Remembering Felicia Browne

Post date: 26/08/2016

IBMT Trustee Pauline Fraser writes…


‘You say I am escaping and evading things by not painting or making sculpture. If there is no painting or sculpture to be made, I cannot make it. I can only make what is valid and urgent to me. If painting and sculpture were more valid and more urgent to me than the earthquake which is happening in the revolution, or if these two were reconciled so that the demands of one didn’t conflict (in time, even, and concentration) with the demands of the other, I should paint and make sculpture.’


Thus wrote Felicia Browne, artist, communist, and fighter for a better world, in a letter to her friend, Elizabeth Watson. These haunting phrases echo the commitment of progressive artists down the ages, including Byron and Sylvia Pankhurst. She would be followed by more writers and artists who put the fight for a better world above their art.


Felicia was the first and only British woman and the first British volunteer to be killed in action in Spain defending democracy and fighting fascism. She was killed in late August 1936, somewhere between 22 and 25 of that month, so this is the 80th anniversary of her death. 


In  ‘On the Tardienta Front’ (En el Frente de Tardienta), local historians give the following account:


‘One of these actions took place on 24 August, when a patrol led by Captain Oubina, consisting of two Germans, five Italians, a Spaniard and the English artist Felicia Browne, reached Almudévar Station. They made their way by truck and later on foot, blowing up the railway bridge over the River Sotón, on the outskirts of Gurrea de Gállego. The explosives had been badly placed and the bridge was not destroyed, but it remained in a bad state, preventing reinforcements being brought from Zaragoza for the failed operation that took place on 28 August. This had the aim of re-establishing communications between Huesca and Almudévar. During their retreat, the militia fighters came under surprise attack by a rebel patrol and in the pursuit the artist Felicia Browne and the Italian Paolo Comida were killed.’

Felicia Browne had driven to Barcelona with her friend Edith Bone, with the intention of making sketches at the People’s Olympiad and in the rural villages in the mountains of Aragon, but the fascist generals’ revolt and attempted coup against the Spanish Republican government made action imperative. Felicia wanted to help in any way she could, and although an excellent linguist, mastering German and Russian, she was hampered by a lack of Spanish. 

Volunteering for one of the people’s militias that left Barcelona to take the fight to the fascist front in Aragon was not top of her list, but she had exhausted other options, so persuaded the PSUC (Catalan Communist Party) to let her join one. Despite all this frenetic activity, she still found time to make some remarkable sketches of the peasants and milicianos(as) that she met. 

In Felicia’s last known letter (see below), to Edith Bone, she tells her friend how pleased she is to have met up with ‘dozens of old mates’. These included Nat Cohen and Sam Masters. She is full of optimism and excitement and it is good to think of Felicia going into that first and last action in such a positive mood. 

Artist and communist Felicia gave her pen and brush, her heart and head, and her life, in the international struggle against fascism and for the liberation of mankind. 

Posted 25 August 2016









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