Nina Hamnett was born in Pembrokeshire in 1890. She attended classes at the Portsmouth School of Art in 1903 and the Dublin School of Art in 1905. When her family moved to London in 1906, she enrolled in the Pelham School of Art, studying under Sir Alfred Cope, and then the London School of Art from 1907 to 1910. In 1914 she moved to Paris and studied at Marie Wassilief’s Academy and, in the same year, she married the Norwegian dramatist and artist Edgar de Bergen. However, he was deported five years later and they never saw each other again.
Due to her unconventional appearance and flamboyant personality, Hamnett quickly became a well-known bohemian personality. Her friends in London and Paris included Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Walter Sickert and Augustus John. Her acquaintance with the avant-garde in both cities assisted in the development of her own personal style and, from 1913 to 1950, she made a significant contribution to the modern movement in London. She exhibited widely with, amongst others, the Allied Artists’ Association, the New English Art Club, the London Group and the National Portrait Society. She also taught life-drawing classes at the Westminster Technical Institute from 1917 to 1919. She was the best-known British woman painter in Paris in the early 1920s and 1926 but by the mid-1930s her talent was in decline due to her hectic social life and, by the 1950s, she was severely restricted by excessive drinking, poverty and ill health. She died in 1956 after falling out of her apartment window and impaling herself on the railings below.
Hamnet painted landscapes and still-lifes but was most interested in paintings of people. She produced portraits of many of the leading artistic figures of the period in a manner in which the sitter’s features are often simplified and exaggerated.