Welsh Emblem, 1942
Gouache on paper, 37 x 54 cm
Signed Frances Hodgkins & dated 1942 lower right
To Dorothy Selby, c.16 September 1942. Dolaucothy Arms Hotel, Pumpsaint, Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire, Wales.
I am here & really resting brain and body …. We are over 400 ft. up & the air is like wine flavoured with conifer pine – rather too many conifers….. To me it is paradise after Corfe. Fine country which will be better still in week or so – harvest in full swing.
Following the declaration of war on 3 September 1939 the now 70-year-old Frances Hodgkins continued to live in the Dorset village of Corfe Castle, but proximity to the English Channel meant local towns were now targets for enemy bombing. At the same time, tanks and military convoys trained nearby and often passed through the village, convincing her to seek the solitude of Geoffrey Gorer’s cottage in Somerset. She also spent time in Dolaucothy in Wales, and on 31 October 1942 wrote to Eardley Knollys, owner of a gallery in Knightsbridge, London, enthusing over her recent work:
I have done masses of work in between showers of torrential rain, in and about the woods & river of Dolaucothy and have even seriously made pictures of the funny chimney ornaments, which do so lend themselves to decoration – I love them –
At Dolaucothy Hodgkins felt inspired and enjoyed a burst of productive energy. By December she was back at Corfe Castle, and a selection of 15 paintings resulting from her Welsh trip were shown at Lefevre Galleries in March-April the following year. Alongside her exhibition, Gouaches by Frances Hodgkins – A New Series of Gouaches Painted during 1942-3, the gallery mounted a small collection of modern French painting, Picasso and his Contemporaries. The gallery had not previously shown the School of Paris with an English artist, and Hodgkins was the first to be so honoured. She hoped to be in London for the private view – ‘I look forward to seeing my wall of 15 - & more especially Picasso & his merry men’ – but unfortunately was too ill with bronchitis to attend. However, there was much positive response to the exhibition, as from artist John Piper and critic Eric Newton, and the artist herself was able to report that it ‘had gone wonderfully’.
Whereas many of Hodgkins’ previous solo exhibitions included earlier as well as recent work, the fifteen paintings in her 1943 show were both recent and in the same medium. The selection therefore had a sense of cohesion, characterised by fluid brushwork, abstracted forms and light-coloured passages over larger and darker areas. Welsh Emblem may have qualified as one of the more enigmatic works in this collection, with the composition swirling around a patterned tablecloth and a bowl containing potatoes, beetroot and other garden produce, and autumn leeks which allude to the title. Other elements may be less easy to identify, but Hodgkins’ confidence and dynamic approach are plainly obvious.
Written by Richard Wolfe
Research by Jonathan Gooderham
London, U.K. Lefevre Gallery, Gouaches by Frances Hodgkins painted during 1942 - 1943. March - April 1943 (No. 4)
Manchester, U.K. City of Manchester Art Gallery. Pictures by Frances Hodgkins. August – September 1947 (No. 39)
U.K. Arts Council of Great Britain Touring Exhibition, sponsored by Isle of Purbeck Arts Club. Swanage, Bournemouth, Totnes, St Ives. March – May 1948 (No. 45)
London, U.K. Tate Gallery and The Arts Council of Great Britain, Ethel Walker, Frances Hodgkins, Gwen John – Memorial Exhibition. 7 May – 15 June 1952 (No. 100)
Auckland, N.Z. Auckland City Art Gallery, Frances Hodgkins Leitmotif. November 2005
Auckland, N.Z. Jonathan Grant Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: A Singular Artist. July 2016
O. Raymond Drey Esq.
Arthur R Howell, Four Vital Years (Rockliff, London 1951) pp. 102, 122, 127, 128
Roger Collins and Iain Buchanan, Frances Hodgkins on Display 1890 – 1950, (Hocken Library 2000) pp. 82, 91, 93