Cissie Kean was born in London in 1871 to a wealthy family of German coffee merchants. Although her interest in painting was established at an early age, her family did not however think that a career as a painter would be compatible with her social background.
After being crippled as a young adult, the strong willed Cissie decided to dedicate her life to painting. She went to Paris where she studied for a number of years at the Académie Julian and was awarded a medal in 1906. The work of André Lhote and Jean Marchand influenced her painting during this first Paris period. Before the Great War, Kean travelled extensively to Italy, Spain and Brazil, meticulously recording her changing surroundings in her sketchbooks, which she then used to work into watercolours and oil paintings.
During the First World War, she returned to her family in London, setting up a studio and travelling around England with fellow female artists such as Bertha Johnson and Lisa Sampson, regularly attending painting groups. During the period 1916-1919, she found herself painting in Chipping Campden with New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins.
After the war, Kean travelled back and forth between London and Paris, with breaks in the Mediterranean. During the 1920's, she was working under Lhote again, exploring the human figure through the cubist style, and was also attracted to the purism of Léger and Ozenfant. She spent time in Léger’s atelier where she found her true artistic identity working in oils. She started experimenting with keeping the very careful balance between representation and abstraction which the cubists sought to maintain. Following Léger’s approach to subjects closely, the figures and objects in her canvases are often simplified in an attempt to imbue them with a sense of greater vigour, movement and monumentality rather than to analyse their structure.
As an independent, single woman of means, Cissie’s lifestyle, in some ways, exemplified that of Englishwomen in her position, but what makes her life extraordinary is the dramatic development in her work once she was in her 50's.
In London, Cissie was one of the founding members of the Three Arts Club, and this remained her base for 25 years while she travelled extensively in England, on the Continent, and to Brazil to visit one of her brothers. She returned to London where she died in 1961, at the age of ninety.