Calves for Sale, Les Andelys, Normandy, 1901
Watercolour on paper, 20 x 15.5 cm
Signed FH & dated 1901 lower right
To Rachel Hodgkins, 26 August 1901. Hotel de France, Caudebec en Caux, France.
It is very beautiful country all around this neighbourhood and the peasants are a real joy…. some of the old men wear such beautiful blue corduroy bags that make me ache to paint them, it is a great sight to see them on Market day (every Saturday) the whole town is covered with little canvas booths and with the different goods displayed and the babel of noise that goes on, each stallholder crying up their own particular wares.
Frances Hodgkins left New Zealand for the first time in February 1901, and from July that year spent five months in France, joining the painting classes of Penzance-based Norman Garstin at Caudebec-en-Caux. It was here that she met and made friends with English artists Maud Nickalls, Mrs Ashington, Peter Moffat Linder, Norman Garstin and his wife, and Auckland-born Dorothy Kate Richmond. These painting classes enabled her to immerse herself in her art for the first time, without the distractions of family, domesticity and teaching obligations. However, she needed to supplement her modest savings with sales, and assuming that everyday life in turn-of- the-century rural France would appeal to New Zealand buyers, she sought suitable subject matter in the open countryside and towns. Subsequently all these paintings came back for exhibition in New Zealand.
They were produced en plein air and rapidly, as reflected in the fluidity of her brushwork, capturing a sense of the colour, action and informality of village life. But such an approach was not without its challenges, for Hodgkins was mindful that a lady artist at an easel in the market-place was guaranteed to attract comment and the curiosity of the locals.
To Isabel Field, 15 September 1901; from Frances Hodgkins, 21 Av. de la Grande Armée, Paris:
Tomorrow I am off to a place called Les Andelys about 60 miles from Paris where Miss Nickalls is to join me for a fortnight. If we report very favourably on it Mr. Garstin will most likely join us and I will wait there for Miss Richmond.
Some three weeks later Hodgkins wrote to her mother from Arles, mentioning her time in Les Andelys. As planned, Dorothy Kate Richmond had joined her, and the pair were now en route to Italy.
To Rachel Hodgkins, 9 October 1901; from Frances Hodgkins, Hotel du Forum, Arles, Bouches du Rhone, France:
Les A.[ndelys] proved a capital sketching ground and three weeks didnt half exhaust its beauties … but the cold weather drove us South. Miss Nickalls & Mr. Garstin joined me there and we were a very merry party and it was a very happy wind up to our summer’s sketching.
Calves for Sale, Les Andelys, Normandy depicts a farmer in blue - perhaps the ‘beautiful blue corduroy bags’ Hodgkins referred to in the letter to her mother of 26 August 1901 – examining a pen of animals in the foreground. Using her rapid wet-on-wet technique she captured the general atmosphere of the scene, in particular the patchwork of colour and activity in the background. The following year Hodgkins reflected on ‘those market scenes’, describing them as the outcome of ‘great mental strain, with nerves at a tension & eyes bewildered with an ever moving crowd …’
In August 1902 Hodgkins exhibited 37 watercolours of France at the McGregor Wright gallery, Wellington, and three months later several of her watercolours painted at Les Andelys, and also Dinan in Brittany were shown at the Otago Art Society.6 Her market scenes are represented in the permanent collections of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Auckland Art Gallery and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Written by Richard Wolfe
Research by Jonathan Gooderham
Auckland, N.Z. Gus Fisher Gallery, The Expatriates. Frances Hodgkins and Barry Bates. September - December 2005.
Auckland, N.Z. Jonathan Grant Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: A Singular Artist. July 2016.