Nina Hamnett

Nina Hamnett was born in 1890. She spent her childhood in Tenby, Pembrokeshire and wrote about the sense of liberation it brought her in the first part of her autobiography, Laughing Torso (1932). She writes: ‘I was free and allowed to do as I liked. I rode every day on a donkey…I spent most of my time writing stories and drawing’.

In 1906 the Hamnett family settled in London and Nina attended the Pelham School and London School of Art.   By 1911 she was already making her mark in the contemporary art world and as a leading Bohemian personality who was openly bisexual.  Her talents as a painter and draughtswoman, (unfortunately often overshadowed by gossip relating to her lifestyle), made her an important member of the English Modern Movement.  

For a time she worked at Roger Fry’s Omega workshops and had a brief affair with the artist.  He undertook a portrait of Nina in 1917 (Courtauld Gallery collection) and in it he conveyed Nina’s intelligence and independent spirit, showing her in unconventional clothes and modern bobbed haircut.   In 1913 she stole a piece of marble with her friend and lover Henri Gaudier-Brezska from which he carved his sculpture Torso modelled on Nina (Victoria & Albert Museum collection).  Nina once famously introduced herself to the writer Ruthven Todd by exclaiming, ‘You know me m’dear….I’m in the V&A with me left tit knocked off’.  


Nina moved to Paris, socialising with Picasso, Modigliani and James Joyce and had a brief marriage to a Norwegian artist.  They returned to London at the outbreak of WWI and when her husband was deported, Nina returned to the carefree life of London parties and Paris in the swinging 1920s.  On the publication of Laughing Torso, she became involved in a libel case with notorious self-proclaimed black magician Aleister Crowley, which she famously won, resulting in Crowley’s bankruptcy.   

As with most things in her life, Nina refused to be bullied or a victim and remained the creator of her own world, even as her talents and abilities were affected by drink and hard living.  From the 1930s her lifestyle began to take its toll and she spent the last years of her life selling stories for a drink in Fitzrovian bars.  She died in London in 1956, having fallen from the window of her dwellings onto the railings below.  The Times commented in her obituary, ‘Miss Hamnett was a complete success as a person; generous, good humoured, loyal and witty’.

Ganed Nina Hamnett yn 1890. Treuliodd ei phlentyndod yn Ninbych-y-pysgod, Sir Benfro, ac mae hi’n sôn yn rhan gyntaf ei hunangofiant, Laughing Torso (1932), am yr ymdeimlad o ryddid yn byw yno. Dywed: ‘Roeddwn i’n gwbl rydd ac yn cael gwneud fel y mynnwn. Roeddwn i’n marchogaeth bob dydd ar gefn asyn… treuliais y rhan fwyaf o’m hamser yn ysgrifennu straeon ac yn tynnu lluniau’.

Ym 1906 ymsefydlodd y teulu Hamnett yn Llundain ac roedd Nina yn mynychu Ysgol Pelham ac Ysgol Gelf Llundain.  Erbyn 1911 roedd hi eisoes yn gwneud ei marc yn y byd celf gyfoes ac fel personoliaeth Bohemaidd flaenllaw.  Roedd ei doniau fel arlunydd a dylunwraig, er i hynny gael ei anwybyddu yn aml yng nghysgod ei ffyrdd anghonfensiynol o fyw, wedi ei gwneud hi’n aelod pwysig o’r Mudiad Modern yn Lloegr.  

Am gyfnod bu’n gweithio yng ngweithdai Omega Roger Fry a chael perthynas gyda’r artist am gyfnod byr.  Gwnaeth yr artist bortread o Nina yn 1917 (casgliad Oriel Courtauld) ac yn y portread hwn mae wedi cyfleu Nina fel menyw ddeallus ac annibynnol, a’i dangos mewn dillad anghonfensiynol a steil gwallt modern.  Ym 1913, roedd wedi dwyn darn o farmor gyda’i ffrind a’i chariad Henri Gaudier-Brezska, ac o’r marmor hwn y cerfiodd ei gerflun Torso wedi’i fodelu ar Nina (casgliad Amgueddfa Victoria ac Albert).  Ar un adeg, cyflwynodd Nina ei hun i’r awdur Ruthven Todd drwy ddweud, ‘Rwyt ti’n gwybod pwy ydw i cariad ….Rydw i yn y V&A gyda’m bron chwith wedi’i tharo i ffwrdd’.  


Symudodd Nina i Baris, gan gymdeithasu â Picasso, Modigliani a James Joyce a bu’n briod am gyfnod byr gydag artist Norwyaidd.  Dychwelodd y ddau i Lundain pan dorrodd y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf a phan gafodd ei gŵr ei alltudio, dychwelodd Nina i fywyd sengl partïon Llundain a Pharis yn y 1920au afieithus.  Ar ôl cyhoeddi ei hunangofiant Laughing Torso, roedd Aleister Crowley, y dewin du enwog, wedi dwyn achos enllib yn ei herbyn, ond hi a orfu, gan arwain at Crowley yn mynd yn fethdalwr.

Yn yr un modd â’r rhan fwyaf o bethau yn ei bywyd, gwrthododd Nina gael ei bwlio na dioddef cam gan barhau i greu ei byd ei hun, hyd yn oed pan oedd y ddiod gadarn a byw i’r eithaf wedi effeithio ar ei doniau a’i galluoedd.  O’r 1930au dechreuodd ei ffordd o fyw ddadfeilio a threuliodd flynyddoedd olaf ei bywyd yn gwerthu straeon am ddiod mewn bariau Fitzrovian.  Bu farw yn Llundain ym 1956, ar ôl syrthio o ffenestr ei chartref ar y rheiliau islaw.  Yn y deyrnged iddi yn y Times dywedir, ‘RoeddMiss Hamnett yn llwyddiant digamsyniol fel person; yn hael, yn ddigrif, yn ffyddlon ac yn ffraeth’.

Nina Hamnett’s Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Medal Tenby Museum

Categories: Arts & Literature | Revolutionaries

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