Mirror Mirror - Portrait 14

Doris Zinkeisen (1898-1991)
Exhibited 1929
Oil on canvas, 1072 x 866mm (4214 x 3418")
National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 6487)

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 (see p.85), 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.