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Artist Felicia Browne remembered in a series of events Sept-Oct 2016

September 11, 2016

From the Instituto Cervantes


The histories of the UK and Spain are reunited through the life and art of Felicia Browne

Felicia Browne was an unusually gifted British artist who lost her life in the Spanish Civil War. She was the first British combatant to die, and the only British female fighter, but her place in history was largely forgotten. Now two artists, daughters of Spanish Republican exiles to Britain, reclaim her place in the history of both countries through an ambitious project.

Drawings by Felicia Browne, cover.

Drawings by Felicia Browne, cover.

Felicia Browne was a British artist who volunteered in the Republican army at the start of the Spanish Civil War, in the summer of 1936. She lost her life on her first mission, aged 32. Despite the fact that she was the first British combatant to die, and was the only British female fighter in this conflict, it has been a history largely forgotten. Professor Tom Buchanan, from Oxford University, discovered her carefully kept letters and drawings in the 90s. Now two British artists, daughters of Spanish Republican exiles to Britain, commemorate the 80th anniversary of her death with the project Through An Artist’s Eye, an artistic and poetic response to her life and work.

Visual artist Sonia Boué and poet Jenny Rivarola have created paintings, assemblages and poems which guide the viewer on a multi-layered narrative journey. Their project is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Instituto Cervantes and Surrey County Council, with additional support from All Saints Weston, Cañada Blanch Centre, International Brigade Memorial Trust, and Marx Memorial Library.

A drawing by Felicia Browne.

A drawing by Felicia Browne.

Through An Artist’s Eye includes a project launch, a taster event, an exhibition, a seminar and free art and poetry workshops.The events will take place from 30 September to 29 October in a number of places in London. Professor Tom Buchanan is the academic partner.

Sonia Boué makes reference to the sketches, and uses Felicia’s materials, graphite and charcoal, on painted surfaces to evoke the energy of her lines. The use of objects lends atmosphere and immediacy to the viewer’s experience.

Jenny Rivarola draws on the sense of character and drama in Felicia’s letters. Exuberant and learned – Felicia’s own poetic sensibility and erudition have proved inspiring. Jenny’s poetic influences for the work include poet and Republican icon Federico García Lorca.

The site specific exhibition, to be held at the church of All Saints Weston, will feature examples of Felicia’s sketches and excerpts from her letters. Textile artist Katie Taylor works with traces of memory and loss. Her piece for the show draws on the final known photograph of Felicia prior to her departure for Spain.

Drawing by Felicia Browne.

Drawing by Felicia Browne.

Life story

Born in 1904 into a “comfortably off” London family, Felicia Browne studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, and was awarded a sculpture scholarship in Berlin in 1928, where she witnessed the rise of Nazism. A profoundly disturbing and decisive experience, this led her to join the British Communist Party in London in the early 1930s.

Under surveillance by MI5, in July 1936 Felicia set off with her friend and fellow communist Edith Bone on a car journey via Paris to Spain, where it is thought they planned to attend the People’s Olympiad in Barcelona – due to be staged in protest at the official Olympic Games in Hitler’s Berlin.

Their arrival in Barcelona in mid-July 1936 coincided with the street fighting that marked the start of the Spanish Civil War. After a period of confusion, Felicia enrolled in the Republican militia saying she could “fight as well as any man”.

She was killed in August 1936 on a mission to blow up a munitions train near the Aragon front. Her body was never recovered, but her drawings were rescued and brought back to England.

Felicia Browne sketched prolifically, and, while none of her sculptural works remain, she left a great number of drawings, many of which can be seen online at the Tate Britain digital archive. Her drawings of Spanish working people and militias show us that her sketchbook was never far away, even during her final weeks in Spain. These works act as reportage on the early moments of the civil war.

Her ability to capture any subject with rapid flowing lines reflects her many sessions at the Slade under the tutelage of Henry Tonks. Felicia’s activism and her struggle with creative purpose impeded her professional development as an artist but her drawing practice was a constant and demonstrates a talent and promise tragically cut short.

Surviving letters reveal her passionate nature and often turbulent state of mind, but her humour and resilience in the face of adversity shine through, and we gain a window into a previously closed chapter. Felicia reveals to us her inmost thoughts and musings as she writes to her best friend and confidante Elizabeth Watson. Elizabeth was later to become the beneficiary of Felicia’s artistic estate.

Event details

Project Launch:
Friday 30th September 6.30pm – Marx Memorial Library – 37A Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU

It will be a symbolic act in a landmark building. The political role of Felicia Browne will be addressed

Thursday 6 October 6.30 – 8pm – Taster Event at All Saints Church, Market Place, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1JP

The focus will be on the artistic work of Felicia Browne and the discovery of her drawings . The evening will include: an introduction to the artist’s life by Professor Tom Buchanan of Oxford University, a poetry reading by Jenny Rivarola, and a film with Sonia Boué in association with Tate Britain

Saturday 8 October 12 noon-2pm – exhibition and private view at All Saints Church (Weston Green), Chestnut Ave, Esher KT10 8JL
The exhibition runs until 29 October.

Friday 14th October – 10am – 1.30pm Free Poetry Workshop – All Saints Church Hall (Weston Green), Chestnut Ave, Esher KT10 8JL

Suitable for anyone with an interest in poetry and Spain, this workshop run by writer Jenny Rivarola will focus on the life and work of Spain’s most pre-eminent poets of the Civil War period: Federico García Lorca, Antonio Machado and Miguel Hernández. The session will be accessible to all and poems will be read in English translation.

Friday 21st October 11.30 – 3pm – Free Art Workshop – All Saints Church Hall (Weston Green), Chestnut Ave, Esher KT10 8JL

An opportunity to explore mixed media techniques with artist Sonia Boué, focusing on the works created for this exciting exhibition.

This press release can be downloaded as a pdf file from the link below.


Santiago Díaz Bravo

Press Advisor
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