Artist Evelyn Dunbar: Milking Practice with Artificial Udders, 1940

Artist Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960): Milking Practice with Artificial Udders, 1940

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Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960):
Milking Practice with Artificial Udders, 1940
Framed (ref: 5570)
Oil on paper, laid on board

22 x 30 in. (55.8 x 76.2 cm)

See all works by Evelyn Dunbar oil panel war women work 2.dunbar 2022 WOMEN World War II Paintings by British Artists

Provenance: Margaret Goodwin

Exhibited: Evelyn Dunbar - The Lost Works, Pallant House Gallery, October 2015 - February 2016, cat 85.

WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 78.

Literature: Evelyn Dunbar - The Lost Works, Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2015, cat. 85page 130.

WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 78, page 118-119.

Evelyn Dunbar, the only woman to receive a full-time salary from the WAAC, was commissioned to produce 'agricultural and woman subjects'. This sketch is a study for, and almost identical to, the finished painting in the Imperial War Museums collection.

Painted at about the time Dunbar was considering A Book of Farmcraft, this study in the dairy of Sparsholt Farm Institute shows three novice Land Girls coming to grips with a Heath Robinson contraption, current at the time, for learning how to milk. The Land Girl in the middle has assumed the recommended posture.


"The Country Girl and the Pail of Milk at Brockley (FIG 11) was a strangely prescient

subject in view of Evelyn Dunbar’s later work as a war artist. Her career had gone into

the doldrums at the end of the 1930s, but the war gave her the opportunity to create

paintings and illustrations for which her skills seemed especially well suited, moving out

of the garden and into the productive landscape peopled by dungareed volunteers of

the Women’s Land Army. In addition, she recorded other subjects on ‘the home front’,

such as the fish queue in the high street of Strood (FIG 18), or the knitting circle in a

comfortable middle class house (FIG 7).

In these varied subjects, Dunbar’s keen observation and skill in drawing and

composition paid off in paintings of relatively large scale. They were criticized at the

time for being insufficiently dramatic, but that does not diminish their value today,

when we have become equally interested in the experiences of non-combatants. Two

things stand out from these paintings. One is the didactic quality of many of them,

which can be related to the illustrations Dunbar made at Sparsholt Farm Institute for

use in Michael Greenhill’s A Book of Farmcraft, 1942 (FIG 16). From Hesiod to Thomas

Tusser, there has been a tradition of using verbal art to convey practical rural wisdom,

but the visual element was now added, helping land girls avoid elementary mistakes.

Milking Practice with Artificial Udders, 1940 (CAT 85), the final version of which is in

the Imperial War Museum, shows intense concentration yet has an edge of comedy.

The physical and psychological demands of farm work are perhaps most apparent

in A Land Girl and the Bail Bull, 1945 (Tate, London) (FIG 19), a work that required

early rising to catch the atmosphere and action involved, described by her as ‘a

delicate and dangerous job’. It is a complex composition,and we can see how, in the

preparatory drawings (CAT 92-93), the academic method worked to good effect. The

study for Potato Sorting, Berwick (FIG 20) is in some ways more interesting than the

finished work because of the sense of movement in the overlaid outlines of the figures.

Men Stooking and Girls Learning to Stook (CAT 100) is unusual in technique for Dunbar,

with a pointilliste treatment of the newly cut field more like Ravilious than her usual work.

The catalogue of actions depicted makes the whole process easily understandable, successfully holding the disparate composition together. She did not underestimate

the difficulties involved, writing in October 1943, when the terms under which her

appointment as a War Artist might be continued were under discussion. ‘Anyone who

paints a figure composition knows that it takes often much longer than 10 days.’ The

Advisory Committee acknowledged her need for more time.

The drawings for Joseph’s Dream (CAT 104-106) also give us the chance to see Dunbar’s

process at work in a different kind of subject, as they move from what is essentially

illustration to become the basis for a haunting metaphysical painting, a foretaste of her

more imaginative post-war work."

Alan Powers