After visiting the recent exhibition of fashion photographer Yevonde Middleton’s work at The National Portrait Gallery in London, her intriguing legacy and wartime connections to Farnham inspired Richard Sandars to appeal to Peeps readers for help to weave together Yevonde’s story.

Known by the pseudonym Madame Yevonde, Middleton was an early pioneer  in the world of colour photography and her vivid photographs graced the newly-refurbished walls of the esteemed gallery from June until her exhibition closed last Sunday.

However, a veil of mystery shrouds her connection to Farnham, and it beckons for further exploration.

“Until I visited the recent exhibition of her work at The National Portrait Gallery a week ago, I knew virtually nothing about Yevonde Middleton, or Madame Yevonde, as she was generally known,” said Richard.

“All I had heard was that a ‘fashion photographer’  of this name had had some association with Farnham.  

“First, then, a bit of background. Yevonde Philone  Cumbers was born in London in 1893 and educated  at Lingholt boarding school in Hindhead, as well as abroad (including the Sorbonne). In 1921 she married the playwright Edgar Middleton, having been employed as an apprentice  with  the foremost woman photographer of the period, Lallie Charles.  

“Yevonde opened her first studio after the First World War, photographing  a variety of society,  theatrical and political sitters, including Vivien Leigh, Nancy Astor and AA Milne. In the 1930s Yevonde was quick to embrace colour photography, staging the first exhibition of colour portraits in England at the London, Albany Gallery in 1932. At the time colour photography was a complex process that was not highly regarded or adopted by other photographers.

“The fact Yevonde was the first woman to address the Professional Photographers’ Association (Photographic portraiture from the woman’s point of view) and that she was  elected  a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1940 are an indication of the esteem in which she was held.

“For a time, Yevonde was perhaps best known for her series Goddesses in which she photographed a number of society women posed as  mythological goddesses in fantasy settings, taking her inspiration from a charitable ball with an Olympian theme held at Claridge’s Hotel in 1935.

“What, then, was the connection to Farnham? At the start of  the Second World War Yevonde was living in Pimlico, which was heavily bombed. Remembering, perhaps, her time at school in Hindhead, she bought  a property in Farnham – Sunnycroft Cottage – and  worked one weekday and every Saturday  at The Oast House in Bear Lane, where she held an exhibition – portraits of Fighting Faces and Women in Uniform.

“I wonder if anyone  knows more of Yevonde and her time in Farnham? Where is, or was,  Sunnycroft Cottage? How long did she live there, and what happened to the Oast House in Bear Lane? Yevonde died on December 22, 1975.”

If anyone can help shed more light on a fascinating one-time character of the Farnham community, please drop us an email to [email protected] or write to us at The Old Court House, Union Road, Farnham, GU9 7PT.