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Anna Zinkeisen 

(Kilcreggan 1901-1976 London)

Shell Fantasy, c.1935

oil and mixed media bricolage of glass, coral and faux pearl beads, and chilli seeds on board

signed lower right ‘Anna Zinkeisen’

30 x 40 cm.


Acquired from the artist and by descent until May 2023.

It’s most likely this intriguing watery reverie by Anna Zinkeisen was painted between 1934 and 1935, when the artist was commissioned, alongside her sister Doris, by the Clydebank shipbuilders John Brown and Company to paint murals on the ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. This would makes sense of why she was specifically experimenting with martitime and nautical themes, and indeed in the end she painted a shell scene on the promenade deck of the ship. 

In early 1935 Anna Zinkeisen had also exhibited a number of pieces of jewellery, including a tiara made from coral and faux pearls, at the Royal Academy in the exhibition “British art in industry” (5 January 1935 to 9 March 1935). At the time, she was heavily involved in theatrical set and costume design, and was producing far more imaginative paintings than her equally talented, but perhaps less eccentric sister, Doris, whose mainstay was portraiture. Although there is no record of the present work having been exhibited, it cannot be a coincidence that Anna was working with these materials at that time. 

The juxtaposition of ornamental fan-tail fresh water fish with small silver sardines [?], in a sea-scape with a conch and sea urchins, firmly sets this scene in the realm of fantasy. The conch shell has long associations with Venus, fertility and the female form, and I am grateful to Geoffrey Munn for instantly connecting the shell with its overspill of jewels with a scene from Gray's Elegy:

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene

The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear ....”

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