Ithell was born in 1906 in Assam, India, and grew up in India and England in an atmosphere of alchemy, Kabbalah and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Although she attended the Slade School of Art, she was basically self taught as an artist. The 1936 International Surrealist exhibition in London confirmed her interest in Surrealism. 

An early disciple of Dada, she met Salvador DALI and studied the twilight world of dreams.  For a time she lived in Paris and Athens, where she met Andre BRETON in 1939. She joined the Surrealist group in England later that year and contributed many texts to its journal London Bulletin.  She broke with the group after a dispute with ELT MESENS regarding her occult preoccupations. A devoted explorer of decalcomania, fumage, frottage, collage and other forms of pictorial automatism, she invented several magic-inspired techniques of her own.

Two years later she joined Toni Del Renzio and a short-lived dissident ferment around the magazine Arson. In 1943 she and Del Renzio were married. After their divorce in 1947 Ithell settled in Cornwall, initially in Lamorna, and subsequently moving to a cottage in Paul. She published a gothic occult novel entitled Goose of Hermogenes in 1960. Embodying the timeless energy and spirit of the relentless search for esoteric knowledge, she pursued interests in alchemy, Celtic lore, occult and mythology - also the world of fantasy and the surreal .

Her paintings of flowers and plants indicate awareness of the super-real in everyday reality.  The flowers, executed with technical brilliance, convey the mystical nature of their beauty, and the plant forms have an element of uncompromising truth. She later produced the Fanatasmagie novel.

Michael Canney commented '...Regrettably she did not really become involved with NAG until the surrealist movement was in decline, but she continued to produce works that could only be described as 'surreal' and exhibited them at the Gallery.


Drawings, paintings in mystical and surrealist formats; writer

works and access

Likenesses of the artist: portrait sketch by Margo MAECKLEBERGHE [photo in Hardie (1995)]; poster 1976 Surrealism Exhibition

Works include: The Living Stones, Cornwall (written and illustrated by Ithell Colquhoun); Election with manifesto; reproductions of paintings exhibited at Newlyn art gallery

Pamphlet article entitled Do I need to paint a picture?

Scylla (1938);  Waterflower; Serpent of Genesis; Volcanic Landscape; Colours of the sea (latter 3 in Exeter Museums booklet, 1972)

Exhibition list giving titles, photo likeness 1976 [in Hardie (1995)]

Access: Potentate II (1963) at Penlee House, Penzance; Large collection:  National Trust in Cornwall, Lanhydrock; Landscape with Antiquities (1955) and Dark Fire (1980) at the RCM, Truro



RA (2) London 1930-5

Paris 1932

Athens 1933

The Mayor Gallery, London 1947

NAG 1961 Retrospective, 1967, Constructions and Collages 1971, 1975, 1976, 1977

Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter 1972

Orion Gallery, Penzance 1972, 1973

Leva Gallery, London 1974

Michael Parkin Fine art Gallery 1977

Selected individual exhibitions

Cheltenham Municipal Art Gallery 1936

Fine Art Society 1936; Liberty and Heal's Mansard Gallery, London 1937

Whiteleys and Everyman Theatre, London 1938

Mayor Gallery London 1939

University of Birmingham (Orion Gallery Touring) Artists of Cornwall Exhibition 1972

Newlyn Orion Galleries Retrospective 1976, Newlyn in Pont Aven 1977


NSA 1972-3 list

misc further info



Cornish Magazine January 1963 'Art in Cornwall - Ithell Colquhoun'

Western Morning News 14 Sep 1973  'A twilight world explored by Dada disciples'

Buck, L (1988) The Surrealist Spirit in Britain

Chadwick (1985) Women artists and the Surrealist movements;

The Dark Monarch - Magic and Modernity in British Art (exhibition catalogue 2009)

Gaze (1997) Dictionary of women artists (Vol I)

Hardie (1995) 100 Years in Newlyn: Diary of a Gallery (col photo likeness with Cordelia DOBSON)

Hoyle, H (Jan 2011 Women Artists in Cornwall 'Ithell Colquhoun - from Lamorna to Lanhydrock'

Hoyle, H (Oct 2013 Dates in Women's Art

The Journal of the Society for Education in Art (vol 5 May 1951) Art and Psychotherapy;

McLeod, Alister J (1973) Newlyn Society of Artists 1895-1973 (NAG 12 page brochure)

Michel, R (1999) Surrealism in Britain;

NAG Ithell Colquhoun: Paintings, drawings, collages 1936-1976;

Rosemount (TexasUP, 1988) Surrealist women: An international anthology;

Shillitoe, Richard at

Shillitoe (2009) Ithell Colquhoun - Magician Born of Nature

WCAA files



Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership