In 1948 he completed, for private publication the following February, a book called Romantic Wycoller, a history of a tiny community hidden in the folds of the North Lancashire Pennines, in which he tried to equate the Ferndean Manor of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre with the ruined Wycoller Hall.¹

Wycoller Hall was once owned by a family of local magnates called Cunliffe. At 'Ebby' Folley's request, Evelyn made her only known foray into heraldry in her reproduction of the Cunliffe arms for her father-in-law's book, which I include for the sake of completeness and a certain Evelynish complicity in the owlishness of the owls and the joyous abandon of the rabbits - or, more strictly, coneys. (Coney = Coneyliffe = Cunliffe: in the argot of heraldry I believe this is called canting. And maybe Henry Cunliffe's wife's maiden name was really Owldham.)

Evelyn Dunbar: Armorial bearings of the Cunliffe family, frontispiece to E.W.Folley's Romantic Wycoller (1948)

In September 1948 Sarah Jane Folley, Roger's mother, died. (Romantic Wycoller is dedicated In Memoriam S.J.F.) As an act of family unity following her death Evelyn designated her portrait of Roger as a gift to her father-in-law the following year. E.W.Folley kept it in what he called his front parlour, as a photo taken several years later shows:

E.W.Folley (extreme right), Evelyn's father-in-law, with friends. Evelyn's portrait of Roger Folley upper centre right. (Author's photograph)
It's possible that Evelyn took the opportunity of this visit to Colne to make the pencil sketch of E.W.Folley below:

Evelyn Dunbar E.W.Folley ?1949: Pencil on cartridge paper: Private collection: © The artist's estate

When 'Ebby' Folley died in 1968, Roger retrieved the portrait Evelyn had painted of him 20 years before. By that time Evelyn had been dead for 8 years. Roger kept it until 2005, when he felt the time had come to dispose of the few remaining paintings and drawings by Evelyn still in his possession. When Roger asked me to choose something by which to remember Evelyn, I asked him for this portrait, because I had long admired it, its creator and its subject. Alas! He had other ideas, of a wider generosity.

He wrote to me on February 28th, 2005 as follows (his sight was very poor: his typescript is reproduced exactly):

Full marks for art aooreciation.....and regret at denying you yout choice. I consider the 'pensive' portrait such a gem - I know nothing like it that everyone should share it, so I am aiming to hand it over to any appreciative Gallery. I do not doubt you will concur in this (greatest good...Approach.

Perhaps remembering his native county, Roger's chosen 'appreciative Gallery' was Manchester Art Gallery, where it still is. (There had also been some talk of an Evelyn Dunbar retrospective exhibition in Manchester in 2006, to celebrate her centenary, but this came to nothing.) It was delivered to the Manchester Art Gallery on 31st August, 2005. It had still not been acknowledged by the 20th November following.

On making this gift to the Manchester Art Gallery, Roger asked that henceforth the portrait should be entitled The Cerebrant, i.e. one who is thinking. I'm not certain that it has ever been displayed, but would be glad to be corrected.


¹E.W.Folley Romantic Wycoller Published privately February 1949. Reprinted 2004 by Hendon Publishing Co, Nelson, Lancashire, BB9 8AD 2004


(Text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved.)




Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Summer Eights (1948)

Evelyn Dunbar Summer Eights 1948 Location unknown

In July 1946 Roger Folley, Evelyn's husband, successfully applied for a post with the Oxford University Economics Research Institute. As a result he and Evelyn left their cottage in Long Compton, inconvenient both in its size and distance from Oxford. They moved to Enstone, nearer to Oxford, to The Manor House, a premises much less grand than its name suggested. Here Evelyn enjoyed much better studio accommodation than at Long Compton.

Having moved to Enstone Evelyn, who had already been teaching at the Oxford School of Art since December 1946, made contact with the Ruskin School of Drawing and of Fine Art. Master of Drawing at the Ruskin School was Albert Rutherston, the younger brother of Sir William Rothenstein, one of the great men of British art in the inter-war period. (Because of the current anti-German feeling, Rutherston had anglicised his surname during the First World War.) Sir William Rothenstein had been a generous patron and good friend to Evelyn until his death in 1944, and it may be that she was acquainted with his brother.

At any rate, Evelyn was appointed Visitor, an interesting post requiring only occasional attendance. She already knew several of her fellow Visitors, some as close friends, either from her student days at the Royal College of Art, or as fellow professional artists, although their visits did not necessarily coincide: Barnett Freedman, Muirhead Bone, Allan Gwynne-Jones, John Piper. Albert Rutherston retired in 1949, and Percy Horton, who had been one of Evelyn's tutors at the Royal College of Art and who had kept in touch with her ever since, became the new Master of Drawing. Evelyn felt among friends and very comfortable at the Ruskin, continuing her Visitorship long after she left the Oxford area to live in Kent.

It was via the Ruskin School that Evelyn was commissioned by Worcester College Junior Common Room to paint Summer Eights. Worcester College JCR, like several other Oxford colleges, maintained a fund for the purchase of art works 'by the younger British artists', to quote a contemporary outline of the scheme. (In 1947, when the commission was placed, Evelyn was 40.) There's a little uncertainty about the title. The official title was The River in Eights Week 1922. However, Evelyn's painting was reproduced in a book engagingly called To teach the senators wisdom, or an Oxford guidebook, written in 1952 by the then Provost of Worcester College, J.C. Masterman, where it is entitled The river Eights Week, 1922. Evelyn, who included it in the only solo exhibition she ever put on, in Wye College, Kent, in 1953, always referred to it as Summer Eights, but then in Oxford terms 'Summer Eights' and 'Eights Week' are synonymous.

In the summer of 1957 I spent a week with Evelyn at Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire. She was working on a mural project which I believe was later abandoned. She and I stayed that week with some Oxford friends of Evelyn's who had a house on the Woodstock Road. During this week she took me to Worcester College to see Summer Eights. I'm glad to have seen it (although I'd already seen it once at Evelyn's 1953 exhibition), because it's very doubtful if another opportunity will arise for me, or for that matter anyone else, to see it: Summer Eights was stolen in 1994.

I wish I could find any significance in the date 1922 in the alternative titles. The river is the Thames, or that Oxford stretch of it called the Isis. Despite its name Eights Week is a four-day rowing regatta held annually in May, during which coxed 8-man or 8-woman boats from the various Oxford colleges try to out-row each other. As the Isis is too narrow to allow side-by-side races, something which doesn't really come out in Evelyn's painting, the tournament is organised, after many preliminary heats, on a pursuit basis. A successful pursuit occurs when the following boat catches up with and touches, or 'bumps' the boat ahead of it. The eight which manages to out-bump or out-row all the others is deemed Head of the River.

At first I imagined that Worcester College had become Head of the River in 1922, and on checking this I was surprised to find that Worcester College had never attained any Eights Week honours, although their 2nd VIII had won a similar tournament, then known as Torpids, in February of that year. For a moment I wondered if Evelyn had painted the Torpids, and not the May competition at all. However, if she had meant Torpids she would have called it so, or would very soon have been corrected. In any case there are far too many leaves on the trees for the scene to be set in February.

Gill Clarke, Evelyn's biographer, surmises that 1922, when New College became Head of the River, was the heyday of Oxford University rowing, and thus her painting celebrates the overall event rather than any individual triumph. Certainly Evelyn has captured a sense of occasion, maybe as envisaged from an upstream point like Folly Bridge. The college boathouses, sometimes shared between rowing clubs, line the left bank, beneath the trees bordering Christ Church Meadows. Some boathouses are identifiable by the rowing club flags flying above them: Exeter, Lincoln and Oriel colleges are among the first four on the left. The pink cap and black blazer of the cox in the foreground denotes, as might be expected, the Worcester College VIII. Close examination of the rowers' kit and their oar-blades also suggests Maltese crosses, the badge of Worcester College Boat Club.

Supporters crowding the boathouse roofs put me in mind of an Edwardian novel Evelyn knew and had on her bookshelves, Max Beerbohm's 1911 Oxonian fantasy Zuleika Dobson. At the novel's climax, the entire - minus one, the egregious Noaks - Oxford undergraduate population, taken by Beerbohm as then exclusively male, throws itself into the river during Eights Week for love of Miss Dobson. (Having wrought this havoc, Miss Dobson requires her lady's maid to find out times of trains to Cambridge.) The right bank is also well peopled, including an engaging girl looking round and up at the college-scarved adult next to her: Evelyn has painted her with the minimum of detail but summarises her character and happy mood with a few deft brushstrokes. The slightly disturbed water surface, mirroring the boathouse flags, is exquisitely painted, a little foray into impressionism that Evelyn enjoyed now and then.

The painting is very soundly constructed, and seasoned viewers of Evelyn's paintings will instantly recognise the left-to-right directionality and the skilled mastery of a perspective in which one of the major lines is provided by the boat itself. I can't interpret confidently what the Worcester College crew is doing. Resting on their oars? Waiting for the start gun? The other crew, in the middle distance, is clearly working very hard. The perspective lines lead us, figuratively, to the head of the river, and the objective of it all, and maybe this is another of Evelyn's gentle visual puns. 

Summer Eights is an exceptional painting. Although it could be claimed that most of Evelyn's war paintings represent a message-loaded reportage, this is the only painting from Evelyn's hand which celebrates her approximation of an actual past event purely for the joy of it. The thief knew what he or she was stealing.

Many thanks to Emma Goodrum, Archivist of Worcester College, Oxford, for her help in the preparation of this commentary.

(Text © Christopher Campbell-Howes 2013. All rights reserved.)