Frances Hodgkins

Bodinnick, Cornwall c.1931

Watercolour, 45 x 37 cm
Signed Frances Hodgkins lower left
Inscribed Bodinnick, Cornwall lower right

To Dorothy Selby, 21 December 1931. The Nook, Bodinnick-by-Fowey, Cornwall.

‘I am working very hard – searching for subjects; bad light, cold hands – depression all the seven devils as usual.‘

In August 1931 Frances Hodgkins decided to leave the bustling city of London for a quieter life in the country and consequently moved to ‘The Nook’, Bodinnick-by-Fowey in Cornwall. In a letter to Dorothy Selby, Hodgkins wrote, The Nook is neither of the “Rookery” or the “Cosy” sort but suits my needs – no other fool could stand it. Hodgkins painted the surrounding countryside relentlessly, as she feared her contract with galleries in London might be terminated because of the ever-worsening depression, caused by the stock market crash in 1929. Her hard work paid off and in February 1932 she exhibited with the Seven and Five Society and later that year with the Salford Gallery near Manchester, and also with Zwemmer, Tooth’s & Wertheim galleries in London.

Once she settled in, Hodgkins found her new Cornish environment immensely stimulating not only because of the beautiful natural surroundings, but also because of her new neighbours. She wrote of them to Dorothy Selby on the 21st of December 1931, saying:

I enclose a picture of The “Nook” which is my temporary home. The large white house in the right belongs to Sir Gerald du Maurier which he uses as a stage setting only in the summer – But his rather beautiful son-daughter lives here, Daphne, and is [a] rather disturbing feature in the extremely homely little village.

One of the most significant works of Frances Hodgkins’ career, Wings over Water 1931-1932 (Tate Collection, London), is based on the view from her studio window at ‘The Nook’. It is notable that the present painting, Bodinnick, Cornwall was completed at roughly the same time as Wings over Water, and moreover, it was painted from the exact same location. Wings over Water is one of Hodgkins’ most elaborate works that combines a still life of three large shells with a landscape aspect.

In Wings over Water, Hodgkins uses the window as a framing device, placing the shells in close proximity to the viewer in the foreground of the painting. The still life gives way to rolling pastoral hills and an expanse of water, while a fence with a perching parrot demarcates the middle distance. Similarly, in the present work, Bodinnick, Cornwall, Hodgkins’ studio window again acts to frame the piece beyond which the vista rapidly unfolds. Hodgkins’s use of colour is comparatively subdued as broad washes of colour are liberally applied with only a cursory regard for outlines. Movement is effectively conveyed through dashes and strokes of pigment with the scudding clouds being given only the briefest of marks.

The thickly-painted black gate in the foreground of the composition is central to the compositional success of the work. Providing a solid almost tangible presence, the gate gives way to shrubbery, houses and boats that are drawn with a thin, confident line. Indeed, the gate works to guide the viewer through the painting – enticing us to open the gate and wander down into the reality of the narrow streets and the harbour of Bodinnick-by-Fowey. It is significant that a series of watercolours that Hodgkins painted at ‘The Nook’ were selected by the Tate Gallery at this time and sent to Chicago for exhibition, testifying to their compositional success and persuasive allure.

Written by Grace Alty & Jonathan Gooderham
Edited by Jemma Field


London, U.K. Leicester Galleries, Paintings & Watercolours. October 1941 (No. 105)

Auckland, N.Z. Jonathan Grant Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: The Expatriate Years. April 2012


Roger Collins and Iain Buchanan, Frances Hodgkins on Display 1890 – 1950 (Auckland, 2000), p. 81.

Arthur R. Howell, Frances Hodgkins: Four Vital Years (London, 1951), p. 121.

Frances Hodgkins: The Expatriate Years, Jonathan Grant Galleries (Auckland 2012), p. 19


Leicester Galleries, London, 1941

Purchased from above, thence by descent to private collection, Auckland