A painting by Betty Craig

The Art of Betty Craig

The Art of Betty Craig (Elizabeth Edmonstone Craig)

The multi-named Elizabeth Edmonstone Craig painted under the name of Betty Craig and performed in opera as Signora Maria Nelvi and seemingly made a name for herself during the Jazz Age in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Betty Craig (Elizabeth Nelvi Craig)
Betty Craig (Elizabeth Nelvi Craig)

Betty Craig was born Elizabeth (Bessie) English most probably in the early 1890s. She was the youngest daughter of Mr and Mrs Robert English of 21 Portman Square and Scatwell House, Muir of Ord, Ross-shire and clearly came from a family of some social standing. In January 1914 she married Mr A.D. Edmonstone Craig (also spelt as Edmunson and Edmonston) at St Paul’s Knightsbridge. Her husband was keen on every kind of out-door sport and was a very good violinist. She shared his fondness of skating but also liked music and hoped to become a professional singer. Indeed, it would appear that she discovered she did have a good voice and began training in grand opera in London.

It was during World War 1 that Elizabeth’s husband became Captain Edmonstone Craig and thankfully he survived the conflict. By late 1920, Elizabeth’s paintings – signed Betty Craig – had attracted attention and she was exhibited at the Dorien Leigh Galleries in London. Eve magazine thought that her painting was ‘marked by great originality’ and available images suggest her work was largely fantastical and decorative. At the same time it was stated that she had also been designing sets and costumes for the stage although no confirmed credits can be located. It was also noted that she was going to renew her studies for grand opera in Milan since she had ‘that great gift, a voice of rare quality combined with a wealth of temperament.’ By the spring of 1925 she clearly had achieved her ambition and had been performing in opera under the name of Signora Maria Nelvi.

Her husband’s fondness for outdoor sports had made him an all round sportsman and he became an Olympic games competitor, presumably in the Amsterdam games in 1928. In the autumn of 1929 Elizabeth had an exhibition in the Ferargill Gallery, New York and her paintings were described as intricate designs in black, white and gold with the occasional use of colour. The New York Times had high praise indeed calling her work ‘extraordinary’, ‘striking’ and ‘carried through to the utmost perfection’ but thought her themes ‘morbid’. They added: ‘In the Middle Ages, Miss Craig, no doubt, if given the chance, would have toiled away on illuminated manuscripts, in the twentieth century she dips her brush in poison and achieves caligraphy that is fascinatingly decadent.’

Her first exhibition in America aroused so much interest that further exhibitions followed in New York and Hollywood in early 1930. It was reported that she also signed a contract to design costumes for a film studio in Hollywood but like her earlier stage work no credits can be traced.

What happened next? I have no idea… the trail is lost. I wonder do any of her paintings survive?

All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent

 

16 thoughts on “The Art of Betty Craig”

  1. She and her husband had a daughter, Prudence Lorraine Nadage, born in 1918. Although Prudence married, to Anthony Mavrogordato, her husband died young and left her with no children, so no one continued the line. Elizabeth outlived David and died in London, not sure of her age then.

    My mother and Prudence shared a home for many years, and I have a photo of Elizabeth and Prue as a baby, also a watercolour of Elizabeth’s of a seeding dandelion, signed by her.

  2. The current exhibition of Hoppé’s photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, which features pictures of Betty Craig)states that she died in 1971.

  3. Bessie Craig was my Great Aunt (my father’s father’s youngest sister.) Thank you for that extra history. yes there are a few paintings in the family. Her sister Grace English was better known as an artist and her paintings surface from time to time.
    Elizabeth English- born 23 May 1892 – died 17 April 1971.
    David Craig- Born: March 24, 1887 – died 30 December 1960. ( I think I have a pic of the wedding.) He was a good fencer and represented his country in the 1924 and 1948 Olympics, where he became Britain’s oldest Olympic fencer at the age of 61. Craig was winner of the Le Froy Cup 1939. His medal can be seen in the British Fencing Museum.
    Prudence married Anthony Mavrogordato in 1939. Unfortunatly he died within a year.

  4. Thank you, that is most interesting. Was Prudence still doing vetinary work then as she was during the war?

  5. Hello Simon..I’m glad someone still remembers Prue even if only vaguely! I know she had two cousins..Nicholas Craig and David? English, I presume you are connected to the latter.
    Prue was in the S.O.E. during the war, and was parachuted into France as she was fluent in both French and German. She trained in the same group as Odette Churchill I believe.

    I know she worked for some time after the war in speech therapy, I have no recollection of her doing veterinary work though. She was a skilled artist and writer herself but spent the last ten years of her life in a wheelchair and died at the young age of 60.

  6. Hello Sue, How kind of you to reply, I never met my Great Aunt, Bessie Craig, I gather that she did come to my father’s funeral but was too upset to come to the gathering afterwards. (1965)
    Prudence’s English cousins were Tony, Dan, Patience, Philip and John. The impression of her doing veterinary work came from a story in John’s memoirs of meeting up with her and Patience in wartime London (1943)
    I shall pass on your recollections to my Uncle John who has recently flown to England for a family celebration of his 90th birthday. I know that he shall be most interested, as shall many of the younger generation.

  7. Not sure how but years ago I purchased a photo album at a jumble sale. Can’t remember where but possibly Brighton. UK. It must have belonged to Prudence Craig. It is in fantastic condition, really fantastic. It has photos of her life, friends, family, homes, if anyone who has posted above is interested please get in touch. I have always wanted to trace family or friends and return it to them where it belongs, as I obviously have no connection. I am not interested in any form of financial return, simply passing back a wonderful documentation of someone’s life.

  8. Simon. In the album I have there are photos of The Cecil English Family at Evesbatch, including some of Philip, Gladys, John, Patience and Daniel. Prudence has documented this very clearly in her own handwriting !

  9. In the album I have Prudence’s handwritten note next to their photo states that she and Anthony were married in Oct 1951 and that he died in January 1952.

  10. Dear Finn, I am not related by blood to Prue, but from the age of seven, when my father died, I and my mother lived with her firstly in my home county of East Yorkshire then in Sussex in a cottage belonging to her parents’ estate. Prue was godmother to my children and a second parent to me and I would be delighted to have the album if no one else has already claimed it.

    Regards
    Sue

  11. Yes, that would be correct…my mother and father and Prue and Anthony were friends, Anthony died in January 52 and my father died in January 53, a few months before my seventh birthday. After losing their husbands my mother and Prue lived together until Prue’s death in 1978.

  12. Were there any photos of Prue with my mother, by any chance? Mother had dark hair and a distinct gap in her front teeth!

    Sue

  13. Archibald David Edmonstone Craig was the son of Charles Taylor Craig (31 Jan 1858, Pitt’s Point, Sydney, Australia – Aft 1931, ?) and Janet Montford Simpson (Abt 1853, Birmingham, England -Bef 1901, ?).

    Charles T Craig was a 3rd cousin of my great-grandfather, Santiago Duncan, a paddle-wheeler Captain working in the Magdalena River in Colombia; I have reasons to believe they did business together and maintained correspondence (he is mentioned in a letter from Santiago Duncan to his cousin Leland Lewis Duncan in 1920). More on L L Duncan at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leland_Lewis_Duncan

    I wonder if anybody might have his letters.

  14. Hi Simon, Sue and Finn

    I have just discovered this “conversation” after revisiting the online family tree I am building. It’s fantastic to be able to read about Prudence in such detail. She would be my 1st cousin twice removed (Simon is my father’s cousin).

    Sue, if you have the album you requested from Finn, it would be fantastic if you could scan and email me any photos of my English relatives and their homes. Likewise Finn, if you still have it, I would be grateful if you could do the same. I have become addicted to tracing my ancestry and this kind of connection is absolute gold!

    Thanks so much

    Richard

  15. Sorry Richard I only just saw this. I didnt hear back from Finn so no I dont have the album.
    Sue.

  16. Just noticed the above….. I followed up with Simon English and went on a day trip to Stratford upon Avon and returned the album to him. Al
    l the best.

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