Visualising the Home Front: Evelyn Dunbar and Wartime Citizenship

Research paper by Curzon L.

Indexed on: 21 Dec '18Published on: 17 Dec '18Published in: Oxford Art Journal


Evelyn Dunbar was officially commissioned as a British war artist in April 1940. Under the auspices of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC), Dunbar was charged with depicting subjects germane to the Ministry of Information’s (MoI) wartime publicity campaigns.11 She was asked, in this capacity, to document various arenas of women’s work that were vital to sustaining the war effort – especially those relating to voluntary services, agriculture, and nursing.22 Until this point, Dunbar’s career had centred largely upon writing and illustrating popular books, as well as a mural commission, and the exhibition and occasional sale of her landscapes, portraits, and genre scenes. Her status as a professional artist was thus more-or-less established by the time of her appointment. Regardless, the declaration of war on 3 September 1939 marked ‘a major turning point in … [her] career’.33 The looming conflict had precipitated a collapse in the art market, causing galleries to close and commissions to disappear, as well as paints, canvas, and other materials to become increasingly scarce. Indeed, some 73 per cent of British artists – including those involved in commercial art and design – went on to face unemployment in the first six months of the war.44 Hence Dunbar’s acceptance to a position with the WAAC was, arguably, exceptional.