Sunday, 7 September 2008

Doris and Anna Zinkeisen


Doris Zinkeisen, photographed in 1929 by Harold Pierce Cazneaux

Doris Clare Zinkeisen (1898-1991) was a painter, illustrator, constume and theatrical designer and commercial artist. She and her sister Anna (1901-1976) both studied at Harrow School of Art then both won Scholarships to the Royal Academy schools in 1917. In London they shared a studio and during the 1920's and 30's both embarked on a wide variety of artistic projects including costume, poster and advertisement design, mural painting and traditional painting. Doris married in 1927 and by 1929 had exhibited at The Royal Academy and won medals at the Paris Salon. Anna won a silver medal at the Salon of 1926. In 1936 Doris and Anna contributed murals to the RMS Queen Mary (Doris is seen, right, painting part of a 1000 ft square mural in the Verandah Grill of the QM on the theme of "entertainment") and in 1940 to the RMS Queen Elizabeth. Their lifestlye is reflected in their art, a mixture of society portraiture, animal portraiture including horses and their riders, and weak genre scenes set in the parks of London and Paris showing women in beautiful gowns taking tea, walking their dogs and riding horses.

Doris Zinkeisen - "Self Portrait"

Doris Zinkeisen - "Corner of the Cafe Royal"

Despite their respective successes with painting and graphic art it was Doris that rose to major prominence during this period, for her costume design. Although she only worked on a handful of films, all of them are now regarded as British classics of the era and Doris is today best remembered for her work on these films. They included Bitter Sweet, Peg of Old Drury, Victoria the Great and the 1936 American screen version of Show Boat. She worked extensively on theatre productions with Noel Coward.

Doris Zinkeisen - "The Rehearsal"

Doris Zinkeisen - "Afternoon Promenade"

In 1941 both sisters were recruited as official war artists for the North West Europe Commission of the Joint War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John. Early on in the war they worked as auxilliary nurses in St. Mary's hospital, Paddington. During this period they would work in the mornings then spend the afternoons painting in a disused operating theatre, recording the events of the day. Anna worked during this period on an extensive and detailed studies of injured and diseased patients whose value to the medical profession are acknowledged today.


Anna Zinkeisen - "St Mary's by Candlelight"

The full extent of Anna's work during the Second World War is unclear, but by the middle of the 1940's it is known that Doris was touring Belgium, France and Germany in her capacity as war artist. In 1945 she arrived at Belsen Concentration Camp immediately after it's liberation, in time to document the movement of 28,000 former inmates, attempts to care for and rehabilitate them, and the aftermath of the operation in which 13,000 of them who were beyond help died.

Doris Zinkeisen - "Belsen, April 1945"

Doris later wrote that "the shock of Belsen was never to be forgotten." It is testament to her versatility as an artist that she was able to produce work based on the things she had seen. Her palette had gradually darkened from the pastel pinks and blues in her park scenes of the 20's and 30's, becoming grimmer and more washed out towards the end of the 30's. In her war paintings she communicates in the muted greys, browns and ochres of her contemporaries such as Eric Ravilious and Stanley Spencer. Her 1945 paintings seem almost dead - full of black, grey and brown.

Doris Zinkeisen - "Human Laundry (Belsen)"

Doris was tortured for the rest of her life by her experiences at Belsen. Her son described the "heart rendrending" agony of the letters she wrote to her husband while working at the camp. She confided to her family that the sights she had seen had been terrible, but it was the smell of the place that had stayed with her. After the war she returned to London and resumed her work as a theatrical designer, albeit on a lesser scale, until 1972. She also occasionally exhibiting her paintings. She died in 1991.

Doris photographed in 1990 by Lucinda Douglas-Menzies

I have been able to find little of Anna's activities after the Second World War. Her daughter is the reknowned portrait painter Julia Heseltine (who's portrait by Anna Zinkeisen is shown below.) Doris' daughter's were the book illustrators Janet and Anne Graham Johnstone.

A small selection of the Zinkeisen sister's war work can be seen by searching the online collection of the Imperial War Museum. I imagine the bulk of their work from this period today resides in government collections, their other works sell regularly at auction in the low thousands. Their work is scarce and remains relatively unchampioned.

Doris Zinkeisen - "Peggy Woffington"


Doris Zinkeisen - "Industrial Power"


Anna Zinkeisen - "Portrait of Consuela Kennedy" 1937


Anna Zinkeisen - "Dovercourt" Lithograph, 1933.


Anna Zinkeisen - "Portrait of Julia Heseltine"


Doris Zinkeisen - "Flaming Sword of Industry - Planning for continuity of work"


Anna Zinkeisen - "Crocus Time" Lithograph, 1934

3 comments:

Neil said...

In the course of this very detailed, fresh, and informative post you have completely changed my view of the Zinkeisens. Thank you.

curator said...

Many thanks for your kind words Neil. I only wish their work was more widely available so that a fuller picture could be gained of their respective achievements. As is the case with so many others!

Vickie said...

I have a lithograph in originality and frame with all documentation on the back and numbered. May I get more information since it is not on the pictures from the home page?