Cassis Quarryman and Wife c. 1921
Black chalk, 32 x 45 cm
Signed Frances Hodgkins lower centre & titled Cassis Quarryman and Wife verso
To Rachel Hodgkins, 21 December 1920. Cassis, nr. Marseilles, France.
The place (Cassis) is off the beaten track, not very far from Marseilles, on the coast, much frequented by artists on account of the landscape…Winston Churchill his wife and suite have been here lately, he for a fortnights painting.
After leaving New Zealand in 1901, the first group of monochromatic works that appear in Hodgkins’s oeuvre are related to Cassis, where she spent six weeks during the winter of 1920-21. Hodgkins’s drawings from this period were completed in black chalk and were of uniform size. Two examples of her chalk drawings are currently held in public galleries; Cassis c.1920 - 1930 in the Auckland City Art Gallery and Landscape in the South of France in the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester.
Frances Hodgkins left England for France in 1920. On her arrival, she immersed herself in the local culture, enjoying the fine French food and wine. After a week of relaxation she moved south to the small town of Cassis, in the hope of meeting up with close friends, Cedric Morris and Lett Haines. Arriving in the small fishing port, Hodgkins discovered that they had already departed, but the magnificent amphitheatre created by the hills surrounding Cassis drew her in, and she decided to stay. By chance, Hodgkins met a fellow New Zealander, Jean Campbell, and joined her on her vineyard, Fontcreuse. There she enjoyed daily walks over the rugged hills of the region and sketched constantly as she went. This, Hodgkins realised, was Cézanne country - a challenge that she met in a series of black chalk drawings, which are notable for their boldness and strength of design - in what was for her, a new medium.
Hodgkins’s chalk works express her assuredness in her own skill and reveal an element of experimentation in terms of both subject matter and form. Hodgkins intended her chalk drawings to not be just picturesque examples of the local landscape and people, but to be autonomous artworks that would also serve as inspiration for larger paintings. They were undoubtedly popular and the present drawing, Cassis Quarryman and Wife c. 1921, bares a strikingly close resemblance to her later work, Spanish Husband and Wife c.1925. Hodgkins hoped to sell the set of chalk drawings in London, writing to her mother Rachel on the 4th of February 1921 to say that she was:
…sending off my Cassis set of drawings to Mr Frank Rutter to see if he can arrange to show them in London…
Cassis Quarryman and Wife is executed with a paucity of line that underscores Hodgkins’s masterful draughtsmanship. In the present work and the related piece, Spanish Husband and Wife, held in the Auckland Art Gallery, Hodgkins utilises the chequered patterning of the fabric to draw attention to the female figures and to provide a central anchor for the composition. The use of bold patches of shading works to accentuate the landscape of the faces while Hodgkins’s ability to indicate spatial recession by hinting at the layering of the couple is testament to her skill and understanding of the fundamentals of the drawing practice.
Written by Grace Alty & Jonathan Gooderham
Edited by Jemma Field
Frances Hodgkins: The Expatriate Years, Jonathan Grant Galleries (Auckland 2012), p. 11
Karl Hagedorn RBA, NEAC (1889-1969)
Private collection, Somerset, UK.