A Still Life In Her Own Style: Frances Hodgkins

Andréa Fernandes

We're kicking off the new season of "Feel Art Again" with some talented female artists, since our archive is a little lacking on the female front. Today's artist is Frances Mary Hodgkins (1869-1947), "one of New Zealand's most loved and critically-acclaimed artists," who was requested by reader Alan R.

1. Although Frances Hodgkins first exhibited in 1890, when she was only 21, Hodgkins considered a trip to Morocco in the early 1900s as the true beginning of her painting career. During the trip, she travelled from Tangier to Tetuan, where few white women had been, with a native caravan.

2. With her painting "Fatima," Hodgkins was the first New Zealander to have a work "hung on the line" at the Royal Academy of Arts in England. She achieved another first when she was the first woman to be appointed to the staff of Paris' Académie Colarossi, where she held watercolor classes.

3. According to Hodgkins biographer Alexa Johnston, the artist was apparently a big fan of food: "She painted it and sent letters home to family about it." Some of her favorites were veal and ham pie, Turkish Delight, and cupcakes.

4.Geoffrey Gorer, a writer, first met Hodgkins at a party; she was wearing "an odd and large assortment of polychrome garments "“ an Italian striped scarf round her neck, a red blouse, and a blue patterned jersey, a green scarf, red shoes"¦" He explained that "she had made herself a decoration, almost a still life, in her own style." According to Gorer, Hodgkins also had a young spirit and ageless face, making it seem "impossible that she was almost as near to our grandparents as to our parents."

5. Fellow New Zealander painter Dorothy Kate Richmond was one of Hodgkins' closest friends; she accompanied Hodgkins on her travels through Europe. Richmond was described by Hodgkins as "the dearest woman with the most beautiful face and expression." Hodgkins considered herself "a lucky beggar to have her as a travelling companion." This strong praise has caused some sources to speculate the two artists were lovers, but there is no evidence that they were lesbians or anything more than just friends to each other.

6. Earlier this year, the Dunedin Heritage Festival presented "A Portrait of Frances Hodgkins," composed by a Dunedin composer and performed by the Southern Sinfonia. The event included a dramatic presentation of Hodgkins' life, based on her letters to her mother; arias and choruses from countries where she lived and worked; and a selection of her paintings. The three movements of the musical performance represent the watercolors, oils, and gouache she used in her artwork. Ryman Healthcare, which runs the Frances Hodgkins Retirement Village, sponsored the event.

Larger versions of "The Hilltop" (above left), her untitled textile design (no. VII) (above center), and "Market at Concarneau from a Window of the Hotel des Voyageurs" (above right) are available. Fans should check out the collections of Hodgkins' work in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the Tate, as well as the Auckland Art Gallery's presentation "Frances Hodgkins Leitmotif." "Feel Art Again" appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.