Breton Pottery c.1902
Watercolour, 17.5 x 11.3 cm
Signed with monogram FH lower right Inscribed on painting verso Breton Pottery £3.3 Inscribed on exhibition label attached verso Pottery Market
To Rachel Hodgkins, 28th July 1902; from F.H., Rue de l’Apport, Dinan
The French are early birds and the streets just as busy then, in fact busier than later in the day. Dinan is a first rate place - a variety of everything - old streets, peasant women, fruit stalls, river scenery, feudal castles & two “dashing” cavalry regiments ... I am sending out next week all I had for the November show which leaves me with an empty portfolio and it will be several months before I can hope to get some decent work together again.
Frances Hodgkins made her first trip to Britain in 1901, reaching London on 7th April. The following month she attended classes at the London Polytechnic and at the end of June, 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. By now people were pouring into the capital, in preparation for the forthcoming Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Everywhere there was a sense of excitement but, as Joanne Drayton notes, Hodgkins had tired of cosmopolitan life, and the crowds and atmosphere of London ‘weighed on her’. She yearned for the ‘simpler country life’ and, as shortage of money was now a growing problem, she made plans to join another of Norman Garstin’s summer schools in Dinan, Brittany, in the northwest of France.
Dinan is an attractive and well-preserved small town dating from medieval times. Hodgkins arrived there around 7th July 1902, and although the weather was generally wet, she managed to paint most days. The marketplace was a recurring subject in Hodgkins's work of this period. It was a motif established in her practice by Garstin, who had introduced his sketching class to the market scene as a primary source of inspiration. According to Pamela Gerrish Nunn; ‘The marketplace lent itself to the capture of the essence of locality because it was generally the centre of public activities, combining the ritual and traditional with the spontaneous and unpredictable’. Hodgkins captured the lively market scenes, focussing on specific produce – fish, pottery, livestock, flowers - in her compositions, typically in a recurrent size of 36cm by 26cm size.
With the arrival in Dinan of 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 Drayton describes as an ‘end-of-summer golden glow’, and also showing signs of the winter to come. 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’
On the basis of titled works, and in particular those mentioning Dinan, Hodgkins spent a productive time in Brittany. Her watercolour Breton Pottery is dominated by the rear three-quarter view of a seated vendor, with a large selection of her variously coloured wares – mainly green, blue and shades of brown – arranged on the cobbled market-place in the foreground. Two other background figures, who appear to be in traditional Breton dress, add to the sense of market activity, as does the artist’s vigorous technique. The painting is also distinguished by the economical application of pigment, while the inclusion of large areas bleached by strong light and the lack of oblique shadows capture the market under the heat of the mid-day sun.
Written by Richard Wolfe
Research by Jonathan Gooderham
Private Collection U.K. Dunbar Sloane Ltd, Wellington, N.Z., December 1991 Collection: P. Isherwood, Wellington
Whitford & Hughes, Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand 1990 in Britain 1990), p. 27 (as Pottery, Tangier Market)
Roger Collins and Iain Buchanan, Frances Hodgkins on Display 1890 – 1950 (Hocken Library 2000), p. 34
Dunedin, N.Z., Otago Art Society, November 1903, Breton Pottery, No. 1, £3-0-0
Wellington, NZ., McGregor Wrights Gallery Exhibition of Oil & Water Colour Paintings by Miss Hodgkins & Miss D K Richmond (London), February 1904, (as Pottery, Dinan, No. 32 £3 gns)
London, Whitford & Hughes, Frances Hodgkins, July- August 1990, No.1 (as Pottery, Tangier Market)
Auckland, N.Z. Jonathan Grant Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: A New Zealand Modernist, June 2019