Methodist Chapel, c.1936
Gouache on paper, 48 x 63 cm,
Signed lower left Frances Hodgkins c. 1936,
Inscribed on mount: No. 5 Solva
… an invitation from the British Council to represent British Art at the Biennial Exhibition in Venice in April - that is to fill a large sized room in the British Pavilion, the other painters being Duncan Grant, Wadsworth & Munnings - each with a room of their own - a very considerable compliment to your sister one is assumed to be either eminent or dead - perhaps a bit of both - before you can qualify for this honour - it is a very important exhibition.
In 1935 Frances Hodgkins made her first trip to Wales, to Ponterwyd, a village in the Cambrian Mountains in the middle of the country. She went with Cedric Morris, who she had met at Newlyn, Cornwall, in 1917, and exhibited alongside in the Seven and Five Society exhibition in 1929. Together with his partner, Arthur Lett Haines, Morris remained a life-long friend and in August-September 1928, while Hodgkins was living in Bloomsbury, London, Morris painted her portrait, now in the collection of the Auckland Art Gallery.
Unfortunately, while Hodgkins was in Ponterwyd it rained nearly every day and the countryside was swarming with day trippers. As a result, and with the assistance of Mrs Gorer and Dorothy Selby, she was pleased to be able to leave for Tossa de Mar, Spain, in mid-September. There she remained, working until the summer heat and the political situation drove her to France, and by late May 1936 she was back at Corfe Castle in Dorset. She spent the rest of that year and much of 1937 in what Joanne Drayton describes as ‘an itinerant whirl’. She took a studio in Hampstead for a time, and then returned to Wales, again with Cedric Morris, to Llangennith in the south of the country. In Wales Hodgkins found a rural iconography that, as Drayton puts it, ‘fed her paintings magnificently’.
In the late summer and autumn of 1936, and again in September 1938, Hodgkins visited Solva, a fishing village lying in a deep valley at the mouth of the river of the same name in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. In November that year she wrote to Duncan MacDonald, co-director of the Lefevre Galleries: ‘I have been working moderately hard, moderately successful in a landscape of steep valleys speedy rivers & castles looking like their own mountains but it takes a long time to acquire a little idiom and rhythm in paint – if ever – Such nice gentle people I was among at Solva, mostly bird watchers & such all terribly poor.’
Methodist Chapel is a densely-painted view of Solva, executed in bright colours. In the centre of the composition is a cluster of the town’s narrow buildings, dominated by the steeply-gabled chapel identified in the title. Now known as the Old Chapel, this structure dates from 1823 and was rebuilt in 1887, more recently operating as an art gallery and café. Included in Hodgkins’s painting is one of Solva’s narrow walkways, or passages, known locally as ‘gidels’, which run between houses and stone walls and give access to the river, where the townsfolk once collected water, washed clothes and disposed of slops. Hodgkins painted another view of the town, the gouache Solva, 1936, in the collection of the Birmingham City Art Gallery, which shows houses perched rather precariously on the side of the valley, and distinguished both by the overall use of bright colours and a pair of cows grazing in the foreground.
In October-November 1937, Methodist Chapel was included (no. 27, 30 guineas) in the exhibition ‘New Paintings and Water-colours by Frances Hodgkins’ at the Lefevre Galleries. Also among the 63 works were Middle Hill, Solva (no. 12, 45 guineas), Solva (no. 22, 35 guineas), and ,em>Mill House, Ponterwyd (no. 48, 15 guineas). Hodgkins’s Welsh paintings reappeared in several exhibitions over the following years: Solva, at the Society of Modern Painters exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, in May-June 1938, and in ‘Living Art in England’ at the London Gallery, Cork Street, London, in January-February 1939. Middle Hill, Solva was included in ‘Artists of Fame and Promise’ at The Leicester Galleries, London, in the summer of 1939, while Bridge at Ponterwyd was in the ‘Centennial Exhibition of International and New Zealand Art’ at the National Art Gallery, Wellington, in 1939-40. More significantly, in 1939 Methodist Chapel, Middle Hill, Solva and Solva were among the 26 works by Hodgkins selected by Sir Kenneth Clark to represent Britain at the 22nd Biennale di Venezia.
Unfortunately, the paintings, travelling in their specially constructed van, only got as far as Paris and could not be delivered to Venice due to wartime restrictions. As a result, the British Pavilion exhibition was held at Hertford House, London, from 17th May to 8th June 1940. Hodgkins was aware of her great achievement, being invited to represent British art, and described it in a letter to her brother in New Zealand as ‘a very considerable compliment’ to be included in ‘a very important exhibition’.
Written by Jonathan Gooderham & Grace Alty
Leicester Galleries, London 1941 (Sold to Mrs Fielding)
Bequeathed to Mr. L. Schoeman, 6 Steene Rd, Pinetown, South Africa
Stephan Welz & Co, Johannesburg, British & Continental Paintings & Sculpture, August 1993
John Leech Gallery, Auckland,
Private Collection, Christchurch.
London, The Lefevre Gallery, New Paintings and Watercolours, October 1937, No. 27.
London, 22nd Biennale di Venezia, British Council at the Galleries of Hertford House, London W1, May – June 1940, No. 107.
Leeds, Leeds Art Gallery, Works Selected for the Venice Biennale, August 1940
London, The Leicester Galleries, Paintings and Watercolours, September 1941, No. 131
Auckland, John Leech Gallery, Paintings and Watercolours, June 1998
Wellington, Adam Gallery, Landscape/Painting, Landscape/Writing, September 1999 – January 2000
Auckland, N.Z. Auckland Art Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, May - September 2019
Dunedin, N.Z. Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, 19 October 2019 - 26 January 2020
Arthur R Howell, Four Vital Years (Rockliff, London 1951) pp. 119, 121 & 122
Linda Gill (editor), Letters of Frances Hodgkins (Auckland University Press 1993) p. 497
Roger Collins & Iain Buchanan, Frances Hodgkins on Display 1890 - 1950, (Hocken Library 2000) pp. 73, 77, 80, 81
Buchanan, E. Eastmond and M. Dunn, Frances Hodgkins: Paintings and Drawings (Auckland University Press 2001) p. 168(Rediscovered gouache Methodist Chapel.
Catherine Hammond and Mary Kisler (Ed.) Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, (Auckland University Press 2019) p. 179
Roger Collins & Iain Buchanan, Frances Hodgkins on Display 1890 - 1950, (Hocken Library 2000) (Front and back covers)
Elizabeth Eastmond, Landscape/Painting, Landscape/Writing (Adam Gallery September 1999) p. 8 Buchanan, E. Eastmond and M. Dunn, Frances Hodgkins: Paintings and Drawings (Auckland University Press 2001) p. 173
Catherine Hammond and Mary Kisler (Ed.) Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, (Auckland University Press 2019) Figure 8.10
Jonathan Grant Galleries Frances Hodgkins. A New Zealand Modernist (Auckland, 2019) p. 8