Te Papa - Frances Hodgkins - Cut melons - Print
ARTIST: Frances Hodgkins
A contract with Arthur Howell’s St George’s Gallery in 1930 freed Frances Hodgkins from the burden of teaching. Like a swallow she was drawn back to the Mediterranean and the brilliant light that informed the work of so many modernist artists. In April 1931 she went to stay with Maude and George Burge in the villa they had rented in Saint-Tropez. Their villa was on the inward slope of the cliff at the far end of the town, near Paul Signac’s famous pink house with its large windows picked out in deep green tiles. Rather than the sea, it was the expansive fields, farm buildings and villages leading across the plains to the inland mountains that became the backdrop for Hodgkins’ inspiration.
In Cut melons, first exhibited in 1932, Hodgkins uses the landscape–still-life format that Howell had encouraged her to develop, but here the fruit is set against a rarely used architectural backdrop, the side walls of the building zigzagging at irregular angles into the deeper landscape. Hodgkins was a remarkable colourist, and her murky tones of aquamarine and cream are blocked and contained by a longer wall of rich red ochre that stands like a signal box near a single olive tree. Its stark branches are silhouetted against the pale sky, which is differentiated from the walls and foreground by a few wavy ‘clouds’ scratched into the paint surface with the end of her paintbrush. This is a painter’s painting, every section drawing attention to its compositional gambit; the range of textural marks both patterns and ‘signature’. Hodgkins teases us with her brief white parallel dashes placed in the lower left of the deep-set window, suggesting ripples of light on water, subtly stretching our sense of the real. Melons, jugs and pedestal dishes — all favourite subjects — nestle in a crinkled cloth that animates the foreground. An upright slice of fruit defies gravity, lining up with the edge of the window so that the eye is drawn wittily from organic material to constructed form. Like a ‘pop-up’ picture in a book, each section is dependent on the next for its compositional and visual integrity.
In Cut Melons, Frances Hodgkins combines the genres of still life and landscape that resulted in her most innovative work. A still life of melons and pottery jugs set out on a cloth is set against a distant landscape of tree and building. Hodgkins makes no distinction between the foreground and the background. Instead, she uses the shapes and colours of the various elements to create an ambiguous and exuberantly decorative space. An unconscious surrealist Cut Melons was exhibited in the early 1930s. A reviewer described Hodgkins as 'an unconscious surrealist' who 'takes things from any level of the consciousness and then tries to establish connexion between them . . . She is at her best, perhaps, in persuading still life objects that they really belong to the landscape.'
A leading modern painter In 1940, the British critic Raymond Mortimer described Hodgkins as 'the most inventive colourist in England'. Hodgkins was part of the Seven and Five group, along with artists such as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Her work was firmly part of the avant-garde in England. Yet this counted against her in New Zealand. Cut Melons was one of six of her paintings offered to the National Art Gallery in 1944, and turned down. It was eventually purchased in 1980. Te Papa owns sixty-three works by Hodgkins, from early watercolours painted in New Zealand to late examples of the paintings that bought her critical acclaim in England.
DIMENSIONS: 495 mm x 415 mm
See the full collection of Frances Hodgkins's Prints and Cards HERE