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Olive Mudie-Cooke, official war artist

08 Dec

Only a handful of women became official war artists in the Great War. One of them was Londoner Olive Mudie-Cooke, – creating evocative images of the conflict while serving as a driver during the war and visiting the battlefields after the Armistice.

Olive was the younger of two daughters of Henry Cooke and his wife Beatrice, nee Mudie. Henry was a carpet merchant, who lived at 3 Porchester Terrace in 1911 with  Beatrice, their daughters and two servants. Olive is listed in the census return as a painter, aged 21, while Phyllis (23) was an archeology student. In 1916, Olive Mudie-Cooke went to France as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) driver; as well as the Western Front, she served in (and painted of Italy) .

In an Ambulance : a VAD lighting a cigarette for a patient, by Olive Mudie-Cooke © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3051)

In an Ambulance : a VAD lighting a cigarette for a patient, by Olive Mudie-Cooke © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3051)

Mudie-Cooke’s most famous picture is this one of a VAD worker lighting a cigarette for a wounded soldier. Restricted to scenes well behind the lines, many of her images depict the process of evacuating wounded men from the front and treating them.

Etaples Hospital Siding : a VAD convoy unloading an ambulance train at night 1917, by Olive Mudie-Cooke  © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3089)

Etaples Hospital Siding : a VAD convoy unloading an ambulance train at night
1917, by Olive Mudie-Cooke © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3089)

Mudie-Cooke’s art could be light-hearted, such as his image from her postwar book With the VAD convoys in France, Flanders and Italy:

'VAD ambulance driver in theory, in popular fiction and in real life' by Olive Mudie-Cooke - reproduced in 'Fighting Different Wars'

‘VAD ambulance driver in theory, in popular fiction and in real life’ by Olive Mudie-Cooke – reproduced in Janet S.K. Watson, Fighting Different Wars

On the whole, though, the examples of her work in the Imperial War Museum collection (donated by her sister Phyllis Tillyard, who married literary scholar EMW Tillyard after the war) are more serious. When she returned to the Western Front in 1920, Olive Mudie-Cooke found the haunting scene of two British tanks that had been put out of action in November 1917.

Dop Dopter and D24. Two Tanks, Polcapelle, by Olive Mudie-Cooke © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5395)

Dop Docter and D24. Two Tanks, Polcapelle, by Olive Mudie-Cooke © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5395)

The two tanks had been part of an action near Poelkapelle on 9 October and were put out of action after engaging the enemy, ‘Dop Doctor’ (D32) apparently when trying to pass D24 (Deuce of Diamonds) after the latter tank had been knocked out of action by a direct hit from enemy fire. Mudie-Cooke was not the only post-war visitor whose eye was caught by the scene, several photos exist on the internet of the same scene, and a Great War Forum thread has more information about them.

More sobering than the wrecked tanks is a scene that Olive Mudie-Cooke painted depicting British medics treating a French peasant wounded by ammunition left on the Somme battlefield.

After the War : a VAD ambulance bringing in French peasants wounded by shells left on the Somme Battlefield. Beaulencourt Convoy, by Olive Mudie-Cooke  © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3087)

After the War : a VAD ambulance bringing in French peasants wounded by shells left on the Somme Battlefield. Beaulencourt Convoy, by Olive Mudie-Cooke © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3087)

I haven’t been able to find out Olive Mudie-Cooke’s life after the war, beyond her visit to the battlefields. Sadly, she died in France on 11 September 1925. The following year an exhibition of her art was held at Beaux-Arts Gallery on Bruton Place.

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2 Comments

Posted by on 8 December 2013 in Women

 

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2 responses to “Olive Mudie-Cooke, official war artist

  1. Stella Tillyard

    1 February 2014 at 11:37 am

    I am Olive’s great-niece. It was good to read this; thank you for compiling it. As far as I know she spent the post-war years travelling the world – Europe and Africa especially – and painting.

     
  2. Stella Tillyard

    1 February 2014 at 11:38 am

    If anyone knows has any more information about Olive I would be very interested to hear from you. stillyard@btopenworld.com

     

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