Recent correspondence with my New Zealand friend (see 25 Aug. 2003) has renewed my interest in Frances Hodgkins. Frances who? you may be forgiven for asking unless you were at Art School in the 1950’s, then she was better known and her work was featured in ‘The Studio’ and other art magazines of the time. She was born in Dunedin but spent most of her artistic life and did most of her painting in Europe. From the age of thirty when she came to England and for the rest of her life she was totally dependent on what she could earn from painting, so life was a struggle. She never had a permanent home of her own and stayed with friends or rented rooms and for a time led a gypsy lifestyle roaming around France, Morocco, Italy, Holland and Belgium.
She taught in order to keep painting and her letters home to New Zealand which are now preserved in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington tell of her struggle. ‘Painting reduces me to tears and misery, peaks of ecstasy, disillusion I feel as if I am possessed by a painting devil which is devouring me body and soul, and claims my brains and energy and leaves me with no wish nor inclination for anything else. Is it worth the sacrifice?’ She found it difficult to get recognition from the conservative British art establishment but finally she was awarded a pension negotiated on her behalf by Sir Kenneth Clarke during his time as Director of the National Gallery. She died in 1947aged seventy-eight in poverty and suffering from depression.
She is honoured today in New Zealand as one of the country’s finest artists. Her work is represented in Tate Britain but there is more to discover on the web site of the Dunedin Art Gallery and that of the City of Dunedin.
Dunedin Public Art Gallery
City of Dunedin