In this picture, Colquhoun subverts the traditional language of male painterly tradition to represent the Biblical Nativity in terms of the modern woman’s experience. Mary, whose unidealised body is semi-naked with bright red nipples, looks out at the viewer in anguish, while Joseph overbearingly squeezes her arm. Mary’s long pellucid fingers with red painted nails encircle the baby Jesus, who is reduced to a series of semi-abstract shapes.
This picture is accompanied by a copy of a letter from Toni del Renzio, Ithell Colquhoun’s husband, stating The Nativity was created circa 1929 whilst Colquhoun was a student at the Slade School of Fine Art. Indeed, the number 64 on the front of the work can be found on a number of other works from the same period (including the Self Portrait in the Ruth Borchard collection) and is thought to relate either to a competition into which the work may have been entered, or Colquhoun’s student identification number at the Slade.
We are grateful to Richard Shillitoe for his assistance.