Figures in a Mediterranean Landscape c.1933
Watercolour, 48 x 36 cm
Signed in pencil lower right
Inscribed below mount garden scene
To Karl Hagedorn, 29 January 1933. Hotel Balear, Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain.
It seems hard to remember that I recently lived in the Lambolle Road. [Hampstead, London, NW3] so completely do I feel absorbed into this setting – the one thing calculated to bring me down to reality is rent day …
By mid-July 1933 Hodgkins was back in her Lambolle Road studio, in London, and among the watercolours painted whilst she was in Ibiza was Figures in a Mediterranean landscape. The first owner of this painting was Bradford businessman Charles Rutherston (aka Rothenstein), older brother of artist Sir William Rothenstein, who was a keen collector and supporter of the arts and played a key role in the careers of such leading English artists as Gwen and Augustus John, Paul Nash and Henry Moore.
In certain respects Figures in a Mediterranean landscape is similar to another of Hodgkins’ watercolours from 1933, Spanish Woman Washing in the Garden. A tree separates the two figures in the Mediterranean landscape, whereas the Spanish woman is framed by a pair of trees which merge to form an arch. The latter individual also bears a resemblance to one of the figures in the Mediterranean landscape. Both paintings were executed with Hodgkins’ usual fluidity, with the elements only loosely connected to one another, and include the geometric white forms of the local vernacular architecture.
Although one figure dominates the other in the Mediterranean landscape, the painting is one of a number of Hodgkins’ double (and triple) portraits produced between the early 1920s and the late 1930s. Compared to an earlier (1930) oil, The Bridesmaids (collection of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki), the Mediterranean pair are described with much less detail, although there is still sufficient to indicate that they are locals, and the larger figure’s grasp on the central tree suggests a strong connection to the region. Elsewhere, the scattering of small tree motifs across the composition is suggestive of a patterned textile.
In the years prior to Figures in a Mediterranean landscape, Hodgkins had been receiving positive responses to her work when shown at various venues in London. In May 1928 she was included, along with John Nash, William Roberts, Ukraine-born British artist Bernard Meninsky and others, in an exhibition of watercolours at the St. George’s Gallery in Hanover Square, London. A reviewer noted that the use of that medium to ‘capture light while defining structure and configuration with the minimum of labour and material’ was a relatively recent development, and referred to Hodgkins’ Mother and Child as one of several watercolours of ‘remarkable ability’.
In March 1929, when included with Winifred Nicholson and Christopher Wood in an exhibition of the Seven and Five Society at Tooth’s gallery, New Bond Street, Hodgkins was identified as the artist who was ‘most sure of her ground’.
A year later, when she exhibited oil paintings and watercolours at the Claridge Gallery in Brook Street, Hodgkins was described as ‘primarily a colourist’ and likened to Cézanne, engaged in trying to ‘make of Impressionism something of the old masters’. And she also received a positive review to her November 1929 exhibition at the Bloomsbury Gallery:
The paintings by Miss Frances Hodgkins … have a freakish character that is so evidently constitutional that it becomes an added attraction … Miss Hodgkins is an admirable colourist, bold and at the same time subtle in her arrangements, and her system of painting is a sort of free translation of natural forms so as to bring different objects into the same category for the purposes of design.
Figures in a Mediterranean landscape can be seen as a celebration of youthful innocence and vitality, the latter reinforced by the inclusion of the central plant motif. And while the dominant foreground figure echoes Hodgkins’ earlier portraits, as of young Maori, the inclusion of an impressionistic background now hints at the combinations of figures (and still lifes) and landscape that would follow.
Written by Richard Wolfe
Research by Jonathan Gooderham
London, U.K. Lefevre Gallery (label verso)
Auckland, N.Z. Jonathan Grant Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: A Singular Artist. July 2016
Charles Lambert Rutherston (Rothenstien) (1866-1927)
Jeanette Powell née Rutherston
Thence by family descent