Female artists at the Palace of Arts, Empire Exhibition 1938

“There is no such thing as a woman artist. There are only two kinds of artist – bad and good. You can call me a good artist if you like.” Ethel Walker, 1938.

The Palace of Arts at the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow was temporarily home to the artworks of 139 British and Scottish artists. The exhibition displayed work from both the 19th and 20th century and lasted the length of the Exhibition from 3rd May until 29th October. Only eight of the 139 artists shown were female.

Throughout this article I aim to bring attention to these eight artists by documenting the artworks that were shown at the Palace of Arts. Some of the artists are more well-known than others and have been easier to research, while others have been much more challenging. Some of the artworks have also been difficult to research and to document; the ones in black and white have been taken directly from The Illustrated Souvenir of the Palace of Arts, a catalogue in our archive detailing the artworks shown,as I have been unable to find any other copy of the artwork online. The information in the catalogue is vague at best and contains only the name of the artist, the title of the artwork, and sometimes the collection the artwork was from. I have listed the artworks in the order they are shown in the catalogue.

In the Wood, now known as A Girl of the Sixties, c. 1900, previously owned by John Keppie, Esq., R.S.A, now held at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre.

Elizabeth “Bessie” MacNicol (1869 – 1904) Scottish

MacNicol was born in Glasgow and studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1887 to 1893, when Francis Newberry was head of the school. She was one of only two female Scottish artist included in the exhibition. One of the Glasgow Girls, her contemporaries included the Macdonald sisters, Jessie Keppie and Kate Cameron. She was closely associated with the Glasgow Boys and painted E A Hornel’s portrait in 1896 while spending time in Kirkcudbright. Once graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, she exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1893 before travelling to Paris and studying at the Académie Colarossi. MacNicol exhibited regularly at The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts from 1893 to 1904, occasionally at the Royal Scottish Academy and the International Society in London, as well as exhibiting in cities in Europe and America, including Ghent, Munich, Vienna, Pittsburgh and St Louis. She opened her studio at 175 St Vincent Street in 1896 and held a solo exhibition at Stephen Gooden’s Art Rooms in 1899. In the same year she married fellow artist Alexander Frew on 19th April and moved to their home in Hillhead which included a large studio.

Glasgow Museums has in their collection five oil paintings by MacNicol, dating from between 1889 and 1904.

MacNicol tragically died of eclampsia aged only thirty four. The Glasgow Herald wrote in her obituary on the 7th June 1904, ‘So brilliant was her work and of such promise that it is felt that her premature death has robbed Scotland of one who should have left a name worthy to rank with the best of her artist sons.’

MacNicol’s artworks are included in the collections of the Ferens Art Gallery, Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, National Galleries of Scotland, The National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House and Garden, as well as the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre.

Lady Smiley, current whereabouts unknown.

Flora Lion (1878 – 1958) English

Lion was born in London to an English father and a French mother. She had an extensive education, studying at St John’s Wood School of Art in 1894, the Royal Academy Schools from 1895 to 1899 and the Académie Julian from 1899 to 1900. Her work was exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1900. She married Ralph P. Amato in 1915, who then took her name. Lion’s artworks include portraits, landscapes, murals and lithographs. She was also commissioned to paint factory scenes of the home front during the First World War. She was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1909, the National Portrait Society in 1910 and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1911. Lion died on 15 May in London. 

The portrait is of Lady Smiley (1909 – 1999), néeBeaton, married to Sir Hugh Houston Smiley and sister to Cecil Beaton. The only information on the painting is the title and the artist, there is no note of when it was painted or where it resided permanently in 1938. Since there is no note of the painting included in a collection, I would assume it is held privately. As the painting is titled ‘Lady Smiley’ it is clear it was painted after she was married in 1933.

Ballet, 1936, Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Dame Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) English

Dame Laura Knight was a successful artist during her lifetime and has an impressive and extensive biography.

She was born in Long Eaton, Derbyshire and lived in Nottingham, Cornwall and London. Her painting Ballet was first shown in 1936 at the Royal Academy in London. Similar in subject matter to that of Degas’ ballet artworks, comparisons were made between this painting and his work. Knight was the first woman to be elected as a Royal Academician in 1934 since the original women members Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser, the first to have a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy and the first female artist to be named Dame of the British Empire. She was the only woman to be given commissions in both World Wars and in 1946, aged sixty-nine, she was commissioned as the only British artist to cover the Nuremberg Trials.

Knight worked in many different mediums including oils, watercolours, printmaking, ceramics, glass, enamel and jewellery. She also designed posters for charities, gallery exhibitions and transport companies, as well as costumes for theatre and ballet productions.

Knight exhibited work many times throughout her career and exhibited every year (except 1918 and 1922) at the Royal Academy from 1903 until 1970, she exhibited over 190 works at the Royal Watercolour Society from 1930 and over 400 works at the Leicester Galleries, London. She also has permanent works in international galleries in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Europe.    

Knight’s artworks are currently in collections including the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Craven Museum & Gallery, Roebuck Collection, Falmouth Art Gallery, Ferens Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, Gracefield Arts Centre, Grundy Art Gallery, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Laing Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, McLean Museum and Art Gallery, National Museum Wales, National Museum Cardiff, National Portrait Gallery London, New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester Arts and Museum Service and Newnham College, University of Cambridge.

Portrait of Mrs Bernard Watson, current whereabouts unknown.

Anna Katrina Zinkeisen (1901 – 1976) Scottish - German

Zinkeisen was born in Kilcreggan, Dunbartonshire. In 1909 she moved with her family to Harrow, Middlesex. Zinkeisen entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1917 where she studied painting under Sir George Clausen, Glyn Philpot and Charles Sims. In 1925 she won an award for two reliefs at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. As well as paintings, Zinkeisen’s works include reliefs, designs for magazine covers and book jackets, the image on De Reszke cigarette packaging and advertisements. She shared a studio with her sister, Doris, in south west London from 1922 until 1928. Zinkeisen exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy when she was only eighteen years of age, and then regularly there and at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. She also exhibited two works, ‘The Olympians’ and ‘The Tilting Yard’ at the Society of Women Artists in 1927. She won an award from the academy in 1925 for her self-portrait AKZ.

Zinkeisen was commissioned in 1934 to paint a mural, titled The Four Seasons for the ballroom of the liner Queen Mary and another mural in 1947 for the dance room and restaurant of the liner The Chase. During the Second World War she worked as a volunteer in the first aid post at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington and became an officer in the St John Ambulance Brigade. During this time she also completed many paintings and drawings depicting war-time scenes on the home front. Her later portraits include those of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956, Sir Robert Mark in 1974 and Sister Grace Alexander of the Royal Homeopathic Hospital in 1976. She died in Holborn, London of a short illness on 22 September.

The current whereabouts of Portrait of Mrs. Bernard Watson are unknown and the only copy I can find of the portrait is from the original 1938 Illustrated Souvenir of the Palace of Arts, printed in black and white.

Zinkeisen’s works can be found in collections including the National Portrait Gallery, Beecroft Art Gallery, Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Christ’s College, University of Cambridge, Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection, Imperial War Museum London, Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, Museum of the Order of St John, National Trust, Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum and Village, Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum, Royal Society of Arts, St George’s, University of London and UCLH Arts Store. 

The Pink Teacup, current whereabouts unknown.

Ethel Leontine Gabain (1883 – 1950) French – English

Gabain was born in Le Havre and travelled to London to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. She was a successful lithographer and painter who was commissioned to produce lithographs on the subject is the Women’s Voluntary Service during the Second World War. In 1944 she was commissioned to paint a portrait of Alexander Fleming, a suggestion she herself made. She wrote to the War Artists Advisory Committee, ‘It is miraculous what penicillin has done. It has saved numberless lives on all the battle fronts, and every day it is becoming more potent as a saver of life – it seems a thing so worthy of record in all the destruction of war.’

Gabain’s artworks are included in the collections of the Bushey Museum and Gallery, Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, Grosvenor Museum, Imperial War Museum London, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Town Hall, McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, Salford Museum & Art Gallery, Southwark Art Collection, Touchstones Rochdale, Walker Art Gallery, Watford Museum and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Mother and Child, current whereabouts unknown.

Lady (Agnes) Freda Forres (c.1880 – 1942) English.

Forres was born in Weybridge, London. She is known as a sculptor, patron and philanthropist. Her exact date of birth is uncertain as information from her early life is scarce, a possible reason for this is that she was sent to school abroad. Forres was the daughter of Lord Herschell, high Solicitor-General from 1880 – 85, Lord High Chancellor in 1886 and 1892 – 95, and married Lord Forres, businessman and philanthropist in 1912. She studied under Charles Sargeant Jagger circa 1926 and commissioned him to make a relief The Mocking Birds in 1930. John Singer Sargent drew a charcoal sketch of her in 1914. She exhibited the sculpture Faun at The Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, The One-Hundreth-Centenary Exhibition in 1926 and five times at The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts (Summer Exhibition) from 1926 to 1938. She also exhibited a bronze bust portrait at the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris in 1926 and a plaster bust in 1927. She worked on committees welcoming and supporting allied forces during the Second World War. She died tragically on 5 May after falling beneath a tube train at Green Park Station, London. 

Polar Bears, 1938(?), current whereabouts unknown.

Phyllis Mary Bone (1894 – 1972) English

Bone was born in Lancashire but attended Edinburgh College of Art from 1912 – 1918. She is known for her animal sculptures and statuettes, however some of her best known works are architectural. These works include the heraldic carvings on the south front of the Scottish National War Memorial and the entrance of the memorial commemorating the animals used by armed forces during the First World War, the reliefs at the Ashworth Laboratories at Edinburgh University and the lion and unicorn reliefs at St Andrew’s House, Regent Road. Bone exhibited her work at no less than thirty three Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture exhibitions and became the first woman to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1944. She also exhibited at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Scottish Artists in 1931, the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, the 1922 Group Exhibition in Edinburgh. She died in Dumfries. 

The Joy Ride, 1934, current whereabouts unknown.

Erica Lee (1898 - 1980) English

Lee was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire and was active from 1920 to 1960. She studied under E. Whitney-Smith and Sir William Reid Dick, both associate members of the Royal Society of British Sculptors. Lee herself became an associate member on 29 March 1938. She exhibited no less than thirty two times at The Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts (Summer Exhibition) from 1920 - 1960, four times at The Royal Scottish Academy Exhibition from 1922 - 1934, eight times at The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts Annual Exhibition from 1924 – 1959 and once at the Manchester Art Federation, Fine & Applied Art Exhibition in 1924. Lee specialised in busts and portrait reliefs, using terracotta and bronze. She lived and worked in London.



If anyone has any information regarding the artworks mentioned in this article, please get in touch and send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Written by Sophie Breustedt, Arts & Heritage Intern


Art UK

Canadian War Museum http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/artwar/artists/ethel-gabain_e.shtml

Glasgow Museums Collections Navigator

Herald Scotland, ‘Modern Scottish Women, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, celebrates our ‘lost’ artists’ 2015

Imperial War Museums Collections

Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851 – 1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database

National Portrait Gallery

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


The Estate Dame Laura Knight DBE RA www.damelauraknight.com