Doris Violet Blair (active 1940-80)

Shattered Dwellings, c. 1941-5


28cm x 38cm

Courtesy of Board of Trustees of National Museums NI. © Mme Doris Bourguignon

Doris Violet Blair was a 20th century artist, best known for the body of work she produced during World War II. She was born in Belfast in 1915 and studied at the Belfast College of Art before moving to London, where she enrolled at the Royal College of Art. When war broke out, Blair like many artists got a job working for the war effort but she did not neglect her art. Although busy working for the Ministry of Information in the Postal Censorship department, Blair was determined to capture the impact the war was having on Belfast. She wrote to the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to offer her services as a war artist, enclosing a sample of her work and proposing to document women’s services to industry during the war in Northern Ireland. In a subsequent letter she requested facilities to record the military service of women in Northern Ireland. The Committee were unable to accept her offer but Blair nevertheless continued to produce paintings of the havoc wrecked on Belfast by the blitz and to make portraits of British and American troops stationed in Northern Ireland. An iconic portrait painted by Blair of an American nurse, Second Lieutenant Freda Gladys Theil Fox, is now in the collection of the Ulster Museum. The War Artists’ Advisory Committee did eventually, later in the war, purchase two of Blair’s watercolours for seven guineas. She exhibited her work at the Royal Academy, Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Hibernian Academy.

After the war Blair was able to take up a travelling scholarship that had been postponed due to the conflict. She went first to New York and then to Paris, where she studied with Fernand Léger and André Lhote, which saw her work become increasingly abstract and non-representational. In 1948 the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (now the Ulster Museum) gave an exhibition on The Work of Doris V Blair which showed her work both before and after her turn to the abstract. Not long after this she got married, becoming Doris Bourguigon, and moved to Belgium where she continued to exhibit her work. In later life she moved to London. In 1982, the Ulster Museum acquired a collection of her watercolours of wartime Belfast, of which this is one.