Lost Painting by Woman War Artist Evelyn Dunbar Rediscovered

9th November 2018

Woolley and Wallis are delighted to be offering for sale a painting previously thought to be lost, by talented artist Evelyn Dunbar (18 December 1906 – 12 May 1960).


WW2 Woman War Artist

Dunbar studied art from a young age and graduated as ARCA (Associate of the Royal College of Art) in 1933.  She became one of the forgotten women war artists of World War 2, charged to document and reflect on the contribution made by women in the war effort.  She particularly focused on The Women’s Land Army and The Women’s Voluntary Force.  In a time when women who painted war scenes were not often remunerated, Dunbar received successive and continuous salaried commissions by the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC), the only woman to have done so.

By the end of World War 2, Dunbar had committed no less than 40 scenes to canvas for the WAAC.


Joseph in Prison

This painting is the previously lost, third painting in Dunbar's Joseph trilogy, titled Joseph in Prison. In or around 1938, Dunbar conceived the idea of painting the most significant moments in the Old Testament account of the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-41). The other two paintings in the trilogy are Joseph's Dream, which sold at auction last year and Joseph in the Pit which is in a private collection. 

World War II and Dunbar's appointment as a war artist interrupted the completion of this project, although she did exhibit Joseph’s Dream in 1943. After the war she took up the triptych again, completing Joseph in the Pit and Joseph in Prison in 1949-50, when she was living in Enstone, Oxfordshire. She sold the latter privately to a Mr L. F. Herbert (the name inscribed verso) and Herbert lent it back to Dunbar for the only solo exhibition of her career, at Withersdane, Wye (Kent) in December 1953. The label fragments on the frame may have been cut from this exhibition programme.

The central figure in red is Joseph himself, and he bears some resemblance to the Joseph in Joseph’s Dream and Joseph’s Pit. His famous coat of many colours was stolen from him by his brothers, but he clearly still has a liking for colourful clothing. Seen from above in quarter-profile, he also strongly resembles Dunbar’s husband Roger Folley, a horticultural economist then working at Oxford University.

Genesis 40: 1-7 tells how Joseph, then in Egypt and falsely accused of rape, was thrown into the captain of the guard's prison. He was later joined by Pharaoh's butler and baker - the two recumbent figures in the painting - and because he had proved himself to be an able and reliable person, the guard captain put him in charge of the butler and baker. Dunbar shows him serving them with sheep's milk: it is morning, Joseph comes into their cell and observes that they are sad. He asks why, and they tell him they've had disturbing dreams. The correct interpretation of these dreams is what enables Joseph's eventual release.

Joseph is equated with providing for mankind, something very important in Dunbar's canon of beliefs and as a devout Christian Scientist.

We are very grateful to Mr Christopher Campbell-Howes for his assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.


Lot Details - 317

Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960)
Joseph in Prison
Signed with initials
Oil on canvas
46 x 35.5cm
Estimate: £3,000-5,000



Victor Fauvelle
Tel: +44 (0)1722 446961
Email: vf@woolleyandwallis.co.uk

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