The Sitting Room c. 1930/31
Black chalk on paper, 30 x 30 cm
Signed Frances Hodgkins lower centre
To Dorothy Selby, 25 June 1931. Sube Hotel, St Tropez, Var.
But this last batch of a dozen drawings is good I think. Definitely it is summer weather now and one is at ones best.
Frances Hodgkins spent the year of 1930 preparing for her October exhibition at St George’s Gallery, London. She was, however, exhausted and in very low spirits. Hodgkins’s close friend, Lett Haines, arranged for her to go first to a cottage in St Osyth near Clacton-on-Sea and then later to a friend’s farm, Wise Follies, near the village of Wilmington in Sussex. It is here that Hodgkins again took up her drawing practice, focussing on the local villages and other still life subjects.
Hodgkins’ preoccupation with conveying movement through line in her drawings originated in the early stages of her career. Her fixation with the still life genre continued on into the 1930’s where she was able to combine a series of separate still life objects as well as their surroundings in an effortless and graceful manner. Hodgkins’ later works proclaim her confidence and the apparent ease with which she was able to wield her pencil - charging it with the same interest that had fuelled her earlier explorations into colour.
The curving lines that sweep across Hodgkins’ drawings invoke a sense of space and freedom, while also appearing to capture fleeting moments in time. In some instances, Hodgkins brought heterogeneous objects together, weaving a composition from items taken from her immediate environment instead of seeing them in abstract terms as she came to do in her later paintings.
This idea is especially prevalent in the present charcoal drawing, The Sitting Room from 1930 - 1931. The work shares several similar key compositional elements with Pleasure Garden painted in 1932, which is held in the permanent collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery. As such, it is likely that The Sitting Room served as a preliminary drawing to Pleasure Garden. Similarities are seen in the design of the table and the curved armrest of the chair, in the right hand corner of The Sitting Room, which are then echoed in the Pleasure Garden. A similarity can also be drawn between the empty bottle and two glasses in The Sitting Room, and the undulating shapes of the wine bottle and glasses in the foreground of the painting in the Christchurch Art Gallery.
Featuring an extremely complex composition, The Sitting Room presents the viewer with numerous pieces of furniture, decorative objects, functional items and patterned fabrics that are all set within a small domestic space. Testament to Hodgkins’ proficiency as a draughtsman and her understanding of pictorial space, The Sitting Room is at once both frenetically busy and quietly calm. The absence of any human presence lends the work a calmative effect, which successfully offsets the busyness of the piece. In doing so, Hodgkins avoids the potential of overwhelming busyness due to the wealth of visual interest. While there is little attempt to show real distance in the work, each object is still given depth and solidity through careful shadowing, which imparts the scene with an empathic domesticity.
Written by Grace Alty & Jonathan Gooderham
Edited by Jemma Field
London, U.K. The Fine Art Society. January 1968.
Auckland, N.Z. Jonathan Grant Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: The Expatriate Years. April 2012
Frances Hodgkins: The Expatriate Years, Jonathan Grant Galleries (Auckland 2012), p. 17
Private Collection, Canterbury, U.K.