Corps de Ballet
Corps de Ballet


Corps de Ballet

c. 1950 United Kingdom

Offered by Darnley Fine Art

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Doris Clare Zinkeisen

1897 - 1991

Corps de Ballet

Oil on canvas, signed bottom left

Image size: 26¾ x 30¾ inches

Doris Clare Zinkeisen was a painter, illustrator, costume and theatrical designer and commercial artist. She studied at Harrow School of Art, and then won a Scholarship to the Royal Academy schools in 1917.

In London she shared a studio with her sister Anna and during the 1920's and 30's both embarked on a wide variety of artistic projects including costume, poster and advertisement design, mural painting and traditional painting. Doris married in 1927 and by 1929 had exhibited at The Royal Academy and won medals at the Paris Salon. In 1936 Doris contributed murals to the RMS Queen Mary and in 1940 to the RMS Queen Elizabeth. Her lifestyle is reflected in her art, a mixture of society portraiture, animal portraiture including horses and their riders, and genre scenes set in the parks of London and Paris showing women in beautiful gowns taking tea, walking their dog and riding horses.

Doris rose to major prominence for her costume design during this period. Although she only worked on a handful of films, all of them are now regarded as British classics of the era. They included Bitter Sweet, Peg of Old Drury, Victoria the Great and the 1936 American screen version of Show Boat. She worked extensively on theatre productions with Noel Coward.

In 1941 both sisters were recruited as official war artists for the North West Europe Commission of the Joint War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John. Early on in the war they worked as auxiliary nurses in St. Mary's hospital, Paddington. During this period they would work in the mornings then spend the afternoons painting in a disused operating theatre, recording the events of the day.

By the middle of the 1940's it is known that Doris was touring Belgium, France and Germany in her capacity as war artist. In 1945 she arrived at Belsen Concentration Camp immediately after its liberation, in time to document the movement of 28,000 former inmates, attempts to care for and rehabilitate them and the aftermath of the operation in which 13,000 of them that were beyond help died.

Doris later wrote that "the shock of Belsen was never to be forgotten." It is testament to her versatility as an artist that she was able to produce work based on the things she had seen. Her palette had gradually darkened from the pastel pinks and blues in her park scenes of the 20's and 30's, becoming grimmer and more washed out towards the end of the 30's. In her war paintings she communicates in the muted greys, browns and ochres of her contemporaries such as Eric Ravilious and Stanley Spencer. Her 1945 paintings seem almost dead - full of black, grey and brown.

Doris was tortured for the rest of her life by her experiences at Belsen. Her son described the "heart rendering" agony of the letters she wrote to her husband while working at the camp. She confided to her family that the sights she had seen had been terrible, but it was the smell of the place that had stayed with her. After the war she returned to London and resumed her work as a theatrical designer and artist, albeit on a lesser scale, until 1972. She died in 1991.

A small selection of the Zinkeisen war work can be seen by searching the online collection of the Imperial War Museum. The bulk of her work from this period today resides in government collections.
Height 26.75 inch (67.94 cm)
Width 30.75 inch (78.10 cm)
Oil on canvas
Signed bottom left
Darnley Fine Art

Darnley Fine Art

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