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Anna Zinkeisen

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Anna Zinkeisen

by Anna Zinkeisen
oil on canvas, circa 1944
29 5/8 in. x 24 5/8 in. (752 mm x 625 mm)
Purchased, 1986
Primary Collection
NPG 5884

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

In this self-portrait, Anna Zinkeisen looks out at the viewer with a confident gaze and positions herself in the world as artist, woman and worker. The lighting and colouring directs us to her painting arm. The bracelet around her wrist bears the insignia of the St John's Ambulance Brigade for which she was volunteering as a casualty nurse. This self-portrait may have been made in a disused operating theatre at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, where she worked during the Second World War.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Fashion Icons, p. 104
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 227
  • Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 85 Read entry

    Anna Zinkeisen, younger sister of Doris, was born in Kilgreggan, Dunbartonshire. After attending Harrow School of Art, Anna won a scholarship to the Royal Academy, where Sir William Orpen (1878-1931) and Sir George Clausen (1852-1944) were then teaching. Orpen recommended that she transfer to the Sculpture School, which led to her designing bas-relief plaques for Wedgwood; she was the first person since John Flaxman in 1775 to provide original Wedgwood designs. Anna's three plaques won her a silver medal at the Paris Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1925 - in 1921 she had won the Landseer Award of £40 for two years: 'You can't cast aside your great ambitions and your dreams of pure art because you work in an economic and competitive commercial world as well. The idea that the two are incompatible is all wrong.' (Quoted in J. Walpole, ‘Anna’ A Memorial Tribute to Anna Zinkeisen, 1978.) Anna later specialised in pathological and clinical drawing, commenting 'It is amazing the amount of beauty one finds in horrible things like these'. With her sister Doris (as children they were known as 'Big Zinc' - Doris - and 'Little Zinc' - Anna) she painted murals on both the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. During World War II she worked at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, in the mornings nursing in the casualty ward and in the afternoons painting in a disused operating theatre. Examples of her work from this period can be seen at the Imperial War Museum, London.

    This self-portrait, sharply lit from the left-hand side, draws attention to her painting arm, held in contrapposto, enhancing the impression of a confident working woman. Zinkeisen's slightly parted red lips match her sexy décolletage, her gaze is direct and a kiss curl hangs down above her eyebrow. Her bracelet bears the insignia of the St John's Ambulance Brigade: an enamelled Maltese Cross, the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 685
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 213 Read entry

    Having studied painting at the Royal Academy Schools, during the inter-war period Anna Zinkeisen produced designs for advertisements, magazine covers and book jackets, painted portraits, and in 1934 was commissioned to paint a mural, The Four Seasons, for the ocean liner Queen Mary. Throughout this period she exhibited at the Royal Academy. Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, she volunteered for work in the first-aid post at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. During the mornings she provided nursing support in the casualty ward, while her spare time in the afternoons was devoted to painting in a disused operating theatre. As an officer in the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, her experiences enabled her to develop a specialism in pathological and clinical drawing, and she produced numerous meticulous drawings of injuries sustained by victims of bombing raids. This assured self-portrait was painted at that time. The St John’s Ambulance Brigade insignia on her bracelet, an enamelled Maltese Cross, is an allusion to her double-life in art and nursing.

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Events of 1944back to top

Current affairs

London is hit by the V1 Flying Bomb. This weapon, developed by the German Luftwaffe and colloquially known as the 'Buzz Bomb', or 'Doodlebug', was the first guided missile and was used for attacks on targets in England and Belgium.

Art and science

Laurence Olivier's epic film version of Henry V is released. Olivier directed and starred in the film, which was partly funded by the British government in recognition of its morale-boosting patriotic appeal. The cast included service men as Henry's army.


France is liberated from German-occupation following the Battle for Normandy. Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of occupied-France led by Field Marshall Montgomery, was the largest seaborne invasion in history, involving almost three million soldiers crossing the channel from England to France. Troops landed on the 6th June (D-Day), and Paris was liberated in late August.

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