Elisabeth Vellacott studied at the Royal College of Art, painting school, between 1925 and 1929. Tom Monnington was remembered by her later in life as an excellent teacher of drawing and as the only member of staff invited to student dances.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, with its wealth of Indian, Persian and Chinese paintings and fabrics, created in her an interest in colour and an interest in fabric design itself. It was the Diaghilev Ballet that was her real introduction to Modern Art, not the few London galleries that showed it. Vellacott designed sets and costumes for the Cambridge University Musical Society's The Fairy Queen (1931) and later assisted Gwen Raverat (Vellacott's portrait drawing of her is in Kettles' Yard) in bi-annual productions of Handel operas. But the fabric designs were her main work and the source of what little income she had.
The Thirties were for Vellacott almost a continuation of student living. For a time she was paid a pittance to work as an assistant scene painter at the Old Vic. In Cambridge she made many friends. She had a little teaching. There were occasional visits abroad, to Munich and Vienna, Paris and Brittany. She saw inspiring exhibitions of the paintings of Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Modigliani. In 1939 Lucy Boston commissioned her to make fabrics for The Manor in Hemingford Grey. When the war came she invited her to stay there. In 1942, when Vellacott's Cambridge studio, with all her work in it, was destroyed in an air-raid, Lucy Boston offered her a home at The Manor for the duration of the war. In 1942 and '43 Vellacott painted, in oil and gouache, figures in bombed houses or surrounded, as in Elephant and Castle, by bombed buildings.
She returned to Cambridge in 1946, and by '49, when she met Bryan Robertson, who was to be a tireless promoter of her work, she was drawing in ink wash, sometimes, and to excellent effect, on tracing paper. She continued with her fabrics and fabric designs into the Fifties, by which time she had assembled a body of drawings of rocks, mountain landscapes, trees, and figurative studies, both portrait drawings and scenes drawn from her imagination. She had also painted a number of oils on canvas. In 1955 she was a founder member of the Cambridge Society of Painters and Sculptors (CSPS). In 1964 she had her first one-woman show in a room adjoining the annual exhibition of the CSPS.
In 1959 Peter Boston had designed a remarkable A-frame house for her at Hemingford Grey. It stands in a garden, with a little wood. Her apple tree and pear tree and the little wood itself are the subjects of many drawings. In 1962 Vellacott had begun painting in oil on panel and in 1968 she shared a very successful exhibition with Gertrude Hermes at the Minories in Colchester. Four years later, at the age of sixty-seven, she had a one-woman show in London, at the New Art Centre. Madeleine Bessborough was to continue to show Vellacott's work for the rest of her life.
In 1976 Vellacott had a special exhibition of drawings at Clare Hall, Cambridge, and in 1981 Bryan Robertson curated a first retrospective of her work, for the Warwick Arts Trust and Kettles' Yard. In 1985 the New Arts Centre gave her 'A Celebration' for her eightieth birthday, an exhibition of eleven of her most beautiful paintings on panel.
In 1995 Michael Harrison gave her a second retrospective in the beautiful new gallery at Kettles' Yard. About half of this show was subsequently exhibited at the Fine Art Society in London.
In November 1999, a little before her ninety-fifth birthday, Madeleine Bessborough gave a second 'Celebration' for her, this time at Roche Court, with an exhibition, a lunch party, and a recital of poetry and prose on the subject of, and themes in her art.