"I feel that if I had known what was before me, I should never have had the courage to begin."
Frances Mary Hodgkins
Frances Mary Hodgkins Biography
Frances Mary Hodgkins (1869-1947) is arguably New Zealand’s leading expatriate artists. Her works capture the spirit of an era greatly influenced by Impressionism and the beginnings of en plein air painting, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and two World Wars. With a professional life that spanned fifty-six years, Hodgkins was one of the foremost artists of her generation. During her time in Britain she became one of the leaders of the English avant-garde movement. She travelled extensively and evolved her style from impressionistic watercolours to striking twentieth-century modernist paintings.
Frances Hodgkins (From New Zealand to Europe)
Hodgkins was born on 28 April 1869 in Dunedin, the third child and second daughter of William Mathew Hodgkins, barrister and solicitor and amateur painter, and Rachel Owen. While her older sister Isabel (1867-1950) inherited their father’s artistic talent, Frances developed more slowly, and the earliest of her sketches date from about 1886 when the family was living at Ravensbourne, near Dunedin. In November the following year she exhibited for the first time with the Otago Art Society, and subsequently with the Canterbury Society of Arts and the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington. She was elected a working member of the Otago ArtSociety in 1890, and her fifth showing society, in November 1894, included the watercolour Old Boathouse,Port Chalmers and four other works, Water at Leith, Study of a Head, Washing Day, and Study in Charcoal – Girl Reading. Hodgkins’ inclusion in the 1894 exhibition was favourably reviewed by local newspapers, the Otago Daily Times noting that one of her two figure subjects was ‘painted with great skill’ and that her work generally showed ‘strong signs of earnest and attentive study’.
It is likely that Hodgkins produced Old Boathouse, Port Chalmers whilst travelling around the Otago region with her painting companion Effie Spence. The Spence family, from Dunedin, later retired to Upper Norwood, southeast London, and accommodated Hodgkins when she first arrived in the city in 1901. Three months after showing at the 1894 Otago Art Society exhibition, Hodgkins began attending the Dunedin School of Art and Design, preparing for the South Kensington examinations for which she received first-class passes in both the elementary and advanced stages.
In August 1896 she opened a studio in View Street, Dunedin and advertised for pupils. She continued to show with the Otago Art Society (exhibiting eight works in 1896, five in 1897, seven in 1898, six in 1899 and seven in 1900), as well as with the Auckland Society of Arts, the New Zealand Academy of Fine Artsand the Canterbury Society of Arts. Hodgkins was awarded the Otago Art Society’s silver medal for figure study and became known for her watercolour portraits and figure studies.
Arrival in Europe 1901
Hodgkins left Dunedin on the Moana on the 6 February 1901 bound for Sydney, via Lyttelton and Wellington, and from there sailed for London, where she arrived on 7 April. She stayed with the Spence family and Effie accompanied Hodgkins on outings to visit galleries and museums in London. Eric McCormick described how the Spence’s had established ‘a small corner of Dunedin’ in London.
During her first few months in London Hodgkins studied drawing with Ernest Borough Johnson (1866-1949) at the City of London Polytechnic. At the end of June she joined a summer sketching class in Caudebec en Caux in the Normandy region of northern France, led by Irish-born and Penzance-based artist Norman Garstin (1847-1926). Hodgkins subsequently visited Paris and Italy and returned to London in late February 1902. She joined another of Garstin’s summer schools in Dinan, Brittany, in July 1902.
With the arrival of her New Zealand friend Dorothy Kate Richmond (1861-1935), Hodgkins was encouraged to remain in Europe. The two artists spent time working together, their paintings permeated with what Joanne Drayton describes as an ‘end-of-summer golden glow’. According to Mary Kisler, ‘Hodgkins works from this first year abroad demonstrate particular subjects that mark much of her oeuvre over the next few years: streets (preferably lined with quaint buildings) leading to the focal point of a church or a tower in the distance, river or harbour views, and, more frequently, studies of markets’. Hodgkins left Dinan in October and returned to London, which she described in a letter to her mother as a ‘giddy vortex … all is rush, bustle, dirt, fog, rain, fag, busses and fusses’.
In 1902 Hodgkins, along with other New Zealand women artists including Margaret Stoddart (1865-1934), Grace Joel (1865-1924) and Dorothy Richmond, were invited to exhibit at the Bayswater, London Gallery of Baillie and Bonner, the former being Wellington-born artist and dealer John Baillie (1868-1926). The Colonial Art Exhibition opened on the 4 October, and Hodgkins was represented by sketches produced at Dinan depicting the town’s streets, markets and peasant women.
They were described in a review in the Lyttelton Times as being ‘marked by harmonious and attractive colouring and sympathetic treatment’.
A month after her London showing, Hodgkins exhibited sixteen paintings in the 1902 Annual Exhibition of the Otago Art Society, which opened on the 8 November. Of these, five titles referred to Dinan. An enthusiastic Otago Daily Times reported that Hodgkins had found ‘a happy hunting ground for her fine artistic talent in the old French villages’, and done full justice to the many ‘quaint and curious subjects to be found there’, as seen in Breton Pottery.
In mid-1903, in addition to exhibiting at the Royal Academy, Frances Hodgkins showed ten works with the Fine Art Society in Bond Street, London. She also made her first trip to Tangier in Morocco, where she stayed for four months, and later that year visited Holland where she spent several months teaching. She joined Garstin’s summer class in Bruges, Belgium, moving on to Rijsoord near Rotterdam and Delft in the Netherlands before returning to England.
Return to New Zealand 1903
Hodgkins returned to New Zealand via Sydney with Dorothy Richmond in November 1903. She spent Christmas with her family and remained in Wellington for the following two years. During this period the Dunedin Public Art Gallery purchased her large watercolour Ayesha, the first of her works to enter a public collection. She opened a studio in Bowen Street and exhibited at McGregor Wright Gallery, Wellington, with Dorothy Kate Richmond. She also exhibited two works at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1904 and 1905.
In July 1905 Hodgkins exhibited three watercolours at the Auckland Society ofArts. On this occasion a reviewer noted that she had ‘found her metier’ while working in Holland and considered The Oude Delft ‘one of the most important works in the gallery’. Particularly impressive was the treatment of the ‘sluggish waters of the old canal lined with well-trimmed plane trees’,and ‘the quaint Dutch folk passing along the quay or over the bridge’.
Return to England 1906
On the 18 January 1906 she departed Wellington for Plymouth, on the SS Tongariro, and a little over a month later left England for Venice, then travelling to Paris, Avignon and Antibes. She joined Garstin again on his summer sketching course at St Valery-sur-Somme and stayed in France, travelling to the Côte d’Azur, before returning to England in February 1907. She was offered a solo exhibition by Paris art dealer Maurice Guillemot (1859-1931) of the Galerie Georges Petit, but instead chose to exhibit with the Société Internationale des Aquarellistes at Guillemot’s gallery.
After a solo exhibition in London at Paterson’s Gallery in Old Bond Street she travelled to Dordrecht and spent most of the remainder of the year and the first few months of 1908 in Holland. During the time of Hodgkins’ visit, Holland, like Concarneau in Brittany, was a popular location for artists. They were attracted by the region’s traditional and rural qualities, which were in sharp contrast to the rapid industrialisation then taking place in the cities of Europe. The three young subjects of Boys Fishing, depicted wearing traditional Dutch caps and clogs, reflect Hodgkins’ awareness of the work of British artist Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947), a leading member of the artists’ group at Newlyn, the small Cornish fishing village which she had first visited in 1902. Hodgkins gifted this particular work to one of her students, Theresa Thorp, a ‘congenial and specially selected companion’.
Hodgkins took it upon herself to further her career in Europe and Britain by holding regular exhibitions of her work and by becoming one of the first female watercolour tutors at the prestigious Académie Colarossi in Paris. She had a ‘clear understanding of what she was seeking to achieve in her work, … her paintings from this period gradually move from being purely representational to her own individual form of impressionism’. She settled at 85 Rue Vaneau in Montparnasse, Paris, showing three works with the Society of Women Artists 1908, London. She also exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1909, the Royal Institute of Painters in watercolour, at the Société Internationale des Aquarellistes in 1910, and at the Société Internationale de la Peinture à l’Eau in 1910-11.
While Paris served Hodgkins as a base for four years she, like many other artists, would spend the summer months in popular French coastal locations. She toured Normandy and Picardy with her group of students, sketching in the villages of Concarneau, LeHavre and St Valery-sur-Somme. It was on these teaching trips that she met and befriended some of her most loyal companions, one of the most significant of whom was Jane Saunders. She first met Saunders and her partner, Hannah Ritchie (1888-1981), in 1911 at Concarneau. Saunders and Ritchie continued to support Hodgkins throughout her life and also collected a number of major works by Hodgkins, most of which are now in public art gallery collections.
Hodgkins returned to Paris after teaching a summer sketching class at Concarneau, setting up a studio at 21 Avenue du Maine, Montparnasse, with sixteen pupils including Canadian artist EmilyCarr(1871-1945). During 1911 she exhibited for the first time with the New English Art Club and attended a futurist conference in Paris that same year.
Final Visit to New Zealand 1912
She set sail for the Antipodes in December 1912, exhibiting at Anthony Hordern’s Fine Art Gallery,Sydney, the Society of Arts in Adelaide, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and W.H. Turnbull’s ArtGallery, Wellington, where her work was described as ‘Modern French Art’. Hodgkins left New Zealand for the last time in October 1913, sailing for Europe. After a spell in the Mediterranean working on Capri and travelling in Italy, she returned to Paris in May 1914 and taught a sketching class at Equihen and Concarneau in the summer.
Hodgkins continued to paint and teach and hold regular sketching classes in France until the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918). She then returned to England and settled in the small fishing village of St Ives, Cornwall. There she remained for most of the war, apart from brief summer stays in Chipping Campden, Exeter, Burford and Porlock in south-west England. During this period she befriended potter Amy Kraus (1876-1961).Her works were ‘hung on the line’ in the Royal Academy in 1915 and1916, and she also exhibited at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers and the National Portrait Society.
In 1918 Hodgkins rented a studio in Kensington, but the cold cramped conditions forced her back to her cottage in St Ives. She subleased the studio to artists Cedric Morris (1889-1982) and Arthur Lett-Haines (1894-1978) who would become her life-long friends, the first of a growing number of young English artists attracted by her intellect, dedication, and above all her work. Her artist friends were ultimately to include Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Graham Sutherland and John and Myfanwy Piper. After the war she continued her teaching practice as well as working intensely in order to be able to exhibit at the Salon d’ Automne inParis.
During the early 1920s Hodgkins was nothing if not peripatetic. In 1920 she spent some six months at St Ives and in December she went to France. During this period she exhibited with the Allied Artists exhibition, the Women’s International Art Club and internationally with work in a Carnegie Institute exhibition in Pittsburg, PA, and at the Albright Gallery, Buffalo, NY. She was back in England by the following November, and in early 1922 established a studio at Burford, in the Cotswolds, where she was based for most of the year and taught summer classes. She spent Easter 1923 at Rainow, Cheshire, and in October she returned to France, where she remained until February 1925.
Move to manchester 1925
As recounted by Myfanwy Evans in her 1948 publication for the Penguin Modern Painters series, by 1925 Hodgkins had almost made up her mind to return to New Zealand ‘for good’. Discouraged by the onset of another northern winter and disheartened by what Eric McCormick described as ‘the bleak future that seemed to lie ahead’, she had in fact booked a passage to Melbourne, Australia, and was due to sail on 30 June 1925. However, good fortune intervened when a month earlier in Manchester, which had recently become a lively centre for the arts, two of Hodgkins’ pupils and friends, Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders, arranged for her to meet the director of the board of the Calico Printers’ Association (CPA), Forrest Hewit (1870-1956). This led to an interview and the offer of a job as a textile designer in Manchester, which she accepted. It proved challenging work and kept her away from her painting, but it did provide much needed income. As she wrote to her mother: ‘I can hardly believe it that the terror of these past distracted years has passed & that life has eased for me just when I had given up all hope’. Hodgkins enjoyed a trip at the firm’s expense to attend the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, but was disappointed in the British section which ‘quite failed to express itself in modern terms’; the French section, by comparison, was‘ beautiful & ingenious & tasteful to then th. degree’.
By the beginning of 1926 Hodgkins was still living in Manchester with Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders, who assisted her financially. They had also been the subject of her c.1922 oil on canvas, Double Portrait (Hocken Library, Dunedin). The job with the CPA was her sole venture into the world of commercial art, but it was not a success. After a six months probationary period her contract was not renewed, but it appears she continued working for the company on a freelance basis.
In the summer of 1926 Hodgkins met Lucy Wertheim (1883- 1971), a collector and enthusiastic patron of modern artists. Hodgkins held summer classes in Ludlow and Bridgnorth in Shropshire and in November had a successful one-person exhibition of eighty works at a gallery in Mount Street, Manchester. It seems likely that while based in Manchester she and her friends Hannah and Jane visited Rosthwaite, in Borrowdale in the English Lake District, on one of their many outings. It was this small town, which provided the subject matter for The Water Wheel.
This painting is executed largely in outline, with small amounts of shading and minimal in-filling of colour. The waterwheel itself occupies the centre of the composition and is seen slightly obliquely and flanked by the trunks of rather spindly trees, which are largely spared of branches and foliage. Several large hills, slightly shaded for definition, can be seen in the background, and a small stream in the foreground provides reflections of the overhanging trees.
Hodgkins remained in Manchester until June 1927. By then her reputation appeared to be on the rise and she decided to leave the city, where it just rained ‘soot & depression’. She sent a consignment of paintings back to New Zealand–five of which were shown with the Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington in September 1927. She left for the warmer climate of Tréboul in Brittany and was joined there by Hannah Ritchie, Jane Saunders, Arthur Lett-Haines and Cedric Morris.
The Seven and Five Society 1927
In 1927 she exhibited a work with the New English Art Club, where she caught the attention of prominent London dealer Arthur Howell of St George’sGallery in Hanover Square. That same year she was introduced to Ben Nicholson and the avant-garde group, Seven & Five Society, by Cedric Morris. The group, which was formed in 1919, was linked by the freshness and simplicity of their imagery and the direct way in which the paint was applied. Hodgkins had first shown with the Seven & Five Society in March 1929, when six of her paintings were included in its ninth exhibition. She was invited to become a member and exhibited with the group until the thirteenth exhibition in 1934.
In addition to Hodgkins, the group included Winifred Nicholson (1893- 1981), Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), Christopher Wood (1901-1930), Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) and Cedric Morris (1889- 1982). Morris was a great supporter of Hodgkins’ work, and in 1928 painted her portrait, which is in the collection of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki. Sculptor members of the Society included Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975).
Arthur Howell of St George’s Gallery offered Hodgkins a ‘sole agency’ contract in 1930. It stipulated the purchase of thirty-three watercolours per annum at £3 each, whereupon Hodgkins promised Howell he would receive the ‘best she was capable of’. She spent the remainder of the year in East Bergholt, Suffolk, returning to London in November. Her first solo exhibition at St George’s opened in October to critical acclaim with The Times reviewer describing her as ‘one of our most original artists’.
In 1931 Hodgkins visited Martigues for the fourth time, leaving London in February and travelling via Paris, where she saw a number of exhibitions, including one by Matisse.
Back in Martigues she worked on watercolours and pencil drawings, which she sent back to the St George’s Gallery in London. In mid-April she moved on to St Tropez, where she met up with the New Zealand painters Maude and George Burge. While she was in St Tropez Hodgkins was advised that her London dealer, St George’s Gallery, had closed, presumably a result of the Depression, and when she returned to London in mid-August she transferred her work to the Lefevre Gallery.
Four months later she moved to Bodinnick-by-Fowey in Cornwall, attracted by the prospect of painting landscapes. In February 1932 she exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in London with the Seven & Five Society. On this occasion the reviewer for The Times considered Hodgkins the exhibitor ‘most sure of her ground’; her two oils, Boy in Wood and The Garden, were both elegant pictures ‘… grotesque, but consistently so, as if the artist obeyed her natural vision of things’. Hodgkins also had two paintings in the Seven & Five Society’s tenth exhibition in 1931, and in the eleventh the following years he had six, one of which was In Cornwall. She also exhibited in three other London dealer galleries in 1932; Zwemmer Gallery, Tooth’s and Wertheim Gallery.
By April 1932 Hodgkins was feeling more financially secure, especially so when the co-director of the Lefevre Galleries in London took her to lunch and offered her a new year-long contract with an annual income of £200 and the probability of renewal. The agreement was renewed in July 1938, but was cancelled in November the following year because of the outbreak of war. As noted by Iain Buchanan, while a salary of £200 in 1932was by no means lavish, it was a reasonable sum for an artist at that time, especially so as contemporary art was difficult to sell and economic conditions were uncertain. As Hodgkins herself commented on her change of fortune with her securing the contract: ‘Funny how these favours come thick & fast when you are established in safety’.
Later in 1932, Dorothy Selby, who had contacted Hodgkins back in 1923 requesting lessons, visited her at Bodinnick-by- Fowey. They spent time with other friends, including Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders, in Bridgnorth, an old market town on the river Severn in Shropshire, where Hodgkins had conducted successful summer painting classes in mid 1926. The combination of the season and the company provided the stimulus for a number of works from this period. As described by Joanne Drayton, they showed the influence of French artists, the ‘shimmering playfulness and hot piquancy that is more reminiscent of Raoul Dufy than of the British avant-garde’. These works included several inspired by the pleasure boat section of the river Severn, among them Sabrina’s Garden and Blue Barge, the latter being included in the Lefevre Galleries exhibition New Paintings in January 1938.
Frances Hodgkins in Spain 1933
In late December 1932 Hodgkins travelled to the Spanish island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean, a popular destination for artists and writers. She remained there until mid 1933, avoiding the British winter and enjoying the island’s balmy climate, as well as its culture and history. Whilst there she met up with other New Zealanders, including Gwen Knight (1888-1974), Maude Burge (1865-1957) and May Smit (1906-1988).
It was through this chance encounter with Hodgkins that Knight was encouraged to take herself seriously as a painter. She was the subject of several paintings by Hodgkins, one of which, Pinewoods or Under the Pines, is in the collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. During this period Hodgkins was also able to produce a large number of works which were part of her two subsequent exhibitions at the Lefevre and Leicester Galleries in London, in October- November 1933 and February 1935.
After Ibiza, Hodgkins spent the latter half of 1933 and all of 1934 in Corfe Castle and Bradford-on-Tone, England. She also visited Ponterwyd near Aberystwyth, Wales, with Cedric Morris that same year. By mid-September 1935 she returned to Spain, on this occasion to the mainland and the coastal resort of Tossa de Mar in Catalonia. At the time of her visit the political situation in Europe was deteriorating, and the region was receiving a large influx of refugees escaping from the increasing rise of Nazism in Germany. The hotel in Tossa de Mar was run by a German couple and Hodgkins noted that the local food, while ‘copious’, tended to cater to German tastes. As she wrote in late September 1935: ‘You never know when or where an anchovy or a pickle will crop up’.
Hodgkins was enchanted by Tossa de Mar, in particular by the fishing boats when illuminated by lamps as they set out after dark. As she described in a September 1935 letter to Rée Gorer, the mother of her friend and supporter, writer and anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer (1905-1985): ‘their phantom shapes splashed in silver & blue like the fish they are going to dazzle’. When she first arrived in Tossa de Mar, Hodgkins admitted that the surrounding countryside ‘did not appeal’,but she found ‘plenty of material’ in the town itself, describing the life there as ‘rich and dramatic’. She made quick sketches while wandering around, inspecting the shops and churches. As she wrote to her friend Dorothy Selby in late November 1935: ‘paint in the morning – dividing my time inside & outside the studio – this is the very charming part of a place like Tossa. So small and simple one can step into the old streets and have a look round – make a quick sketch & back to the Studio –repeating this little stunt perhaps 2-3 times during the morning’
Marrows and Peppers, Tossa was one of a number of images Hodgkins painted during this period, using vegetables in place of the traditional still life subjects of fruit and flowers. The composition is dominated by the three central marrows, painted in yellow ochre, and accompanied by a bright green pepper. The vegetables are placed on a horizontal surface and surrounded by organic elements executed in a vigorous and spirited style. This gouache was one of seven works by Frances Hodgkins shown at the Edinburgh Society of Scottish Artists 43rd Annual Exhibition in November 1936. The increasing likelihood of civil war in Spain added to the mounting political tension and forced Hodgkins to relocate to France, before returning to England in May 1936.
Corfe Castle 1936
Upon her return to England Hodgkins decided to move to Corfe Castle in an attempt to take ‘refuge’ in the countryside and to reconnect with her friend from St Ives, the potter Amy Krauss. Corfe Castle is situated on the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorset, and is a historic site known primarily for the ancient castle ruins on top of a hill immediately behind the village. Hodgkins would return to the village regularly and in 1936 she set up a small studio, in a converted Wesleyan Chapel in West Street.
Forever on the move, Hodgkins visited Solva, Wales in October 1936 with her friend Dorothy Selby.They stayed at the Cambrian Inn, next to the Methodist Chapel. The small fishing village, lying in a deep valley at the mouth of the river Solva, in Pembrokeshire, captured the artist’s imagination. In November that year she wrote to Duncan MacDonald, co- director of the Lefevre Galleries: ‘I have been working moderately hard, moderately successful in a landscape of steep valleys, speedy rivers & castles looking like their own mountains but it takes along time to acquire a little idiom and rhythm in paint – if ever – Such nice gentle people I was among at Solva, mostly bird watchers & such all terribly poor’.
Methodist Chapel is a densely-painted view of Solva, executed in bright colours. In the centre of the composition is a cluster of the town’s narrow buildings, dominated by the steeply gabled chapel identified in the title. Now known as the Old Chapel, this structure dates from 1823 and was rebuilt in 1887, more recently operating as an art gallery and café. Included in Hodgkins’ painting is one of Solva’s narrow walkways, or passages, known locally as ‘gidels’, which run between houses and stone walls and give access to the river, where the townsfolk once collected water, washed clothes and disposed of slops. Hodgkins painted the gouache Solva, which is now in the collection of the Birmingham City Art Gallery and shows houses perched rather precariously on the side of the valley, and distinguished both by the overall use of bright colours and a pair of cows grazing in the foreground.
In October-November 1937, Methodist Chapel was included (no.27, 30 guineas) in the exhibition New Paintings and Watercolours by Frances Hodgkins at the Lefevre Galleries. Also among the sixty-three works were Middle Hill, Solva (no.12, 45 guineas), Solva (no.22, 35 guineas),and Mill House, Ponterwyd (no.48, 15 guineas). Hodgkins’ Welsh paintings reappeared in several exhibitions over the following years.
1938 marked the first and only time Hodgkins produced a lithograph, which was commissioned by a venture founded by John Piper (1903-1992) and Robert Wellington. The printing was carried out by Curwen Press, in Plaistow, East London, where the artist drew images onto the lithographic stones and was able to receive technical assistance from Piper. Hodgkins’ Arrangement of Jugs was one of fifteen prints in the second series, launched in March 1938, which also included images by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Piper. Although an edition of 300 was planned, only about half this number was achieved due to the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945).
Introduction to Sir Kenneth Clark 1939
In 1939 Hodgkins’ work came to the attention of Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-1993), director of the National Gallery, London, and she was invited to show at an exhibition of contemporary art in the British Pavilion at the World’s Fair, New York. She was later invited to exhibit in the British Pavilion of the 22nd Venice Biennale, along with Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949), Frank Dobson (1886-1963), Glyn Philpot (1884-1937) and Alfred Munnings (1878-1959). Unfortunately the paintings, which included Methodist Chapel, travelling in their specially constructed van, only got as far as Paris and could not be delivered to Venice due to wartime restrictions. As a result, the British Pavilion exhibition was held at Hertford House, London, from 17 May to 8 June 1940. Hodgkins was aware of her great achievement, being invited to represent British art, and described it in a letter to her brother in New Zealand as ‘a very considerable compliment’ to be included in ‘a very important exhibition’.
Hodgkins eventually made Corfe Castle her permanent home in 1940 when she could no longer travel back and forth to Europe. She believed that Corfe was the place for quiet ones. Describing the Corfe Castle landscape, Hodgkins wrote to Eardley Knollys in May1945.‘My Muse has returned to me–I found her waiting for me on the doorstep faithful wench, which goes to show how futile it is to travel over mountains in search of material when it lies at your own pavement, for the seeing’.
Corfe Castle was not always idyllically peaceful. With the outbreak of the Second World War, England’s coastline was severely battered by enemy fire and nightly German air raids. Hodgkins was greatly affected by the stress of war conditions and the continual heavy military traffic through Corfe Castle to the coastal defences and army camps around the Isle of Purbeck and the highly secret radar establishment at Worth Matravers, eventually caused the roof of her studio to collapse. She wrote;‘the planes over head bringing back wounded from Normandy have scared all art out of me’.
During the Second World War Hodgkins was in her 70’s and less resilient both physically and emotionally to the strains imposed by war. Consequently, she moved to a small studio in Bradford-on-Tone in Somerset where Geoffrey Gorer’s cottage was made available to her. Following a particularly industrious period she experienced the unexpected success of her exhibition held at Lefevre Gallery in 1940.This exhibition marked a turning point in her career and from that time on her paintings became increasingly sought after. A selection of her works were included in the exhibitions, Some Drawings of the Past Fifty Years(1940-41)and Watercolour Painters of Today at the National Gallery. Further accolades followed in 1942 when she was honored with a Civil List pension for her services to art and in 1944 when Tate Britain purchased Loveday and Ann: Two Women with a Basket of Flowers.
After the end of the Second World War a selection of Hodgkins’ works were included in the British Council exhibition in Paris in 1945, Quelques Contemporains Anglais, to celebrate the liberation of France. A key part of her work during this period was the continued influence of French art and the increase of a neoromantic tendency in her work.
In November 1946, to enthusiastic critical acclaim, the Lefevre Gallery held a retrospective exhibition of Hodgkins’ works. The exhibition, which included sixty-four paintings and seventeen drawings ranging from 1902 to 1946, received a warm and positive response from the London press. Hodgkins visited the exhibition on the closing day with Amy Krauss.
During 1946 Hodgkins became increasingly frail, necessitating a move from her West St cottage to the Greyhound Hotel, then to hospital in Dorchester where she died on the 13 May 1947, aged seventy-eight. Today, Frances Hodgkins is recognised as one of New Zealand’s most pre-eminent artists and her work is held in consistently high regard. Her works can be found in the permanent collections of most major New Zealand public galleries and in leading British galleries including Tate Britain, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Manchester City Art Gallery. In 2019 the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki opened the highly anticipated exhibition, Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, curated by Mary Kisler.
Written by Jonathan Gooderham & Richard Wolfe
Edited by Grace Alty