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Ithell Colquhoun

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Ithell Colquhoun

by Ithell Colquhoun
ink and wash, 1930s?
18 in. x 12 3/4 in. (458 mm x 324 mm)
Given by The National Trust (Cornwall Regional Office), 1999
Primary Collection
NPG 6486

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 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. 71 Read entry

    Poet, author and painter, student of the occult, of alchemy, Celtic lore and mythology, Ithell Colquhoun was born in Assam, India. She studied under Henry Tonks (1862-1937) at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1927 to 1931 and won the Slade Summer Competition Prize in 1929. After this she went to Paris where she met Man Ray, René Magritte (1898-1967), Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí (1904-89) and André Breton, who had published his first Manifeste du Surréalisme in 1924. She travelled further afield in Europe, and on her return in 1936 held her first one-person show in Cheltenham, the same year she showed with the Fine Art Society. That year the New Burlington Gallery held the first International Surrealist Exhibition and Colquhoun attended group meetings with artists such as Sir Roland Penrose, John Banting (1902-72) and Eileen Agar. In the 1940s she married Toni del Renzio (they later divorced), publisher of the Surrealist magazine Arson. Whilst living in Hampstead she wrote Surrealist poetry and started to experiment with 'automatic' painting processes; she also began visiting Cornwall regularly. In 1947 she showed at the Mayor Gallery London, and in 1948 at the Leicester Galleries, London. In September 1949 she bought Gluck's Hampstead studio for £2,500. In 1950 Colquhoun moved to Paul, near Penzance, and showed in Berlin and Hamburg. The Newlyn Orion Gallery held a retrospective of her work in 1976 and the Tate bought her painting Scylla (1938) in 1977. Her writings include The Living Stones (1957), Goose of Hermogenes (1961) and Sword of Wisdom (1975).

    Ithell Colquhoun's portrait of the archaeologist Humfry Payne is in the National Portrait Gallery's collection. The preparatory drawing for this has similarities to her self-portrait - there is a translucency suggested by the ink wash on tracing paper. In her own portrait she makes use of the element of chance, allowing the ink to swirl and flow on the surface of the paper. This 'semi-control' of the medium imparts a feeling of ambiguity and uncertainty - it is experimental, and in this way is an apt visual correlative of her character and her life as a spiritualist.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 138

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Current affairs

Amy Johnson is the first woman to fly solo to Australia. She flew the 11,000 miles from Croydon to Darwin in a De Havilland Gipsy Moth named Jason and won the Harmon Trophy as well as a CBE for her achievement. She went on to break a number of other flying records, and died while serving in the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1941.

Art and science

Noel Coward's play, Private Lives is first performed. The original run starred Gertrude Lawrence and Laurence Olivier as well as Coward himself. Private Lives became Coward's most enduringly successful play.


Gandhi leads the Salt March. The march to the coast was a direct protest against the British monopoly on the sale of salt and inspired hordes of Indians to follow him and adopt his methods of Satyagraha (non-violent resistance to the British rule of India).
Stalin orders the 'liquidation of the kulaks (wealthy farmers) as a class' in a violent attempt to centralise control of agriculture and collectivise farming.

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