Priscilla Thornycroft

Priscilla Thornycroft (1917-2020)
By Jim Jump
Priscilla Thornycroft, an artist who campaigned energetically for the Spanish Republic doing the Spanish Civil War, was a member of a Sussex family that was steeped in the fight against fascism in Spain. Brother Christopher dropped out of Oxford to join the International Brigades in December 1936. Sister Kate was the secretary of the Basque Children’s Committee in their home town of Worthing. Mother Dorothy chaired the Worthing Basque Children’s Committee and later ran the Worthing Refugee Committee, which helped Jews and left-wingers fleeing fascist Europe – one of whom Priscilla would marry.
Priscilla Ann Thornycroft was born on 21 April 1917 in Golders Green, north London. Her mother’s father was playwright Edward Rose, a friend of George Bernard Shaw and Eleanor Marx. Her father was the sculptor and engineer Oliver Thornycroft.
After leaving Worthing High School, Priscilla studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. She became a student representative of the Artists International Association, which believed that artists should become politically engaged, especially in the fight against fascism. At the same time she became a member of the Communist Party.
During the Spanish Civil War, as a member of the AIA, she painted anti-fascist posters for demonstrations and various campaigns. She also organised painting courses for the children in the refugee Basque children’s colony in Worthing.

Priscilla pictured in 2017 with a poster she designed during the Spanish Civil War.

Artists Nan Youngman and Priscilla Thornycroft (right) paint a hoarding in central London in February 1939.

Around this time she met the German resistance fighter Hans Siebert. He was a teacher and had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. He was interned in England at the beginning of the Second World War, but Eleanor Rathbone helped arrange his release. Priscilla married him in 1942 and they had two children.
After the war, the family moved to Dresden in 1948, where they permanently settled. Priscilla worked in the German Democratic Republic, where she was more commonly known as Ann Siebert, as a freelance illustrator of children’s books and magazines. She was a member of the GDR’s Democratic Women’s League, on the committee of the artists’ association and in an artists’ cooperative.
Works by Priscilla Thornycroft (also known as Ann Siebert), who died on 12 April 2020, aged 102, are held in many public and private collections, including the Imperial War Museum in London. In 2010, there was a major retrospective of her work at Dresden’s Neuen Sächsischen Kunstverein. It was opened by her 88-year-old younger brother Bill Thornycroft.
Edited to add: A Piece on ‘The Basque Children at Worthing 1937’ that Bill Thornycroft asked his sister Priscilla to write for the Sussex and the SCW presentation back in 2008 – with thanks to Mike Anderson.

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