Still Life with Fish c.1910
Black chalk and watercolour on paper, 52 x 58 cm
To Rachel Hodgkins, 28 July 1910. Concarneau.
I eat at a little café where I get large platefuls of soup & sardines & crabs & veal & beefsteaks very raw & red & nearly always green peas stewed with onions & lots of sugar which taste much better than they sound- all washed down with copious quantities of red wine & very sour cider…
In 2007, twenty previously unknown watercolours by Frances Hodgkins were purchased by the Auckland Art Gallery from the Parisian art dealer Mathieu Néouze. Néouze and his associate, who discovered the collection at Monfort-l’Amaury, retained one work each for their own private collections: Tunny Boats in the Harbour, Concarneau c.1910 and Still Life with Fish. In 2009 these two valuable watercolours were located in Paris by Jonathan Grant Galleries, where they were promptly purchased and returned to Auckland. These two important paintings are now offered for sale for the first time on the New Zealand market.
The present painting, Still Life with Fish that was painted around 1910 is most likely to have been painted as a ‘teaching demonstration’ for one of Hodgkins’s Concarneau art classes. During 1910, Hodgkins chose the small fishing village of Concarneau as the location for her summer school. The town was a well known, but still unspoilt haunt for artists and it attracted well-established French painters, students and amateurs alike. In this idyllic location Hodgkins found the ideal subject matter, not only for her own artwork, but also for her eager students. She later wrote of her teaching experience from Paris on the 27th of November 1911 saying:
My Class is a real going concern now & a great success. I am refusing pupils on account of lack of space. I can only take 16 altogether – 8 in each class as the Studio is not large. Also I have several private pupils at a guinea an hour.
Hodgkins’s Still Life with Fish is an excellent example of the artist’s working methods and clearly displays the influence of the watercolourist Arthur Melville (1858-1904). Hodgkins greatly admired Melville’s exotic market scenes and still lifes of food and pottery, in which he used a saturated palette and a loose, fluid line.
In her Concarneau works, Hodgkins utilised the ‘wet-on-wet’ technique - a technique that she developed in Europe, in order to bring her watercolours to life. This method saw a flurry of line, broad washes of colour and often large expanses of untouched paper that serve to highlight the confidence of the composition and the rapidity with which these works were executed. An example of this is seen in Still Life with Fish, which possesses a vibrant immediacy as though the work has only just been finished. As a result, the work is palpably real and is a supreme example of Hodgkins’s skill at capturing fleeting moments in time.
Hodgkins’s focus on the independent forms of the serving utensils and fish combines to produce an almost abstract patterned effect. Combined with her use of multiple viewpoints and tilting planes, the watercolour acknowledges the two-dimensional reality of the paper and in doing so pays homage to the father of modern art and the abstracted still life: Paul Cézanne.
Written by Grace Alty & Jonathan Gooderham
Edited by Jemma Field
Auckland, N.Z. Jonathan Grant Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: The Expatriate Years. April 2012
Frances Hodgkins: The Expatriate Years, Jonathan Grant Galleries (Auckland 2012), p. 5
Private collection, Montfort-l’Amaury, France
Mathieu Néouze, Paris