ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe



Oil on board. 58 x 14in. (147.4 x 35cm.) Signed with an early variant of the monogram and dated lower right. Provenance Sotheby’s, studio sale, 24 April 1985, lot 545. With the Pruskin Gallery in 1985. Sotheby's, 7 March 1990, lot 388, ill. b/w. Christie’s, 14 Oct. 2004, lot 312. Private collection. Exhibited London, FBA Galleries, 1963, no. 227. London, RWS Galleries, ca. 1963, no. 87. Berlin, Kunstamt Wilmersdorf, 1969, no. 6, as Tropfstein. Bristol, The Arts Centre, 1970, no. 4. Exeter, City Art Gallery, 1972, no. 18, as oil on canvas. London, Blond Fine Art, 1985, no. 48. Edinburgh, Arusha Gallery, 2021. The dramatically elongated shape of this painting echoes the tall, thin form of the stalagmite that dominates the left-hand side of the composition. The viewer is situated in the deep recesses of a cave and looks out, along the passageway, past the phallic stalactite, over the mysterious rock pools to the sea and clitoris-shaped island beyond. The painting makes direct references to sexuality and the sexual forms contained within nature. Rock formations in the foreground have clear labial forms, balancing the phallic stalactite. Neil Scott suggests, almost certainly correctly, that the setting for the painting is Nanjizal, (Mill Bay) to the south-east of Lands End. Although the location is not particularly remote, it is inaccessible by car and can only be reached on foot from the coastal footpath. The zawn pyg (song of the sea) is a tall, narrow natural arch sited at the south end of the bay. Access to the arch is dependent upon the state of the tide. There is no record of Colquhoun visting Nanjizal, but there is a photograph of the moonlit bay in The Living Stones, p. 64. Stalactites are formed by the metamorphosis of mineral-laden drops of water into calcite. Because the calcite form in the painting rises from the floor of the cave, technically it is a stalagmite. Because of their vulva-like entrances into mother earth, and the link that they make between the surface and the womb-like underworld - the subterranean level of the tiered cosmos- caves occupy a special place in myth and legend. Caves also held esoteric significance for Colquhoun who saw them as power-centres of the earth: ‘I realized that the Earth is a being and that certain places on its surface leading to its interior are conducive to different kinds of esoteric perception.’ (Unpublished dream diaries, private collection.) She described such places as ‘fountains out of Hecate’, and as the mundane chakras of the Earth. There are a large number of preparatory studies for the lower rock-pool section and the decalcomania counterpart of the upper section, all with the NT.