National Gallery of Jamaica

Unveils Unseen Works by John Dunkley

Long lost work “Deliverance” resurfaces in Jamaica

John Dunkley’s untitled work above shows a sketch of an elaborate house which appears in the upper right. The work, a detailed presentation of his wife Cassie’s dream house, was signed but never completed.

Five previously publicly unseen works by Jamaica’s first and finest intuitive artist, John Dunkley (1891-1947), were revealed at the opening of John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

“It is quite a coup for the National Gallery to have secured these Dunkley works for the exhibition and we’re very grateful to the collectors for sharing them,” says Dr Jonathan Greenland, acting executive director of the National Gallery. One work, Deliverance, was believed to be lost. Created by Dunkley in response to the announcement of World War II, it “channels serenity (and a) seeming connection to a higher power, perhaps a plea for peace, or deliverance, in the face of the onslaught of war.” Its owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted the Gallery after seeing the show in Miami and generously offered it to our local exhibition. Two other small sculptures Wooden Shoe and Woman Sitting which form part of the Ameen Canaan Collection adds two other rarely seen sculptural works to the show.

Aside from his inclusion in the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco and the NGJ/Smithsonian travelling exhibition of 1983 Dunkley’s work was relatively unknown in the United States until PAMM’s light shone on Dunkleyas a beacon of modern and contemporary art from the Caribbean. The exhibition gives local audiences the rare opportunity to see this collection of forty-seven (47) works together for the first time since the NGJ Retrospective of his work in 1976.


John Dunkley. Banana Plantation, ca. 1945. Mixed media on plywood, 29 1⁄8 x 17 5⁄8 inches. National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, gift of Cassie Dunkley. Photo: Franz Marzouca

About John Dunkley:

Born in rural north-western Jamaica, Dunkley as a young man travelled to Panama and Costa Rica to work, eventually settling for a time in Chiriquí, a province in western Panama. There he worked as a barber and began to create his first small paintings. Concurrently, he also worked as an assistant to a studio photographer active in the region, possibly retouching and colouring photographs.

A part of a generation of West Indian men who travelled abroad to work, both in the region and internationally, Dunkley returned to Jamaica in the mid-to-late 1920s, continuing to work as a barber in a shop near downtown Kingston’s busy port, and to make paintings and wood carvings during a fervent period of black internationalism that stirred Jamaica’s nascent independence movement.

His works appear in public, private and corporate collections throughout the world, including the collections of the National Gallery of Jamaica and National Commercial Bank.