A detective story involving the artist who painted the picture to the right....
(Rob intends to give a talk about the artist and illustrator Vashti M Vincent, at the Wharf, Tavistock, in July 2020.
The oil painting shown here was bought for £14 at a charity book and painting sale at Ford Park Cemetery in Plymouth a few years ago. On the back of the frame, at the top on the left, there is an address in Canada, and at the bottom the writing ‘Chapel St Louis Vittel British Internment Camp 1943’.
Some detective work unearthed a collection that was held at the Imperial War Museum, and which held paintings and linocuts that had been done by a Vashti Vincent during her stay at Vittel Internment Camp, and earlier at a similar camp at Besançon. (This collection was donated after her death).
The picture shown above appears to have been painted at Vittel and shows a nearby chapel – the Chapelle St Louis.
The painting had indeed been done by her, and I was able to meet with the person who had donated the painting for sale and thereby gained more information about her life and her experiences during World War II....
Vashti Vincent was born in 1910, in Lewisham, and died at a nursing home in Maidenhead in 2005.
It is thought that she went with her family to Jersey at the beginning of the 1st World War and here she grew up and went to school, later transferring to school in France where she graduated with honours in Art. In Paris she studied at L’Académie des Beaux-Arts and had paintings exhibited there.
The family were now living in the Gironde, south of Bordeaux and Vashti seems to have worked freelance from there, illustrating children’s books and painting pictures to sell. When the Germans invaded France, Vashti, her parents and aunt were ordered to pack some warm clothes and prepare for a journey. They were led away by two soldiers with guns and taken first to Besançon and some months later transferred to Vittel. Vashti was 29 when interned, her father 75 and her mother and aunt in their sixties.
During her 4 years of internship, Vashti sketched and painted illustrations of life at Besançon and Vittel. Life at Vittel was more relaxed than Besançon and the internees were free to put on concerts and Vashti painted posters for these events. Her mother did not cope well with their situation and was ill and lost the sight of one eye. Medication and food were in short supply and they eagerly looked forward to Red Cross parcels to supplement their meagre rations.
In October 1943 the Red Cross managed to bring over 100 British internees from Vittel. They travelled by train, then ferry to Sweden and then on the Cunard liner “Empress of Russia” through the German minefields to Shetland and from there to Leith; it took eleven days. After a few days in Edinburgh they came by train to Leeds where they settled. Interestingly Leeds was where her parents were married.
When the family were repatriated to Britain, two newspaper articles related their experiences, together with a photograph of Vashti , her parents, her aunt, and a friend of the family. It is hard to read the original articles, so the text has been typed out and is shown in my 'mini-exhibition', and now on two pages of this website.
After the war, Vashti set up again as a freelance artist and was commissioned by Arnolds Publishing Company to illustrate educational books. She designed posters for fashion shops, produced children’s birthday and Christmas cards and was employed to design wallpaper and linoleum patterns. Her figure drawing and portraits were widely regarded as excellent as were her animal portraits. (She worked in France before the way, and searching the internet has brought up a book illustrated by her and published in 1935, featuring a poem entitled 'Les Elfes').
In 1960, Vashti purchased a house with her brother in Maidenhead and devoted the next 35 years to caring for him. In 2001 she moved to Normanhurst residential care home where she died in 2005.