A chance to view unseen works by Felicia Browne!

 

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Felicia Browne 1904- 1936, Sketch of a nude figure seen from behind [c.1928]
TGA 201023/1/12  (Tate Britain archive) This work will not be shown at the exhibition. 

Through An artist’s Eye – a creative homage to British artist – Felicia Browne, is drawing to a heady conclusion at the end of the month and in the early days of October!

As the preparations continue, we have some exciting news about the supporting material for our exhibition in Esher, which incidentally is barely 5 minutes down the road from Hampton Court. Do check the link for all our events.

Felicia Browne’s drawings and letters, some of which are held in an archive at Tate Britain,   were bequeathed to and carefully kept by her friend and fellow artist Elizabeth Watson. Subsequently they were inherited by Elizabeth’s three children, Felicia, Lin and Jim, the latter of whom – along with his wife Deborah – have been working with us to present these previously unseen examples of Felicia’s drawings.

We’re thrilled to announce that there will be 17 reproductions of unseen works on show, to support our narrative framework of the 7 key stages in Felicia’s life, leading up to her untimely death in Spain.

We will also be showing works from the Tate Britain archive together with Felicia’s Spanish Civil War sketches from her posthumous exhibition booklet , published by Lawrence and Wishart (1936).

We’re not able to share examples of the unseen works online – so come along and view! Don’t miss out!

 

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Felicia Browne: the only known British woman to die in the Spanish civil war, new article by Fisun Guner.

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“A sketchbook, retrieved from her possessions, was filled with drawings of her fellow fighters: these stoic men and women have been captured in Browne’s lyrical, romantic modernist style.” Fisun Guner.

Read more about  Felicia Browne in this great article Felicia Browne: the only known British woman to die in the Spanish civil war by Fisun Guner.

 

Felicia Browne on Woman’s Hour!

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It’s been quite a start to the week for the Artist’s Eye project. An opportunity to appear live on Woman’s Hour on a short segment about Felicia Browne, and a lovely gallery on the Woman’s Hour website, which showcases both Felicia’s work and Sonia Boué’s responses.

You can see the gallery HERE.

The podcast for download is HERE. (our segment begins at 33.40 mins)

You can listen Here. (our segment begins on the podcast for the 18th July at 33.40 mins)

Sonia was joined on Woman’s Hour by Pauline Fraser trustee of the International Memorial Brigade Trust.

Drafts & Sketches: progress in our responses to Felicia Browne

We are very excited to be trying out ideas in a small scale process exhibition at the Magdalen Rd Studios. This is part of our promise to the Arts Council. The aim is to receive feedback on our progress both from our peers and the public, and to develop our audiences.

In the two days it has taken to install the work we’ve already had some wonderful conversations with studio artists. It has also been a delight to work with our curator Sarah Mossop, whose input has inspired us to dig deeper on the detail of the presentation of the work.

There is a new piece on show, which relates to the border of memory. In the final show we work with the border as a geographical reality. In this piece (the assemblage piece shown below) I work with childhood association and attempt to intermingle Felicia’s infancy wth my own.

 

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Six Sketches & the Spanish Civil War

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Thames Ditton/Weston Green – beginnings.
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Berlin – the shadow of Nazism
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London – Scullion with the Red Wedge
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Paris – wandering savagely. Lion of Belfort.
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Barcelona (soldados de chupete)
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Tardienta – the bridge

This will be a brief visual blog. Our creative work has begun, and I’ve been busy in the studio on a series of six painted sketches, which have taken me by surprise. I’ve been wholly mesmerised by Felicia Browne’s visual journaling (as I call it) and thought to respond to her sketches by abstracting her line rather than working figuratively – as I am an abstract artist myself. However, Felicia has had a profound influence on me, and in my conversation with her work, mine has become altered. Our styles have combined to create a series of images, which plot her political trajectory, which we know is what led her to Spain, during that fateful July of 1936.

I don’t know yet if this development will continue in the seven larger works which will form my contribution to the our final exhibition. These six smaller paintings are process works to be shown for peer evaluation at my studios.

Each image borrows from Felicia’s sketchbooks, and from her letters – but there is also a personal take. My collaborator, Jenny Rivarola and myself, both had fathers in the Republican army, Jenny’s father was a “soldado de chupete” (the so called soldiers with a dummies – due to their young age) and my father was a journalist with a tank regiment.

I will be adding a seventh painting to “describe” the border between France and Spain – the snaking pressure point for the Retirada of 1939, but also the entry point for Felicia and her travelling companion Edith Bone, in 1936.

Felicia Browne’s Letters: rich in content, honest in conviction

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(This photograph shows the barricades in Barcelona at the outbreak of street-fighting witnessed by Felicia in July 1936. Taken from Barcelona Historias del Tiempo blog)

 It’s been a few days since our last blog post. That’s because my inspirational partner Sonia – a prolific and expressive blogger – has been waiting patiently for me to post my first. I’m Jenny Rivarola, the writing half of this partnership – I’ll be producing a series of poems in response to Felicia Browne’s extraordinary life and work.

Not only did Felicia leave an extensive legacy of beautifully crafted drawings – many depicting her tense days at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she also wrote some of the most strikingly forthright letters I have ever read. We’ve been lucky that our academic partner, University of Oxford historian Tom Buchanan, discovered these while visiting one of Felicia’s beneficiaries and that, further down the line, the Tate bought the majority for its archive. They mostly cover the period shortly before she left for her fateful trip to Spain, the journey itself, and her days in Barcelona and at barracks waiting for an opportunity to ‘do’ something.

Their content combines riveting documentary accounts of what was going on around her – whether in England, Paris (en route) or Spain, her growing political convictions and efforts to recruit more women to the Communist cause, and her very personal reactions to her close friends. The letters also reveal how widely read she was, with references to Baudelaire and lines of Verlaine interspersed with mundanities of daily life. But perhaps most interesting of all, they illustrate her constant struggle with herself. Throughout her short life she seemed to be searching for an identity she could be comfortable with and a purpose of which her very honest heart could be proud. Her confict between art and action is perfectly summed up in these words from a letter to her close friend Elizabeth Watson:

“You say I am escaping and evading things by not painting or making sculpture. ….. If painting and sculpture were more valid and more urgent to me than the earthquake which is happening in the revolution, …….. I should paint and make sculpture.”

Happily for all of us, she did produce a sketchbook during her final tumultuous weeks in Spain – and we hope to share much of its content in our exhibition.

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.”