Addition to the Donald Bowen archive

Self portrait, Donald Bowen

The former Art Curator of the Commonwealth Institute, Donald Bowen, passed away at the age of 101 on 25 July 2019. During his 25 years at the institute (1953-1979), Bowen mounted more than 200 exhibitions showcasing the works of Commonwealth artists and placed the institute’s gallery at the centre of London’s art world.  Bowen was also an accomplished artist in his own right, a landscape and topographical draughtsman, who developed his skill with pencil, ink and chalk sketching residential and industrial buildings, plants and trees in London and the countryside during the 1960s and 1970s. 

Exhibition catalogue, Commonwealth Institute, 1983

In 2010, Bowen generously donated a series of sketchbooks and scrapbooks to the Royal Commonwealth Society collections (RCMS 360).  They contain correspondence and memoirs documenting his early life, education, training as an artist, military service during the Second World War and work as art curator at the institute.  They have been widely consulted by researchers in many fields of visual culture.  Bowen’s work with Maltese artists, for example, was drawn upon by University of Malta Ph.D student Nicola Petroni, who consulted the RCS collections during her tenure as an Erasmus+ Trainee in Cambridge in 2016.  Petroni visited Bowen at his home in Sutton, and published an article describing her interview in ‘The Malta Independent’ newspaper.  We are delighted to report that Petroni has just successfully completed her doctorate, under the supervision of Professor Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci, and will donate a copy of her thesis to the RCS, ‘The dialectics of tradition and modernity in twentieth-century Maltese art: an analysis of the relationship between old and new values and the making of modern art in Malta.’

Ibiza, Donald Bowen, 1967, RCMS 360_8_3

We are tremendously grateful to Bowen for leaving additional archives to the RCS.  These new scrapbooks largely relate to Bowen’s retirement, in which he keenly followed the art scene, but also contain biographical information and copies of many of his drawings.  Once sorted they will be made available to researchers.   Bowen drew almost daily during retirement, remarkably almost into his final days.  We are particularly delighted that this legacy includes an album of original drawings of Ibiza, made during 1967.

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