Present places, absent faces : the artist Thelma Hulbert from childhood to first solo exhibition (1950)

Smith, Deborah (2022) Present places, absent faces : the artist Thelma Hulbert from childhood to first solo exhibition (1950). (MA(R) thesis), Kingston University, .


My research is presented as a chronological biography, questioning whether Thelma Hulbert (1913-1995) may have been the earliest Twentieth Century British working-class woman painter to achieve professional success comparable to that of her male contemporaries. Key to my argument is the understanding of Hulbert’s working class ‘otherness,’ contrasting her story against those of her female contemporaries, who hailed predominantly from higher ends of the social strata. Despite five years as a student at Bath School of Art and a year at the Euston Road School under the guidance of Claude Rogers, Hulbert was consistently described as ‘untrained’ with her paintings falling outside of the art ‘fashions’ of more radical contemporaries. The later appears to me to have been in part Hulbert’s conscious and deliberate choice, therefore I have chosen not to apply extensive use of art theory to her work. Hulbert’s background and gender made her an Outsider in many respects, and her paintings could almost be classified as ‘Outsider’ Art. In the central chapters I have analysed Hulbert’s life and work from historical, psychological, socio-political, and gendered perspectives, considering the impact of The Great Depression and The First and Second World Wars on Art and Society. These chapters focus on my research into Hulbert’s interaction with The AIA, The London Group, and The Euston Road School. My analysis of Hulbert’s post-war paintings centres on comparisons with Mondrian, who I have discovered was the Modernist Hulbert most admired. This biography finds its logical conclusion at Hulbert’s first solo exhibition in 1950, at which point Hulbert’s life took off on an entirely different personal and professional trajectory which I propose to cover as a PhD.

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