Cressida's Transformations - art and photography
1. 20TH CENTURY WOMAN - art collection

Kathleen Notman transformed herself into 35 different 20th century women for this historic collection. 

Notman researched the lives of many prominent and unknown 20th century women and transformed herself into her subjects. While not attempting to look the same as her subject, her painting of emotion allows one to know and understand the subject she portrays.

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For her collection "20th CENTURY WOMAN" Kathleen Notman transformed herself into 35 different 20th century women.


Left: As Kathleen Notman looked in reality in the early 1990s after she completed this collection.

"Now that I am old, I want to slip away, unnoticed,
yet leave behind images of all the women I have portrayed."  Kathleen Notman - March, 2015

The following images are from Notman's collection '20TH CENTURY WOMAN' hailed for its originality
yet when it was first published, she was accused of narcissism. It took much time before she
overlooked the criticism. Years later she realized that this criticism was part of being a generalization of
20th Century Woman for this collection.
She transformed herself into many different women. She researched the lives of each of her subjects in order to portray them.

The emotional aspect in all her portraits took priority.
Yet being aware of the era in which her subjects lived she transformed herself into a woman of those times.
Her style of art combines photography and painting.
In the late 1980s, after two exhibitions,
Notman set out on a journey to dispose of the collection. Some were sold,
others were given away while the remainder were destroyed.
Prints are available worldwide.

Individually, as works of art, the portraits are of little value. Collectively they give an insight into the mores,
failings, achievements etc, of 20th century woman. Notman knew some of her subjects.
A few are of herself - her own painful experiences - while others are of women whose lives she researched.


The collection begins with a representation of a poster featuring
the famous Lily Elsie, star of the 1907 hit musical
"The Merry Widow"

Kathleen Notman poses as Lily Elsie as indeed she poses for all
35 subjects in this collection

Before the 1900s women wore bonnets.
Huge hats, similar to the one pictured here,
  were designed by
Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon who started the trend
for womens' hats. She designed the hats worn by
Lily Elsie for
"The Merry Widow"


"Hana's Mother" is a rough, harsh, sad image.
As a girl of 11 in 1939, Kathleen Notman was a pupil at Boston High School for Girls in Boston, Lincolnshire, England.
One day, when she was seated at the back of the class, she watched as the Head Mistress walked into the classroom with a girl.
The sad looking girl was escorted to the seat next to Notman.
This Jewish girl had come from Europe. It was later revealed that a group of Jewish children were the last to leave Europe
before the 2nd World War began.
This image does not do justice to the children who escaped or to those who were left behind.
All the family of this Jewish girl, seated next to Notman in 1939, died in a concentration camp.

"Hana's Mother"


Each portrait in this collection is a combination of photography and painting. The photograh represents reality as seen with the eye
and the painting depicts the images of emotion transformed into shapes and colours.

"Despair of the girl he used to call, Baby"

This portrait is not attractive to look at yet it has been written about many times.
It conveys the sadness of a woman who had lost the man she loves. One has to
study the image to detect symbolism. Two birds, two flowers, a ray of light - "Is he coming back?".


This collection was completed over a period of ten years. After it was finished in the late 1980s there were two exhibitions
then the collection was dispersed. Where possible the artist reposed each portrait to its place of provenance.


"Lesbian Love"


This meant travelling from New Zealand to Europe then to America and Australia selling some portraits, donating others and
destroying the remainder. It could be said this was the ultimate in self-indulgence. Only photographs of the portraits remain.



In 1955, in Gt. Britain, the last woman was hanged for murder.
As with all the images in this collection, Kathleen Notman acts the part of the woman. 

The silk wound round the subject's neck represents the British Judiciary.
There was much controversy surrounding the case.


  The artist regards this excursion as the culmination of her artistic life's only worthwhile achievement
  20th Century Woman 
a collection of portraits.


"Beauty Lost" is a portrait of a lady Notman knew in Singapore in the 1950s. Her beauty had faded.

Kathleen Notman as a well-known French film star  

Individually, as works of art, the portraits are of little value. Collectively, they give an insight into the mores, failings and
achievement etc of 20th century woman. The artist knew some of her subjects.
A few are of herself - her own painful experiences - while others are of women whose lives she researched.

"Artist's Model"
  This mysterious portrait demonstrates the aloofness of the artist's model.
The suggestion of a model in a Renaissance painting hurled into a 20th century portrait makes this an intruiguing image.

This portrait has been written about many times. 



Notman experimented with the shape of half of a woman's face.
The result is intriguing. But what of the other side of the face?
It was inspired by her knowing a woman who was secretive about
parts of her life yet vocal about her successes. This image represents her successes.


"Mask of the Sex Symbol Exploited"
The subject is a 20th century icon. The artist leaves the viewer to determine the
identity of the subject.

The mask is the image presented to the world. Glamorous, much loved.
In reality it was quite different. A lonely Soul exploited for her appearance.


"Ghost of a girl in a turban"

In 1958 Kathleen Notman decided to learn shorthand. She answered an
advertisement placed by a teacher in Staines, Middlesex.
She arrived at the teacher's house, a delightful old cottage, a little early. She was invited to wait in a
lovely room. Notman felt relaxed as she waited for the teacher to return to tell
her details of her lessons.
Gazing into space she saw an apparition of a girl in a turban.
She sat up with a start as the teacher came into the room. She told the teacher what she had seen.
"Many have seen her," the teacher said and abruptly went on to talk about shorthand lessons. She said to think carefully
before making a decision.
A few weeks later Notman decided not to have shorthand lessons and went to the cottage to inform the teacher.
The cottage was abandoned. It was to be demolished to make way for the Staines by-pass.


                                                                                                                               "Maria - Music in her hair"
Tribute to Maria Callas world-famous singer

Maria Callas was a sad figure. She was dead in her apartment for two days before anyone found her.
She was an attractive woman with beautiful hair.
The hair in this portrait is in the shape of a clef.


Margaretha Zell (Mata Hari) a beautiful dancer was a spy for the Germans in the First World War.
She lured officers into her lair and used sex to gain secrets.
The "tentacles" in this portrait represent her guile, her means of catching her prey.
She was executed in 1917.           




        "Don't Shoot!"  
 In the 20th century, women in many parts of the world were caught up in
in conflicts. Many were brave and sacrificed their lives for what
they believed in.



    "Woman of the Night"

In 1947 when Kathleen Notman was 18 she went with an American Air Force Officer to London.
They were walking back to their hotel late one night when they passed a prostitute.
Notman gazed at her. The prostitute (quite naturally) took offence and came towards her
as if to strike her. The American Officer calmed down the situation.
Notman has never forgotten the look of despair on the ageing prostitute's face.



In the late 1950s in England, Kathleen Notman sold cosmetics - "door-to-door".
A lady invited her into her house to give a demonstration. Notman gladly obliged.
"Make me attractive so my husband will want me again." the lady said.
Notman was taken aback yet she realised the lady wanted someone to talk to.
"My most precious memory is when we spent a day in the country. I wore a polka dot print dress."
She paused. "The polka dots danced. Where have they gone?"



In 1950, five years after the 2nd World War ended, a variety of Europeans, White Russians, Eurasians ...
moved to Singapore searching for a place to live.
Kathleen Notman accompanied her new husband, a Royal Air Force navigator, to the island. He was to be
stationed there for over two years.
She became friendly with a Eurasian girl who had moved to Singapore from a country where Eurasians were not welcome.
  She was in love with a Dutch businessman whose family declared he was not to marry her because she was Eurasian.
This highly intelligent, beautiful girl was reluctant to have her photograph taken.
This image with all its colours and interesting shapes is Notman's portrait of Floss.



Kathleen Notman visited a lady in Staines, Middlesex.
She told Notman that a ghost appeared in her house - had Notman seen her?
No. She had not but the story reminded her of the Ghost of Elvira featured in Noel Coward's play

"Blythe Spirit"



This image was inspired by the 1940s film star, Joan Crawford.
She presented an image to the world of a kind, loving, adorable woman.
Her daughter, Christina, told another story.



             The 20th century saw many women put their faith in a fortune-teller.           
Meeting a wonderful lover - becoming wealthy ...  



(Question for Students: From where does the term "Purple Patch" come from?)
Discover what you can about the meaning of this portrait.
What does it say? What is its message?




"Oh, to be a shop dummy! Always beautiful. No pain..."


"Fantasy with a masked man"





'Polly - the circus performer who "lost" an eye'



In the 20th century in areas around the Globe, women were engaged in war.


Above: "Poverty and Deprivation"

                                              As a child of eight living in Leicester, England in the 1930s, Notman told her father about a little girl in her class at school who was very poor.
                                              Notman's father, a benevolent man, suggested that the young Kathleen take some of her toys to the family. This she did. The stench of filth,
                                             the sight of old coats on a bed instead of blankets and the resigned look of hopelessness on the mother's face, has lived with Notman all her life.
                                             After taking the toys to the family her father suggested she again visit the family to see how they were enjoying playing with the toys.
                                             To her disgust, the toys that she had lovingly cared for - and reluctantly gave to the poor family - lay broken on the floor. 



Europe and America suffered an enormous loss of young men during THE GREAT WAR - (1914-18).
As a result woman were called upon to do work hitherto reserved for men.
This not only affected women's fashion (they required more practical clothes) but their way of life.
Many demanded freedom to express themselves.
Hence, by 1926 THE FLAPPER was born. Young women danced the Charleston
(all the rage in America, it soon spread to Europe) and other modern
dance styles and wore bobbed hair and short skirts. They strived to make
their eyes look large and the mouth small.

In 1926 the kaleidoscope, while invented in 1816 by Sir David Brewster, was still a popular
source of entertainment. Kathleen Notman's FLAPPER 1926 appears as a kaleidoscope image.

Kathleen Notman
playing the role of ...
 "The Last Woman to be Hanged in Gt.Britain".



"Woman hiding from the world"


It was in 1999 that Notman published an article "The Artist's Model".
It first appeared in a university magazine in America and caught the attention of other publishers.
As she says, Cressida is the artist's model for this series of images yet there is a Cressida in most women - women
who envy a shop dummy that is impervious to pain ... women who have secret fantasies ...

Today, Kathleen Notman is less reluctant to talk about her collection and the women she portrayed.
She hopes it provides an insight into the female psyche and how art tells its own story.



Kathleen Notman was an unhappy teenager. She was fat, plain to look at with hair that was short and would not grow.
She was laughed at.
At the age of seventeen she got a job as a hotel receptionist.
Her life changed for the better. She lost weight.
Married at the age of 20 to a RAF navigator they spent some time in Singapore in the 1950s
where she met many fascinating women. Much later many of them would inspire images for this collection.

She never forgot her unhappiness when she was a teenager. This is one of the aspects that encouraged her to create the collection,
"20th Century Woman", in which she becomes - photographically - 35 women.