Saturday, 9 March 2013

More Joyce Dennys paintings on display

Fairlynch Museum’s 2013 exhibitions include some paintings by local artist Joyce Dennys which have not been on display to visitors for some time.


Born in Simla, India, in 1893, Isobel Dorothy Joyce Dennys came from a military family. Her father was a professional soldier in the Indian Army and came to live in Budleigh Salterton when he retired. From the age of 11 Joyce was brought up in the town with which she would have a long association. An artist, book illustrator, playwright and amateur actress she has also been described as a feminist author.

Above: Joyce Dennys as a child

With her conventional family background and as the wife of a respectable family doctor with a passion for horse riding she might have been considered as a representative of the stuffy conservatism ridiculed in the autobiographical writings of R.F. Delderfield, himself a one-time resident of the town.

In fact she shared with Delderfield and with Victor Clinton-Baddeley, another local author and her lifelong friend, a gentle but keen sense of humour which is seen in many of her paintings and drawings. It characterises her portrayal of so many scenes which are recognisably of Budleigh. They range from tea-shops with gossipy ladies of a certain age to those awkward encounters between differing social types.
Above:  The Coffee Morning, ‘Markers’, reproduced by kind permission of Budleigh Salterton Town Council

After Exeter Art School and further art studies in London, interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1914, Joyce Dennys served in the Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing scheme. Her experience in various hospitals at this time was the source of amusing caricatures collected in her albums. In 1915 she was commissioned to draw the pictures for Our Hospital ABC with verses by Hampden Gordon and M.C. Tindall, published in the following year. She also produced recruitment posters for the War Office.

Above: One of the many children's books by Rodney Bennett with whom Joyce Dennys collaborated as an illustrator
Following her marriage to Tom Evans the couple moved for a time to New South Wales where her illustrations, which she exhibited in numerous galleries, were much in demand. In 1922, now a mother, she returned to Britain where her husband became a GP in Budleigh Salterton. She took part in the town's amateur dramatics at this time as an actress, producer and playwright, but her drawing took second place to the social and domestic duties of a doctor's wife. However she continued to produce illustrations for magazines such as Punch and Sketch. Among the authors she worked with was Rodney Bennett, father of the composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. It was Joyce Dennys who invited him and his family to move to Budleigh when World War Two broke out.  

Much of Joyce Dennys’ work is a wry comment on the inferior position of women in society. This 1930 print with the ironic title of ‘Perfect Wives’ features a long-suffering spouse enduring the cold as she watches her husband ice-skating. 

The 1939 - 45 period inspired her pieces in Sketch. They were written as letters to her friend Robert and reflect the amusing and bitter-sweet aspects of wartime life in a small town. These include the frustrated feelings of women over a certain age who find that bandage rolling, knitting or committee attending are all they are permitted to do for the war effort.  The letters later appeared in book form as Henrietta's War (1985) and Henrietta Sees It Through (1986), with the latter title re-issued in 2010.

Joyce Dennys took up painting in oils at the age of 70 after the death of her husband Tom. Fairlynch Museum has some of her work from this period on loan, and an equal number of paintings are held in the Budleigh Salterton Town Council offices. Among these are the delightful ‘Eating Ice Creams on Budleigh seafront, Devon.’

Reproduced by kind permission of Budleigh Salterton Town Council


Following her death in London in 1991 Joyce Dennys was cremated and her ashes scattered off the coast of Budleigh Salterton. She is still remembered by many in the town for her artistry, her wit and her charm. In 2004 a display of her work was held at Fairlynch, where the mural in the Costume Room is a permanent reminder of her.

“Many of Joyce Dennys’ paintings are animated by a subtle but effective contradiction of style and content,” says Angie Harlock-Wilkinson, who has been cataloguing the Museum’s artwork. “Her use of subdued tones in a harmonious range of subtle, chalky colours, lends an understatedness to her style which makes the melodramatic poses and vivid personalities of her figures all the more surprising and enjoyable. This juxtaposition brings to life the deliciously wry but rather poignant irony at the heart of her work.”


  1. Thank you for this chance to see more of Joyce Dennys' art.

    Sarah Clark, Rockport, MA

  2. Hi Sarah, I remember you enjoyed Henrietta's War. I'll be featuring soon some of JD's pictures from her Liberty of London scarves booklet. They're on display at Fairlynch Museum.

  3. Hello Michael,

    I just read both of the "Henrietta" books for the first time this week, and I'm in love with Joyce Dennys' writing!

    While doing a Google search on her, your lovely site came up--and I'm in love with it too! Plus, I'm a lacemaker myself (mainly tatting, but I'm a beginning bobbin lacemaker too) and I noticed your wonderful posts about lacemaking.

    I see now that I have a new favorite blog to visit! Thanks so much for all of this; I miss living in England (I live in Key West now, quite a stretch from London and Yorkshire!) and your blog brings a breath of my beloved England back into my life.


  4. Hi Keely
    Great to hear from you. Send your email address to me at and I'll add you to my list of people who receive regular bulletins about this blog. I've copied your nice comment to our ladies in charge of Lace at Fairlynch Museum. I'm sure they'd like to know more about your lacemaking.

    Best wishes