Felicia Browne: An Unusual Woman

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This photograph, taken by Felicia’s nephew Peter Marshall, is of a tea set given as a wedding present from Felicia to her sister Helen, known as Gypsy, in April 1931.

We’re getting quite nervous on An Artist’s Eye. By our calculations we have a week to wait until we hear about our Arts Council England funding application.

Waiting has caused a slight hiatus on the project. The creative work won’t begin until a decision is made because funding can’t be granted retrospectively. So it’s been an opportunity to reflect and digest the mass of information which came flooding into the project in the early stages.

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have made contact with several living relatives of Felicia Browne, who herself died so tragically young (aged 32) and left no direct descendants. We are immensely grateful for the emails containing memories passed down from Felicia’s sisters – the only two Browne siblings to survive war (Spanish Civil War & WW1) –  providing additional layers of information, which add to the picture we’re building of this remarkable artist and volunteer to Spain. We feel it’s important to try to view Felicia more in toto. It often seems that the manner of her death at the Aragon front in 1936, overshadows her brief life, and we’ve wanted to counteract this feeling in our work.

We have also met with great generosity from beneficiaries of Felicia’s artistic estate, who’ve granted us long distance viewings of their collection via Skype. We will be featuring scanned copies of some of these previously unseen works in our show in October.

It’s also been quite a revelation to unearth details about the unusual schooling Felicia received, which may indeed have had some bearing on her later political life.  This information about Kingsley School can be found in The Shadow Man: At the Heart of the Cambridge Spy Circle by Geoff Andrews, in a chapter about Kitty Klugman, who was Cambridge spymaster James Klugman’s sister, and went to this small yet radical private school within the period that Felicia was also in attendance. It was Felicia’s latin teacher Susan Stebbing  who wrote a piece In Memoriam in the school magazine after Felicia’s death in Spain. To my knowledge this piece is not available online.

On page 12 of this remarkable account of Kingsley (remarkable in that such information exists nowhere else that I know of, and has been gathered by Geoff Andrews at first hand from conversations with a former pupil) we learn that topics included, the League of Nations, peace, women’s suffrage and a critical history of Empire. Later as fascism loomed we learn that Stebbing, and her colleagues, were active in providing homes and education for refugees of Nazism.

We know that Felicia undertook all her schooling at Kingsley, and we’ll be hoping to explore more of this material in future posts. For the meantime we leave you with the thought that as a young girl Felicia was schooled by unusual and quite radical women (for example the history teacher Kay Beauchamp was at the time a communist and later became a leading figure in the Communist Party International Department p 13), that she was schooled during an important era in terms of women’s suffrage, and that her last reported words to a British journalist were,

“I’m a member of the London Communist Party and I can fight as well as any man.”

 

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