Book Review: Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys, by Mary Kisler and Catherine Hammond

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_frances_hodgkins_european_journeysThis book, written in conjunction with an exhibition of Hodgkins’ work which will tour the country from May 2019, is an in-depth look at the life and art of one of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised artists. I knew of Frances Hodgkins of course, but had thought little of the artist as a person. This beautifully presented book is rich in detail of both the artist and her works.

The first photograph is of Hodgkins as a young woman running towards the camera, canvases beneath her arm, an improbably large hat on her head and a broad grin on her face. Her life as recounted in the book, along with over one hundred of her paintings and drawings, gives deeper understanding of her as someone who enjoyed life and lived it to the full. Quoting from the first paragraph in chapter one, she is described thus:   ‘…she exemplified the progressive attitude and spirit of the “colonial woman” a single, talented local artist who left for Europe in her early thirties.  From that point onwards Hodgkins seldom had a fixed abode, and determinedly avoided any encumbrance, without property or any family of her own, her entire life.’

The many photographs throughout the book show her growing from an energetic young woman into an older version, still vigorous in mind and body, still painting. And the paintings themselves give evidence of her ability to maintain her own independent style while experimenting with the different ideas as they evolved around her.

Her portraits, of Māori  here in New Zealand and refugees on the continent, are beautiful examples of her deftness in rendering emotion with simplicity of line and colour.

The book itself is a work of art. Large in size, it is case bound, with a dust cover picturing one of Hodgkins’ paintings. What it contains is a description in both word and pictures of the life of a remarkable woman. For the reader it will be a difficult task to determine whether to value it for the understanding it brings of one of our foremost artists, or for the sheer volume of her work it contains.  I enjoyed it for both of those reasons, and intend to delve into it time and time again.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys
by Mary Kisler and Catherine Hammond
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408930

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