Recently emerged from a private col lection and researched by specialists at Lyon & Turnbull, The Long Range Bombardment of Dunkirk is estimated to bring £10,000- 15,000 at the mixed-discipline Modern Made sale in London on April 29.
Born in Tynemouth to a Quaker family, Procter had declared himself a conscientious objector on the outbreak of the war. However, in 1916 he joined other young Quakers in The Friends’ Ambulance Unit established as a means for ‘civilians’ to contribute to the war effort in a non-violent way. Procter’s personal record (found in an online archive) shows he arrived in Dunkirk on June 12, 1916 and served in France until he was demobbed in February 1919. His duties included care of the wounded, ambulance driving and maintenance and quartermaster tasks.
Although probably painted in the artists’ enclave of Newlyn, Cornwall, where Procter and his wife Dod spent many years, Long Range Bombardment of Dunkirk is an eyewitness account of the major German offensive from March 20-23, 1918.
Worked up from notes and sketches made on the spot, it depicts the havoc caused as shelling from a German gun sited 20 miles away from the city prompted residents – soldiers and civilians – to flee.
In vibrant colour and in great detail, Procter depicts the Dunkirk dunes strewn with the refugees and members of the military that stream away from the city as it burns in the background.
The importance of the painting was recognised as early as April 1919 when it was reproduced in colour and singled out for extensive praise in an article about Ernest and Dod Procter in Colour magazine.
Lyon & Turnbull senior specialist Alice Strang, who did much of the research to uncover the picture’s full history, said: “To recognise the scene as Dunkirk – rather than Ypres as long thought – was the first important piece of the puzzle.
“In the 1990 catalogue for the Procter exhibition at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle we found a reference to a work of this subject and its publication at the time.
“Luckily, the National Library of Scotland holds copies of Colour and it was a tense 24 hours while I waited for it to be sourced from Special Collections. It was extremely exciting to turn the page and see an image of the exact work I was researching illustrated, confirming we had found this long-lost acclaimed piece.”