Mirror Mirror - Portrait 20

Elsie Queen (EQ) Nicholson (1908-92)
Coloured inks and wax-resist crayon on paper, 484 x 410mm (19 x 1618")
National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 6444)

Elsie Queen Nicholson was the granddaughter of Eveleen Myers (see pp.50-51). When she was twenty her parents moved to Leckhampton House, where EQ, as she was known, designed the interior. In 1931 she married Kit Nicholson, youngest son of the artist Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949) and Mabel Pryde. EQ had learnt the art of batik in Paris during 1926 and back in London worked in this medium for the designer Marion Dorn. EQ continued to work whilst raising her family of three, printing with lino on fabric. In 1941 she started to paint and in 1945 made designs for machine printing for Alastair Morton of Edinburgh Weavers. In 1950 she showed paintings with Keith Vaughan (1912-77) and Peter Rose Pulham (1910-56) at the Hanover Gallery and the following year her wallpapers were produced by Cole and Son. EQ gave up fabric painting at the end of the 1950s, only resuming her design activities in the 1980s when she started making rugs. Her work is in the collection of the Tate and has been compared to that of Eric Ravilious (1903-42) and Edward Bawden (1903-89), both of whom were artists and designers.
EQ was a great admirer of Braque, and there are shades of Cubism in this graphic yet dreamy work. In the lop-sided composition the glowing yellow/white head is balanced against the dark right-hand side of the page. This imbalance is underscored by the differentiation between her eyes but the effect is readjusted by the symmetry of her plaits and severe middle parting. There is a hint of a smile, almost a wink, at the viewer for being duped into thinking that portraiture is only about regular proportions. What seems simple here is in fact remarkably complex.