There is one letter from Lucinda Mackay to Ruth Borchard, dated ‘October 4th 1971’, from London SW7. She mentions that she had already seen Ruth’s collection, when Ruth’s son, Richard, had invited her to see it in Reigate. She went on to say:
‘Although I have a self-portrait at present, it is rather a hurried piece of work, and I should like to give you something rather better. I shall do another self-portrait before Christmas.’
Painted around late 1971, Lucinda Mackay’s self-portrait shows her aged thirty or so (she was born in 1941 in Berkshire), at a time when Women’s Liberation was beginning to make a mark. Mackay portrays herself as a somewhat alternatively fashion-conscious young woman of her time: the chic wide-brimmed hat, black feather boa and ivory dress with lace-trimmed sleeves and cuffs forming a tastefully theatrical ensemble with roots in Victorian/Edwardian, ethnic and hippyish fashion. Her long, casually dishevelled hair is complemented by the sensuously shaggy feather boa. The brushwork evokes gradations of grey and black as the boa variously catches the light.
The pale features are painted so immaculately as to appear initially almost like those of an antique porcelain doll, although there is nothing remotely doll-like in the artist’s still, self-assertive look. The light-filled room (containing what looks like a bright yellow notebook on a white table) forms a tranquil, reflective backdrop. So prominently yet subtly positioned, the watch on her upraised right wrist may seem to act as some kind of memento mori, marking the passage of time, passing of youth. Curiously, the colours Mackay wears – ivory and black – are traditional, archetypal western colours of the wedding dress and of mourning.
Mackay went to school in Britain and Switzerland. She studied Fine Art at Edinburgh University and College of Art, graduating in 1965; her tutors included Professor David Talbot Rice and the painter William Gillies. Many of her later portraits are ambitiously expressionistic. What she herself calls ‘swirling impasto’, a maelstrom of vibrant colours, characterises her c.1980 Portrait of Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University, yet the overall effect here is serenely deliberated. The latter is one of several paintings by her in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Collection.