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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Businessman at desk circa 1950s
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this secondary s...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea