ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
© All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe 2015-16  All artworks copyright the estate of the artist.

biography

chronology 1906  Born 9 October at Shillong, Assam, India. Sun in Libra, Moon in Gemini, Venus in Scorpio, Mars in the mid-heaven, Sagittarius rising, ruling planet = Jupiter. Christened on Christmas Day. 1911  Recorded in the U.K. national census of April 3rd as living in Ventnor, Isle of Wight, with mother, brother, aunt and two servants. 1919  September; enrols at Cheltenham Ladies College. Studies there until July 1925. 1926  Enrols at Cheltenham School of Arts and Crafts. Writes script, designs costumes and performs in a one act play Bird of Hermes. 1928  October. Begins studies at the Slade School of Art, London. Described at the completion of her studies by the head of the painting department, Allan Gwynne Jones, as “one of the most brilliant students we have had” and by Professor Tonks as “an artist of rare ability with a very original and quick mind.” 1928  Member of the Quest Society, founded by G.R.S. Mead, former private secretary to Helene Blavatsky, in 1909. 1929  Awarded joint first prize in the Summer Composition, Slade School of Art for large oil painting  Judith Showing the Head of Holofernes. 1930  Publishes first article, The Prose of Alchemy, later described by the poet David Gascoyne as “one of the best, most stimulating, short introductions to the subject of alchemy considered as imaginative literature, that exists in English.” Joins the newly formed Search Society, founded by E.J.L. Garstin (Colquhoun’s cousin) that replaces the recently defunct Quest Society: attends meetings and gives papers. 1931  Unsuccessfully competes for the Rome Scholarship in Mural Painting (and also in 1932 and 1933).  First visit to Paris and exposure to work of surrealist artists, especially Salvador Dali. 1933  Commences extensive and intense correspondence with Humfry Payne, archaeologist and Director of  the British School  at Athens, whom she had met in Greece. 1936  First solo exhibitions, in Cheltenham and London. The former is an eclectic mixture of styles and  subject matter, the latter, largely paintings of plants and flowers, in her ‘magic realism’ style,  showing the influence of Salvador Dali. Local dignitary J.D. Flowerdew Lowson purchases the oil painting Canna at at the Cheltenham exhibition and presents it to Cheltenham Art Gallery – her first work to enter a public collection. Visits the International Surrealist Exhibition, New Burlington Galleries, London (June 11 – July 4). 1937  Completes decorations for Morton in Marsh District Hospital, Gloucestershire. 1939  Joint exhibition with Roland Penrose at the Mayor Gallery, London.  Visits André Breton, the leader of the surrealists, in Paris. Spends time with Roberto Matta, Gordon Onslow-Ford, and other surrealists at Chemillieu: first exposure to automatic methods of painting. Contributes short prose pieces to London Bulletin. 1940  Refuses to give unconditional support to E.L.T. Mesens who was running the London Surrealist Group; effectively banned from the group. Commences friendship with Francesc d’Assís Galí, exiled Spanish artist and politician. 1941  Makes contact with poets and writers connected with the New Apocalypse movement; commences correspondence with the poet JF Hendry, sending him stories and poems. They discuss  the possibilities for apocalypticism in painting. One of her poems, Apparition, set to music by the composer Norman Demuth. 1943  Saves Toni del Renzio, a Russian born Italian poet, painter and activist from bankruptcy by paying  his printer’s debts, incurred by the publication of the magazine Arson. July 10; marries Toni del Renzio at the Registry Office, Brentford. Witnesses are Conroy Maddox and  Olive Bellamy. Employed for a short spell as Art Mistress at the Damian School, Ruislip, Middlesex, a preparatory school for girls; examples of work by her students are accepted for exhibition by the British Council. 1945  Publishes a series of technical articles on fresco techniques in The Illustrated Carpenter and Builder.  Is sent a publisher’s contract in March for Osmazone, an illustrated anthology of her poetry and prose- poems. The project stalls for unknown reasons. 1946  Publication of first commercial work - the cover painting for the June issue of Ideal Home magazine. 1947  Divorced. Two solo shows at the Mayor Gallery, one each devoted to paintings and drawings. Most works employ automatic methods of painting and drawing. 1949  Publishes The Mantic Stain, the first account in English of a range of automatisms. Begins to rent Vow Cave, a basic tin and timber studio and living accommodation in Lamorna Valley, Cornwall. 1950  Designs cover for Eidos magazine, 'a journal of painting sculpture and design' which runs for three issues. 1951 November. Demonstrates automatic methods of painting to Cambridge University Society of Arts. 1952  Adopts magical motto: Splendidior Vitro.  Admitted to the O.T.O. 1955  Admitted to the New Isis Lodge of the O.T.O. Publishes The Crying of the Wind: Ireland. 1957  Publishes The Living Stones: Cornwall. ?1959 Acquires Polgreen Cottage, Paul, near Penzance, Cornwall. Renames it later as Stone Cross Cottage. The exact date of her permanent relocation is unknown. She is recorded on the electoral roll for Windmill Hill, London in 1960 and may have maintained two properties for a while. 1961  Publishes novel, Goose of Hermogenes. Visits Brittany with Ross Nichols, a leading British Druid and Robert MacGregor-Reid, Chief of the Druid Order. Takes part in a Breton Gorsedd and attends a religious Pardon. Ordained as Deaconess in the Saint Église Celtique en Bretagne – the Ancient Celtic Church. 1962  Starts to sign works with monogram derived from her magical motto rather than her given and family name. 1963  Initiated as a master mason into the Holy Grail Lodge No 5. 1964  Begins to use enamel paint to produce ‘convulsive landscapes’.    Begins making Merz collages, influenced by Kurt Schwitters. 1965  Conferred a Lady of Honour of the Order of the Keltic Cross. 1966  Holidays in Egypt, undertaking a Nile cruise and visiting many of the classic archaeological sites. Writes an illustrated book The Blue Anoubis (unpublished), in part a travel diary, in part her reflections on the Egyptian pantheon, following this trip. 1967  Appointed Bardess of the Clan Colquhoun. 1968  Publishes the first of a series of seven articles on holiday travel for the Times Educational  Supplement. 1972  Retrospective exhibition at the City of Exeter Art Gallery. 1975  Publishes Sword of Wisdom, a biography of MacGregor Mathers, the founder of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. 1976  Major retrospective held at the Newlyn Gallery, Penzance. Ninety works on show. 1977  Exhibition of paintings of a pack of Taro cards at the Newlyn Gallery.   Ordained as a Priestess of Isis by the Fellowship of Isis. 1988  Dies 11th April of heart failure at the Menwinnion Country House Hotel in Lamorna.
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