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.
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