Of her formal training Colquhoun once wrote “I learnt to draw at the Slade School. I have not yet learnt to paint. I am teaching myself to carve and to write. Sometimes I copy nature, sometimes imagination: they are equally useful. My life is uneventful but I sometimes have an interesting dream.” (1) The training was successful enough for her to be awarded joint first prize in the Slade School of Art Summer Composition Prize, in 1929 for a large oil painting Judith Showing the Head of Holofernes.
Many of her paintings from this period were on classical themes. Judgement of Paris (1930) and Susanna and the Elders (1930) are examples of subjects that could have been tackled by artists at any time in the preceding three hundred years. However, although the subject matter was traditional, her interpretations were contemporary, frequently reversing and challenging traditional gender roles. Rather than providing an opportunity for the artist to paint voluptuous female flesh, the women in her paintings are powerful and assertive, never subservient. Her male figures are often indecisive, sometimes foolish.
As well as displaying compositional abilities, Colquhoun was adept at handling works on a large scale as well as a small one. Death of the Virgin (1931) and Aaron Meeting Moses in the Desert (1932), for example, are physically imposing works, each over six feet high. She wished to develop her skills in this direction and applied in three successive years from 1931 to 1933 for the Rome Scholarship in Mural Painting. Each time, she was unsuccessful. Some of the works that she submitted can be identified from inscriptions on the reverse (e.g. Mrs. Paul c.1929)
1. Colquhoun, I. What do I need to paint a picture? London Bulletin, No. 17, 15th June 1939. p.13. With four photographs of the artist. Reprinted in: P Rosemont (ed) Surrealist Women. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998.
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