Portrait Artist Of The Past: June

Thank you to everyone who entered May’s competition to paint “Lily” Merrill Millet (1855-1931) after a work by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). We loved the variety of styles and unique interpretations.

Over the past five months, there have been hundreds of entries into our portrait competition and it’s already become so much more than we thought possible. There’s a real sense of community developing and many of you are helping other artists with useful feedback and advice.

The highlight so far has been April’s competition when you helped us to celebrate the composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor. Thanks to you, this brilliant man has a portrait worthy of his name that will be securely maintained by the archives at Camden Council.

It was such a success that we’ve decided to use this format for all future competitions. E.g. every month, we would like you to create a portrait of an unsung British innovator.

The inventors, the makers, the creatives, and the brilliant minds. The lesser-known heroes that deserve a lasting image.

I hope you’ll stay involved as we can make a real difference.

For June’s competition, we would like you to paint a portrait of Dorothy Lawrence (1896-1964) - a journalist that disguised herself as a man to report from the front line during World War I. Her story is remarkable...

Dorothy Lawrence

Download the image (sorry it's quite small)

At the age of 19, she was desperate to become a war correspondent but rejected by newspapers and the War Office. So, throwing caution to the wind, and armed only with a laundry bag, she began cycling to the front. 

I’ll see what an ordinary English girl, without credentials or money, can accomplish. If war correspondents cannot get out there, I’ll see whether I cannot go one better than these big men with their cars, credentials, and money.

Her journey sounds horrendous, ”I endured insects, heat, delayed baths, and vigilant gendarmes” but she persisted to reach the French town of Senlis. It was here that she met a soldier who gave her the idea of donning a military uniform but it’s safe to say that she didn’t find the transformation easy. 

Reader, have you ever attempted to include trousers in the way that they should go on a female figure? They do not know the way, and suddenly you realize that neither do you! Unfortunately I could not decently call in masculine assistance; whereas I suffered the usual ignorance of “only child and orphan” who never sees brothers’ discarded “brigs.” I was left alone to struggle with unknown buttons, braces, and the division sum of how to make a big body go into a small size of trousers! Eventually I got in by a series of jumps, jerks, and general tightening up! 

Dorothy Lawrence

Her disguise, although uncomfortable, gained her access to the front line at the Somme where she spent 12 nights working alongside other troops. One can only imagine how she felt.

After living day and night in trenches thick with mud and disease, her health began to suffer and she was finally discovered.

My manner of coming into the Colonel’s presence proved disarming in its effect, I must say. There I stood and I burst out laughing! Really I could not help it! So utterly ludicrous appeared this betrousered little female, marshalled solemnly by three soldiers, and deposited before twenty embarrassed men.

In 1919, she published Sapper Dorothy Lawrence: The Only English Woman Soldier (which was heavily edited by the War Office). But sadly, due to the way things were, the book was ridiculed by critics. Her dream career as a writer fell at the first hurdle.

Six years later, Dorothy was committed to the London County Mental Hospital at Hanwell and spent the rest of her life in care. I wonder how her treatment by a male-dominated industry affected her mental health?

Dorothy Lawrence

Dorothy went to the ends of the Earth to record the truth but remains underrated as a writer. She deserves to be celebrated with a fabulous portrait so please do get involved!

Here’s some further reading: http://www.theheroinecollective.com/dorothy-lawrence

Competition Rules: Every month, we’re asking artists to create a version of our chosen portrait in their own style. It should be an interpretation, rather than a faithful reproduction, so do express yourself.

To enter, simply post your submission on Instagram and tag it with #portraitartistofthepast. Please do so by the last day of each month. We’ll then select a winner and showcase their entry on our website and social media.

June’s competition will run from the 1st of June to the 30th of June.

Good luck!

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