Work Artists record of mural designed for the Arts and Crafts exhibition, Royal Academy, 1916


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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).

Additional information

Dimensions 95.2 × 27.9 cm