Anna Katrina Zinkeisen, RDI VPROI RP NS (1901-1976)
Anna Zinkeisen was one of the most prolific, enterprising and successful artists working in Britain during the twentieth century. Best known for her assured and stylish society portraits and mural decorations, she worked as a wide-ranging painter, draughtsman, illustrator and designer. Between the wars, she developed a particular facility for elegant pastiche fantasy, and through it added to the sparkle of the Bright Young Things. Anna Zinkeisen was born in Kilcreggan, Dunbartonshire (now Argyll & Bute), Scotland, on 28 August 1901, and spent her early years at ‘Woodburn’, Rosneath, Kilcreggan. She was the youngest of three children of the yarn and shirt manufacturer, Victor Zinkeisen, and his wife, Clara (née Charles). Her elder sister was the painter and stage designer, Doris Zinkeisen (and Doris’s twin daughters were the artists, Anne and Janet Grahame Johnstone).
In 1909, the Zinkeisens moved south, and settled at The Elms, Oakhill Avenue, Pinner, Middlesex.
Having been privately educated at home, Anna decided at the age of 11 that she wanted to become an artist, and entered Harrow Technical School, alongside her sister, Doris, to study drawing and anatomy. In 1917, at the age of 15, she won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools (as did her sister). She stayed until 1923, receiving several silver and bronze medals and twice winning the Landseer Scholarship in painting (1920, 1921). Despite this dedication and success, she also spent the months from May 1918 to January 1919 as a nurse for the St John’s Ambulance at the Voluntary Aid Hospital, Northwood, Middlesex, as her contribution to the war effort (and, again, alongside her sister).
In 1918, Doris showed a portrait of Anna as her first exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts. Anna herself would exhibit paintings at the Royal Academy between 1921 and 1964. The sisters lived and worked together at a studio at 10 Yeoman’s Row, off the Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, from 1922, moving to 8 St Andrew’s Place, Regent’s Park, about two years later.
One of Anna’s Royal Academy teachers, Sir William Orpen, encouraged her to study sculpture and, while still a student, she accepted a commission from Wedgwood to design and model three jasperware medallions: ‘Adam’, ‘Eve’ and ‘Sun and Wind’. She produced these in an Art Deco style in 1924, and in 1925 exhibited two of them in Paris at the Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs, winning a silver medal. Despite this success, she soon gave up sculpture in favour of two-dimensional design, illustration and painting, and would specialise in portraits and mural decoration.
From the 1920s, Anna Zinkeisen exhibited widely in London and provincial centres, and also abroad, including the Society of Women Artists (1927-29), the Royal Glasgow Institute (1923-59), the Royal Scottish Academy (1927-44), and especially the Royal Institute of Painters in Oils (elected a member in 1929, and later Vice-President), the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (a member) and the National Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers (a founder member in 1930). She won silver medals at the Royal Academy (in 1925, for a self-portrait) and the Paris Salon (in 1926).
By the mid 1920s, Anna Zinkeisen was demonstrating her versatility as an illustrator of refined and witty dust jackets, periodical covers and books, including two titles each by A P Herbert and Noel Streatfeild and three by Margery Sharp. She also designed advertisements and posters, including several for London Transport and Shell-Mex.
In 1928, Anna Zinkeisen married Colonel Guy Heseltine MC in Marylebone, and continued to live with him at 8 St Andrew’s Place (Dora moving to nearby Chester Place). Their only child, Julia, would also become a painter.
In 1934, Anna Zinkeisen was commissioned to design the decor of the Cabin Class Ballroom of the liner, Queen Mary, and, as a result, produced the quasi-mythological mural, The Four Seasons (which was later destroyed). In 1947, she produced a further mural, The Chase, for a smaller dance room and restaurant of the Queen Mary. Her sister, Doris, designed the Verandah Grill on the same ship, and both artists also worked on the Queen Elizabeth. In 1938, her collaborations with, the interior decorator, Betty Joel, were exhibited at Joel’s London gallery. In 1940, she was made a Royal Designer for Industry for her achievements in both graphics and mural painting.
During the Second World War, both Anna and Doris Zinkeisen served as auxiliary nurses for the Order of St John at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. During the day, they nursed air raid victims, while, after their shifts, they painted in a disused operating theatre, each producing several works for the War Artists Advisory Committee. Anna also made anatomical and pathological drawings of war injuries for the Royal College of Surgeons. This work was featured in her solo show, ‘Art & Medicine, held at the Parsons Gallery, London, in 1953. She continued to support the St John’s Ambulance and, in 1952 and 1955, produced paintings of its staff to be reproduced in its publicity campaigns.
In the post-war period, Anna Zinkeisen and her family divided their time between 14 Alexander Place, South Kensington, and Looms Cottage, Boulge Road, Burgh, near Woodbridge, Suffolk. She continued to produce a wide range of work, from portraits and murals to illustrations and small-scale designs. Commissions included the annual Christmas card for the Royal Society of Arts (1949-73) and murals of the Great Fire of London for the new London showrooms of the linoleum manufacturer, Barry Staines Ltd (1955). In 1962, she held a solo show of ‘Portraits and Other Paintings’ at the galleries of the Federation of British Artists.
Following the death of her husband, Guy, in 1967, Anna Zinkeisen painted a memorial mural, showing birds of the Bible, in St Botolph’s Church, Burgh. She lived latterly at 23 Cheyne Court, Chelsea, and died on 23 September 1976.
Her work is represented in the collections of the Imperial Health Charity Art Collection and the Royal Society of Arts, and numerous public collections.
Further reading: Philip Kelleway, Highly Desirable: The Zinkeisen Sisters and Their Legacy, Leiston: Leiston Press, 2008; Josephine Walpole, Anna: a memorial tribute to Anna Zinkeisen, London: Royle Publications, 1979; Alan Windsor, ‘Zinkeisen, Anna Katrina (1901–1976)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/45807