Felicia Browne and the Spanish Civil War

I'm sure few people would have heard of the English artist Felicia Browne who was the first British volunteer and the only known British woman to die in the Spanish Civil War when she was shot dead by enemy fire near a railway bridge in Tardienta (Aragon). This is a self portrait and the Hero Image today is a photo of Felicia with an unknown child (Photograph taken by Joe Humphrys).

Her sketchbook was found with her body and features incomplete drawings of the militia men.
Her skill with a pencil, in the middle of a war, is remarkable. The rapid incomplete figures are a poignant reminder of the fragility of life, especially in times of war. Browne’s artistic style has been described as lyrical, romantic modernist. And I find these simple drawings quite inspiring.
I also found a pencil sketch of a Spanish peasant woman credited to Felicia Browne but no other images apparently created in Spain.

Felicia Browne (1904-1936) studied at the St John's Wood School of Art and the Slade School of Art. In 1928 she went to Berlin to study metalwork and became an apprentice to a stone mason. Felicia became actively involved in the anti-Fascist movement and in 1933 she joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. In 1936 she journeyed to Spain with her friend, photographer Edith Bone to protest against the 1936 Olympics being held in Berlin. When war broke out the two women stayed on with Felicia Browne deciding to join the fighting.

I have become so enthralled with the sketches done by Felicia Browne that I want to share some of her images with you even though they are not related to the Spanish Civil War. Ironically her sketches of buildings are whimsical; a dramatic contrast to her brutal death.
Painting Point Those of you who are interested in creating your own drawings and paintings please try copying some of these images as I intend to do. There is much to learn about positioning lines to create buildings that appear poetic. Felicia Browne was a gifted artist. Here is a rough sketch of a bridge, origin unknown.

This building, probably a church was most likely sketched when she was in Prague.
I am particularly interested in the way Felicia drew trees and the patterns she was creating in the landscape.
And her slightly lopsided buildings which give the image the whimsical effect are enchanting. The position of the cart emphasising the movement of everyday life..

In this sketch, note that Felecia has recorded the colours that she intends to use when transforming the image to a painting. I love the composition of the buildings and the distinctive and individual shape of her trees and again the cart with the horse roughly visible. I’m not sure what the blue shapes were going to be. Perhaps she sketched over an existing image. We will never know.
The movement in this image is wonderful as the road descends towards the building in centre focus. Wouldn't you have loved to see the finished product.
And again the sweeping road and towering buildings.
But this is my favourite most likely because of the trams which as Melbournians we love. It is thought that the sketch, a European streetscape, was done in about 1926
And again you can see her notes in this image, defining mainly her ideas about the colours she is going to use.
And a couple of quick heads.
The drawings of Felicia Browne were exhibited in London to raise funds for the Spanish relief campaign. Her collection of drawings, prints, book designs, sketchbooks and correspondence were purchased by the Tate in 2010 and have been fully digitalised. Here is a link to the collection:

I hope you have enjoyed seeing the sketches of Felicia Browne. One can only wonder if Felicia had survived and transformed her sketches into paintings how remarkable would they have been. She has been quoted as saying If painting or sculpture were more valid or urgent to me than the earthquake which is happening in the revolution, she once told a friend who questioned why she didn’t simply concentrate on her art, if these two were reconciled so that the demands of the one didn’t conflict … with the demands of the other, I should paint or make sculpture.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on anewman@netspace.net.au or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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