Phyllis Dimond: Artist who made wartime paintings of buildings for 'Recording Britain'
Thursday 06 November 2008
Phyllis Dimond was one of the artists who took part in Recording Britain, the scheme set up to record architecture in London and elsewhere during the Second World War. During her long life, she made a speciality of detailed watercolour paintings of buildings, most of them in London.
Although much of her work was as a result of commissions, she chose many subjects herself, and spent hours out of doors making a meticulous record of the selected building. Consequently, she was very dependent on the weather and a painting could take weeks to finish. She was often subjected to comments from members of the public that she had painted every brick and that the picture was just like a photograph.
Dimond was born in Marylebone, London, in 1911. She was educated at Holy Trinity School in Chelsea, and often visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she spent many hours looking at the prints and drawings. At the age of 10, she developed Sydenham's Chorea, a disorder which could lead to heart disease. After a spell in hospital she was told not to work too hard, or to worry, and not to go in for the scholarship examination. She was encouraged to apply for art school, which, it was thought, would be a less pressurised environment.
When she was 14, Dimond started at Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts. Her contemporaries there included Ruskin Spear, with whom she went on to become a student at the Royal College of Art, then based at the back of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Their tutors there included Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious and the calligrapher Edward Johnston. Dimond remembered the latter as being held in great awe and esteem and as having taken what seemed to be the whole term to demonstrate the letter "A", which no one then dared to wipe off the blackboard. Dimond gained her diploma in the early 1930s, and studied for a further five years at Bolt Court Technical School, in Fleet Street, improving her skills in lithography and engraving.
By now, she was a freelance designer and cartoon animator; she worked on cartoon films for John Halas and Joy Batchelor. But she had also started to paint the watercolour pictures of buildings for which she would ultimately be known best. After the outbreak of the Second World War, she was employed to do technical drawing at the Admiralty, but during this time heard about a scheme of greater personal interest.
This was Recording Britain, a project funded by the Pilgrim Trust, to record places in painting and drawing, lest they fall victim to air raids. Dimond saw an exhibition of some of these paintings, and applied to join the scheme. She was taken on, and eventually contributed 12 paintings, some of which were later published in the Recording Britain series of books edited by Arnold Palmer.
After the war, then living again in Marylebone, she contributed to the book The Londoner's England – Contemporary Water-colours and Drawings of London and the Home Counties, commissioned in 1947 by the Avalon Press and William Collins. During the 1950s and 1960s she did a lot of work for the Medici Society, including hand-painted angels for Christmas decorations and hand-painted covers of notebooks. One of her topographical paintings was shown at the Royal Academy's summer exhibition of 1958. A more unusual commission was painting a picture of a huntsman on horseback on one of Moss Brothers' delivery vans. Between 1966 and 1976 she worked part-time for the British Council.
From the 1960s onwards, Dimond continued to paint buil dings, mostly in the Marylebone area, as well as still lives. She also painted miniature pictures for dolls' houses. In later years she produced a number of paintings at Windsor Castle; her last one, completed in her early nineties, was of the Deanery.
Phyllis Dimond, artist: born London 20 October 1911; (one daughter); died Ascot, Berkshire 25 September 2008.
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