Exhibited: Evelyn Dunbar - The Lost Works, Pallant House Gallery, October 2015 - February 2016 cat 4.
The viewpoint of this composition is taken from a first floor window of The Cedars, the Dunbar family house in Strood, Kent. The artist’s mother Florence, on a stepladder steadied by her oldest daughter Jessie, is tying bird food to a branch. Marjorie, her second oldest daughter, is reaching out of the picture. Alec, fourth of the five surviving Dunbar children, has his back to the viewer. Other figures are neighbours’ children and gardeners.
The compositions of her family in the garden belong in a special genre of back garden
subjects from this period, and demonstrate how classical techniques of composition
could knit together a seemingly casual family group, allowing scope for gentle humour.
This group of works shows how easily she managed the transition between drawing
and painting, with a mixture of detail and broad handling that later informed her work
in illustration. Her self-portrait (CAT 11) is watchful, suggesting a cool critical gaze
that gives all her work an individual edge, while the portrait of Ida Shepherd (CAT 6)
anticipates by a couple of years the quietly intense Euston Road School approach.
The 10 minute sketch of her father (CAT 12), meanwhile, shows her accomplishment
in working rapidly in oil, something not encouraged at Euston Road. Bright light and
sharply observed body language in the portrait of Florence Dunbar (CAT 14) reveal
Dunbar’s skill in catching character at a distance, a talent notable in her work as a war