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Rachel Reckitt (1908 - 1995)

Girl Having Her Hair Combed, 1960

Catalogue essay by Blanche Llewellyn


This striking composition was painted around 1960 in the basement kitchen of a large house on the canal side near Regent’s Park, London. According to Reckitt, the model was a Nigerian student nurse. The painting is one of a series of conversation pieces that Rachel Reckitt undertook in the 1960’s, which included subjects such as boys on bicycles, queues at bakers and gossiping women in the street.

“The Maids” (Les Bonnes), a play by French dramatist Jean Genet, may have inspired “Girl Having her Hair Combed”. First performed in Paris in April 1947 at the Théâtre de l’Athénée, “The Maids” was based on a true story revolving around two sisters (Christine and Léa Papin), who worked as maids for the Lancelin family in Le Mans during the 1930s. In 1933 the mutilated bodies of Mme Lancelin and her daughter  were discovered and the Papin sisters confessed to the crime. The murders stood out as one of the most publicized cases in French news history. Its extraordinary violence, coupled with  motivation that was never wholly explained, made it a singular case: the sisters were characterised by some as  bloodthirsty criminals,  and by others as victims of bourgeois oppression;  the enduring debate ignited division among philosophers, writers, and politicians.

Paula Rego’s ‘The Maids‘ (1987) bears a striking resemblance to Reckitt’s painting. Rego’s emphasis on an unnerving scene echoes the mood of  Reckitt’s composition. In Rego’s artwork, ambiguity surrounds the question as to whether one maid is merely combing Madam’s hair or whether indeed she is poised to strangle her, adding to the sense of disquiet.

x W74cm
Signed. Oil on board.
Reckitt, Rachel

Rachel Reckitt (1908 - 1995)

Rachel Reckitt was a painter, wood engraver, sculptor and wrought iron worker, whose substantial output also included book illustration, tombstones, church sculptures and pub signs. While still a student at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art (1933 – 37) under Iain Macnab, she began exhibiting with the London Group and the Society of Wood Engravers. After the war, she studied sculpture at the Hammersmith School of Building crafts and lithography at the Central School of Art and Design. Although she continued painting, during the 1960s she created many sculptures in a modern, constructivist style, combining wood, stone wood, metal, sand, paint and tesserae to great effect. During the 1970s, she studied welding at the Roadwater Smithy in Somerset, and began to produce highly creative steel and metal sculptures, collages and reliefs. After Reckitt's death her home ‘Golsoncott’ in Old Cleeve, Somerset, was sold and the funds raised were used to create the Golsoncott Foundation to support the arts and in her memory.