About the work
Place: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2 Marsham Street
Wielding pitchforks, men, women and children thresh corn in this rural scene by Evelyn Mary Dunbar. The horizontal composition captures the foreground activity and the fields stretching beyond and the cloudy sky. Long blue shadows cast by the figures on to the yellow corn suggest this is late afternoon. Dressed in headscarves, goggles and khaki-coloured overalls, the women are ‘Land Girls’ or members of The Women’s Land Army (WLA).
Dunbar painted ‘Threshing’ between 1942 and 1943, at the height of the Second World War. The only woman commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, she recorded aspects of women’s work on the Home Front. Before the War, the Government instigated a nationwide plan to grow more food in Britain, which involved civilian help on farms. The WLA formed in 1939 with women assuming many agricultural jobs that would have formerly been undertaken by men who were now serving in the War. ‘Threshing’ shows women and children working alongside older farmers and labourers, whose age prevented them from doing National Service. As a result, Dunbar’s painting is an important record of a vital rural activity that united the community at a time of national emergency.
About the artist
Evelyn Mary Dunbar, a painter, muralist, illustrator and war artist, was born in Reading, Berkshire. After studying at Rochester School of Art and Chelsea School of Art, she gained a place at the Royal College of Art and graduated in 1933. In April 1940, Dunbar was appointed by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (the official scheme of the British government, established for artists to record both the First and Second World Wars) as an official war artist. She is best known for her work recording the civilian contributions to the war effort, in particular the work of the women, training and learning new skills on the home front. Dunbar was the only woman artist to receive continual employment from the scheme throughout the Second World War. After the War, Dunbar held teaching positions at the Oxford School of Art and was a visiting teacher at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. Portraiture and landscapes of Kent, where she was living, make up much of her work throughout the 1950s, as well as some important allegorical works, such as 'Autumn and the Poet' (1960). Dunbar exhibited rarely during her life, but following the rediscovery of many of her paintings from this post-War period, her work is being reappraised and the first major solo exhibitions of her work, Evelyn Dunbar: The Lost Works, was held at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester in 2016.
- Threshing, Kent
- Oil on canvas
- height: 31.00 cm, width: 77.00 cm
- Presented via the Imperial War Museum, War Artists' Advisory Committee, April 1946
- br: E. Dunbar
- GAC number