She may not sound it, but Doris Zinkeisen was half-Welsh and half-
Scottish. She began her training in Glasgow and won a scholarship to the
Royal Academy Schools where she started in July 1917. She had already
been singled out by Charles Sims RA to contribute a seventeen-foot
mural to the Royal Academy’s Arts and Crafts exhibition of the previous
year. It represented Work’ but, along with Sims’ thirty-foot wide canvas
for the same show, was considered lost until both were discovered in
2015, rolled up on the floor of a basement packing area of the Royal
Academy. Zinkeisen’s full-scale mural has been nibbled around the edges,
especially at the top and right-hand side, but what was either a study for
it or a record of the composition survives in perfect condition, in the
form of this present smaller oil on panel. It amply reveals her flair for
design and lively sense of humour, with a clever combination of patterns,
colour repetitions and variations across its surface. The three bowlerhatted
city types, in their matching spats, are wittily echoed in the three
labourer’s picks and even in the portly, bowler-wearing costermonger’s
bananas. The ladder at the left, the cart, the wheel and donkey, initiate
the movement that drives the whole composition from left to right.
The backward gesture of the costermonger only serves to emphasise the
unstoppable momentum against the vertical intervals of the background
buildings. It is a pageant of delightful variety, but one where all are
caught up in that familiar morning rush: to work.
Commentary by Robin Simon, Editor of The British Art Journal and Visiting Professor of English at UCL. His latest book is The Royal Academy of Arts: History and Collections (2018).