Artist Felicia Browne: The first Briton to die in the Spanish Civil War
Two Anglo-Spanish friends, visual artist Sonia Boué and poet Jenny Rivarola, have produced a creative response to Felicia Browne’s short life. We explain their interest in her and introduce their upcoming Arts Council-funded exhibition: Through An Artist’s Eye.
Artist Sonia Boué first discovered the work of Felicia Browne at the Conscience and Conflict exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery in 2014, which focused on British artists’ response to the Spanish Civil War. She was immediately taken by her remarkable and unsentimental portraits of men and women innocently caught up in the brutality of war.
Her own work on the theme of the Civil War prompted Tate Britain to invite her to take part in a video to accompany their archive of Felicia’s drawings. Now, Sonia’s fascination with her artistic output and life story has grown into a creative project for which she recruited poet and friend Jenny Rivarola. Together they have produced a sequence of paintings and poems that respond to Felicia’s life and act as a tribute on the 80th anniversary of her death and of the outbreak of the Civil War.
Daughters of Spanish exiles
Sonia and Jenny’s commitment to the project has much to do with their own family backgrounds. Both are daughters of Spanish fathers who as Republicans were exiled from their homeland at the end of the war. Both young men endured hardship in the French concentration camps, and both were lucky to escape to England to begin a new life.
Sonia’s father José García Lora became a lecturer and academic at Birmingham University, amassing an extensive collection of exile literature and arranging for Camilo José Cela to receive an honorary doctorate there. Jenny’s father José Rivarola joined the BBC World Service and, under his broadcasting name Ruiz Medina, became the voice welcomed by Spaniards who turned to the Corporation for unbiased news during Franco’s regime.
Who was Felicia Browne?
This emotional connection to the Spanish Civil War has been an important influence in Sonia and Jenny’s project on Felicia Browne. The British artist was born in 1904 in the London suburb of Thames Ditton. After studying at the Slade School of Fine Art and in Berlin just before the Nazis came to power, she became politically active and dedicated much of her time to encouraging working women to fight for better conditions.
In summer 1936 she set off with a friend on a road trip to Spain. The exact purpose of their journey is not known. For Felicia, she certainly intended to paint and draw. And both were interested in the People’s Olympiad in Barcelona, planned as a counterpoint to the official Olympics in Hitler’s Berlin.
Neither knew that on their arrival in Barcelona in July, the Civil War would begin. Felicia volunteered to support the Republican cause and was shot by fascists during her first mission, while trying to help an injured comrade.
About the exhibition
The exhibition Through An Artist’s Eye, will lead visitors through seven key stages of Felicia’s life, from her origins in England to her tragic death near the Aragon front. Each stage is represented through a painting by Sonia and a poem by Jenny. Exhibited alongside will be some of Felicia’s own work and excerpts from the extraordinary letters that charted her fateful journey. The exhibition will include a video about the project.
EVENTS PROGRAMME & BOOKING
Friday 30 September 6.30pm
Marx Memorial Library, 37A Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU
Thursday 6 October 6.30pm
All Saints Church, Market Place, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1JP
Exhibition Opening Event:
Saturday 8 October 12.00 – 2.00pm
All Saints Church (Weston Green), Chestnut Ave, Esher KT10 8JL
The exhibition runs until October 29.
For more information and to book for an event, follow this link:
Supported by the Arts Council and the Instituto Cervantes London.