Post compiled by Andrea Bell, Curator of Art
Today marks what would have been artist Frances Hodgkins’ 148th birthday. Frances Mary Hodgkins was born in Dunedin in 1869, the daughter of Rachel Owen Parker and William Mathew Hodgkins. Born into an artistic family, she joined the Otago Art Society at age 21 and dedicated her life to painting. In 1875 she studied at the Dunedin School of Art under the tuition of Italian artist Girolamo Pieri Nerli and in 1901 she travelled abroad to expand her artistic horizons. In 1912, she emigrated permanently, and went on to spent the majority of her life in Britain and Europe. Primarily a painter, she worked across a range of media including watercolour, pencil, charcoal, gouache and oils. She lived a nomadic life and travelled widely around Europe. As a result, her work underwent numerous transitions: from Impressionist to Surrealist, to Neo-Romantic with abstract tendencies—but never losing sight of her subject. At age 71 she was invited to represent Britain in the 1940 Venice Biennale, along with her younger contemporaries. Hodgkins was one of New Zealand and indeed Britain’s leading modernist painters. She died in Dorset, England in 1947, aged 78.
One of the Hocken Collections’ most prized artworks is Double Portrait (1922), depicting Hodgkins’ former art students Hannah Ritchie (left) and Jane Saunders (right), with whom she maintained a long association throughout her life. Hodgkins’ use of bright colour and flattened painting technique shows the influence of Henri Matisse, while the elongated figures call to mind Amadeo Modigliani – both artists whose work Hodgkins would have seen around this time. The patterns on the women’s dresses also foreshadows Hodgkins’ foray into textile design at the Calico Printers’ Association (CPA) in Manchester, where she worked between 1925-26. Double Portrait was sold by Ritchie in 1957 via Leicester Gallery to Charles Brasch, who bequeathed the work to the Hocken Collections in 1973.
The Frances Hodgkins Fellowship was established at the University of Otago in 1962 in her honour.