Three officially commissioned women war artists of the Second World War : Ethel Gabain, Evelyn Gibbs and Evelyn Dunbar
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This thesis has been written with the intention of providing an account of the work of Ethel Gabain (1883-1950), Evelyn Gibbs (1905-1991) and Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960). All three were commissioned as war artists during the Second World War by the War Artists Advisory Committee and are probably best known today for the work they performed as war artists, indeed, the major repository for their work is the Imperial War Museum. All three were selected on the strength of their work prior to the war and all produced work during their commissions that received critical recognition in the press. Yet their war work did not lead to an increased call in demand for their work by galleries and collectors, and their commissions did not act as catalysts in a change of style. Their work was raised on a platform that offered the chance to garner critical significance, yet only Dunbar's war work has received the attention it deserves, and this admiration for her war work has only grown over time. Arguably their role in World War Two, as part of the war effort, gave them the first opportunity to participate in the same broad arena as their better known contemporaries. When these three became war artists in a sense they joined the populist mainstream that embraced a whole spectrum of avant-garde and conservative artists. This moment (for that's what it was) doesn't sustain them after the war, so the question must be raised as to the relationship between artistic ability, professional success and critical significance. My research seeks to appraise these artists' achievements and give them a place within the art world of the first half of the twentieth century, alongside their more critically acclaimed contemporaries. As art historians we need to look at all the components in a much larger picture of twentieth century art than that which has been widely disseminated within art historical practice.
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