Erlund Hudson: Artist best known for chronicling the lives of ordinary women in the Second World War

Despite her long life Erlund Hudson's career as an artist lasted less than 20 years. Much of her work dates from the Second World War; rejected for war service because of her health, she drove a mobile canteen, taking tea and sandwiches to the Kensington rescue services as they dug out bombing victims. Exhausted from working two or three shifts without a break, she still found time to draw: Kentish women drying herbs in barns for medicines; middle-class ladies in white overalls cutting up sheets for bandages and pyjamas; scenes from the Naafi canteen. After the National Gallery sent its pictures for safety to a disused quarry in Wales, temporary exhibitions, often of living artists, occupied the empty walls. The War Artists Advisory Committee paid Hudson 25 guineas for six of her works to hang in the War Artists' shows; these are now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

Eleanor Erlund Hudson was born in St Marychurch outside Torquay in Devon in 1912. Her father, Henry Hudson, was from Liverpool and worked in the import and export trade. He had been a bachelor until his 40s when, in the south of France, he met Helen Ingeborg Olsen, a young Norwegian-American from Boston. Henry made a remarkably rapid recovery and Helen wrote home pleading to be allowed to marry. Between them they had seven children of whom Eleanor was the youngest (she used the name Erlund only professionally).

Confined to bed for a year by a spinal injury at the age of 10, Hudson spent much of her time drawing. Her first training was at the tiny Torquay School of Art. Wanting to train further – but innocent of proper procedures – she took her portfolio to the Royal College of Art and asked if she could be a student. The principal, Sir William Rothenstein agreed to look at her work and, although bemused by her drawings of models in bathing suits (country models did not pose nude), he was impressed, and told her there was a spare stool available in the school of engraving. At the RCA she studied under Professor Malcolm Osborne and his successor Robert Austin; they both became friends and great influences.

After a couple of years of study Hudson won a travelling scholarship to Italy. Ignorant of the political situation, and despite her mother's frantic letters, she only returned to England when an Italian naval officer told her to go home. She avoided internment by days.

On the outbreak of war she went first to look after her family in Leicestershire and then to Kent (where she delivered her sister-in-law's baby when it was born prematurely during a thunderstorm). Back in London she took a fourth-floor flat in Earls Court, running all the way down to the air-raid shelter when necessary.

Both in London and Torquay she saw the horrors of war. When the Troy Court flats were bombed, bodies and limbs were strewn around. Afterwards a shocked young American serviceman insisted on spending the day with Hudson in her van because it reminded him of home. Although outwardly calm everyone was terrified, but Hudson could not bring herself to paint any of this: art, she insisted, was for life, not death. She remembered how Kensington Square in September suddenly turned to winter when all its leaves were shed during a bombing raid, and then the branches were softened by a fog of plaster from the ruined houses like the blossom growing in spring. It gave one hope, she said.

At the end of the war Hudson bought an 18th-century house in Hammersmith Terrace beside the Thames. She was surrounded by a community which included the artists Raymond Coxon and Robert Austin, Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan, and the writer AP Herbert. Through her interest in ballet, Hudson met Nesta Brooking, who ran a ballet school in Primrose Hill. The first time she visited, to make studies, she found herself so enthralled by the great Tamara Karsavina that she was unable to draw a line.

Hudson and Brooking became colleagues and companions and they shared their lives for nearly 50 years until Brooking's death at the age of 99 in 2006. Hudson also became the Brooking School of Ballet's artistic director and designed costumes and scenery for Sadler's Wells and Ballet Rambert. Among the School's pupils were Monica Mason, now director of the Royal School of Ballet, and Ken Russell, before he became a film director.

Most of Hudson's pictures were scenes of women working or of the intimacies of female life; her subjects included women pulling on stockings or peeling potatoes, often drawn from unexpected angles. She brought to them an acute sense of observation and a feeling for atmosphere, and cited Degas as an influence.

She was also a fine portraitist. One of her models was a Czech lawyer called Bella, who she met in an air-raid shelter. At the war's end the woman, full of enthusiasm for the new Communist regime, returned home but was soon disillusioned. She resisted and was shot. Hudson said that on seeing her drawings her husband covered them with kisses, crying, "It's her, it's her".

In 1937, while still a student, Eleanor was elected to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, and to the Royal Watercolour Society in 1939. She was also a member of the Chicago Print Society. In the postwar period it was difficult to find art materials, particularly for etching, and afterwards she worked primarily in watercolour. Her work was exhibited all over the UK, in Scandinavia, the US and Canada and is held in the collections of the British Museum, the Wellcome Library, the National Gallery of Canada, the Paul Mellon Center at Yale University, and Dudley Art Gallery, as well as the Imperial War Museum.

By the 1960s, however, her talents were being directed elsewhere. She resigned her membership of the various artistic societies and worked as a restorer for The Rocking Horse, an antique shop in St John's Wood. The specialities of the shop were French dolls and doll houses and rocking horses which Hudson repaired with new gesso and refurbished with horse hair from stables and abattoirs.

A chance conversation in a coffee shop led to her buying a cottage overlooking the sea at Old Bosham in West Sussex. The cottage was rebuilt by the architect Wendy Harris as Meadow House, a sizeable, white-painted house full of light and space where she entertained. Eleanor and Nesta spent as much of the year there as they could. When in 2009 she had to sell Meadow House in order to meet her increasing care costs, she said it broke her heart.

Eleanor was a follower of the spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff. Although her health was in decline – for 13 years Nesta and she were looked after by their nurse, Ellen – she retained a tremendous interest in life and a strong sense of humour, as well as her bright eyes and beautiful bone structure. In 2007 the Imperial War Museum held a birthday party in her honour in the company of two of her other contemporaries, Phyllis Dimond and Malvina Cheek; their conversation was broadcast on Woman's Hour. A large family party was held for Hudson's 99th birthday; she died a few days later.

Simon Fenwick

Eleanor Erlund Hudson, artist: born St Marychurch, Devon 18 February 1912; died London 9 March 2011.

News
people
Sport
Newcastle players celebrate, Mario Balotelli scores, Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers
footballNewcastle vs Liverpool , Arsenal vs Burnley, Chelsea vs QPR and Everton vs Swansea
News
i100Amazing Amazon review bomb
Arts and Entertainment
The Spice Girls' feminism consisted of shouting 'girl power' and doing peace signs in latex catsuits
musicWhat is it? You know what you want it to be...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
News
Moss and Grimshaw arrive at the party
peopleKate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Nick Grimshaw at Jonathan Ross's Halloween party
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
News
i100
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Travel
travelPurrrfect jet comes to Europe
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch attends the London premiere of his new film The Imitation Game
people He's not as smart as his characters
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities