Evelyn Dunbar holds a unique position in twentieth-century British art. Described by William Rothenstein, when principal of the Royal College of Art, as one of the most promising of the younger painters, with 'real genius...', she specialised in mural painting at the RCA and carried out decorations at Brockley School, Lewisham from 1933-36 under Charles Mahoney's direction. It was at Brockley that her work first gained public notice and wide acclaim. Evelyn Dunbar was devoted to nature and the natural world and in particular the garden, which was rooted in her affection for the Kentish landscape. That she did not seek publicity, was modest about her achievements and did not see herself as part of a clique have all contributed to the neglect of her work. Dunbar's most successful and extensive body of work dates from the Second World War when she was commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee, and so became the only woman, on a salaried basis, to record women's activities on the Home Front. It was for her lyrical but unsentimental paintings of the Women's Land Army that she is especially known.
These provide an important documentary record of women's work and contribution to the war effort. Like many other war artists she tended to fall out of sight of the mainstream, modernist art world following the cessation of hostilities. Marking the centenary of Dunbar's birth, this unique and authoritative biography, the publication of which is accompanied by the first retrospective exhibition of her work, celebrates for the first time the range of her achievement. Sumptuously illustrated, it is an essential and invaluable text for all those interested in twentieth-century British art and culture. Drawing extensively on interviews with family members, including Evelyn Dunbar's husband Dr. Roger Folley and other key figures not previously identified, and newly located archives and correspondence, the author focusses on Dunbar's career from illustrator and mural painter, to war artist and teacher at The Ruskin School of Drawing and of Fine Art, Oxford. Each chapter explores a different period in her life, revealing the variety of her work and demonstrating her profound understanding and love of the countryside.
Although Evelyn Dunbar was first and foremost a painter, her powers of observation and wry, gentle wit were well used in her illustrative work, where she deployed her fine draughtsmanship. She was part of a neglected generation of artists whose lives are now being recognised and reappraised. Evelyn Dunbar did much to add to the 'spirit and practice of English art' and deserves to take her place alongside her contemporaries and in particular Edward Bawden, Barnet Freedman, Charles Mahoney, John Nash, Eric Ravilious, Geoffrey Rhoades and Stanley Spencer.