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 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