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Doris Zinkeisen

© estate of Doris Clare Zinkeisen

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Doris Zinkeisen

by Doris Zinkeisen
oil on canvas, exhibited 1929
42 1/4 in. x 34 1/8 in. (1072 mm x 866 mm)
Purchased, 1999
Primary Collection
NPG 6487

Sitterback to top

  • Doris Clare Zinkeisen (1897-1991), Painter, stage-set and costume designer, writer and equestrian champion. Sitter in 19 portraits, Artist of 2 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Doris Clare Zinkeisen (1897-1991), Painter, stage-set and costume designer, writer and equestrian champion. Artist of 2 portraits, Sitter in 19 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The self-portrait was made while the artist was on a world tour, and was mostly painted in her hotel bedroom in Sydney.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Fashion Icons, p. 91
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 228
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 228
  • 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. 67 Read entry

    Doris Zinkeisen was born in Gareloch, Argyllshire, but her father's family were originally from Bohemia and had settled in Scotland two hundred years before. Like her younger sister, Anna, Doris attended Harrow School of Art and won a scholarship to the Royal Academy. She was awarded Bronze, Silver and Gold medals at the Salon in Paris. On leaving the Academy she went to work in stage design for the actor-manager Sir Nigel Playfair (1874-1934), who also wanted her to sing, but she was adamant that she should remain 'behind the scenes'. She designed costumes and sets for the Old Vic Theatre productions of Arms and the Man and Richard III with Sir Ralph Richardson, Dame Sybil Thorndike and Laurence Olivier, Baron Olivier (also creating Olivier's make-up for the film). She painted the mural for the Verandah Grill on the Queen Mary in 1936 and in 1938 she wrote Designing for the Stage. During World War II she was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee and was one of the first artists to enter Belsen in April 1945, where she stayed for three days. Two of the paintings she made there can be seen in the Imperial War Museum, London.

    Like her sister, Doris wears a good deal of make-up in her self-portrait and uses dramatic colouring to enhance the effect. The rather exotic, heavily embroidered Chinese shawl draped off her shoulders lends a provocative air. She seems about to leave the set, pulling aside the black curtain with a hand half-covered by the black edging of the shawl, its manicured fingernails painted an eye-catching red. The portrait was painted mostly in her hotel bedroom in Sydney, Australia, whilst she was on a world tour. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1929 under her married name, Mrs Grahame Johnstone, both ironically denying her connection with the creation of the image and asserting her social position.

  • Rideal, Liz, Insights: Self-portraits, 2005, p. 41 Read entry

    Doris Zinkeisen wears a Chinese embroidered shawl, which dominates the painting and emphasises her revealing décolletage. The dramatic double sweep of the white sheet contrasts with the shawl’s vibrant pattern, hinting at her theatrical work and reflecting a knowledge of body language. The shawl’s fringe draws attention to her elegant hands tapering to red painted nails, which in turn are echoed in her blood-red lipstick.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 685

Placesback to top

  • Place made: Australia (Hotel bedroom, Sydney, Australia)

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1929back to top

Current affairs

The first election held under universal suffrage is a victory for Labour. Ramsay Macdonald returned for his second term as Prime Minster, and appointed Margaret Grace Bondfield as the first woman Cabinet Minister.

Art and science

Two classic books about the First World War are published: All Quiet on the Western Front, by war veteran, Erich Maria Remarque, tells of the horrors of war and the returning German soldiers' feelings of detachment from civilian life; while Robert Grave's autobiography Goodbye to All That, aimed to describe the author's experiences of the war so that they 'need never be thought about again'.


The 24th October 1929 becomes known as Black Thursday when the US Stock Exchange Collapses and millions are lost. The event was the start of the Wall Street Crash, which in turn contributed towards the Great Depression: a major international recession that lasted through most of the 1930s.

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