They’re the words of acclaimed artist Frances Hodgkins, and it’s a sentiment that’s evident in her body of work. “You see it in her paintings and you read it in her letters – a desire and ability to capture the essence and feeling of the place,” explains Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū curator Ken Hall. That skill will be on full display when the gallery opens Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys – an exhibition to celebrate one of New Zealand’s most significant expatriate artists. It will trace Hodgkins’ life from her upbringing in Dunedin, through her travels across Europe, to her final days in England. It’s set to examine how travel inspired her and location influenced her as she developed into an important modernist figure with a lasting legacy in both Europe and New Zealand.
This will be the exhibition’s third iteration, having been developed and toured by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki as part of the Frances Hodgkins Project. But Hall notes the Christchurch show will be partly different in content and different in feel. “The Auckland show had other works that were there for context and that included impressionist paintings by Monet,” he says. “Here we have her standing alone and very successfully alone.”
While Hall reveals Hodgkins “almost couldn’t wait to get out of New Zealand” when she left for Europe in 1901, she continues to be considered one of the country’s most influential painters. “She had an impressive reputation in New Zealand before she left and people followed her progress,” says Hall. Hodgkins became a major name in British art circles, exhibiting alongside avant-garde painters a generation younger such as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. “She established herself as one of Britain’s leading modernists in that period,” explains Hall. “She was a terrific artist. I like to describe her as an artist’s artist or a painter’s painter. She had extraordinary skill with the brush and paint, and she had a determination to make her mark, being in a male-dominated arena at the time.”
With Hodgkins’ life as an avid traveller on display, Hall says people who love to travel will not want to miss the exhibition in Christchurch. “There won’t be another show like this of her work for a long time,” says Hall. “I see this as the equivalent of getting the work of a European modernist – she shaped and placed herself in that milieu.”
- Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, 15 February – 1 June 2020.