Few artists from Aotearoa deliver escapism like Frances Hodgkins (1869–1947). She has a gift for teasing out the transcendent in the world about her. An early watercolour depicts a Marseille so drenched in sun that balcony railings dissolve and women in no-nonsense skirts fuse together in the shadows. A late oil titled Zipp (1945) emphasises texture and colour so intensely that its sartorial reference points become near-impossible to pin down. Humdrum is a state of mind, and one Hodgkins has no interest in inciting. For this reason, she is loved in this place and shows like Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys get off the ground.
This wasn’t always so. In 1901, Hodgkins travelled to Europe, where she would remain, with few interruptions, for the rest of her life. As her reputation grew there, it shrank here. At her funeral, her friend David Brynley found himself recalling “wistful remarks” she had made: “I would have liked a home and children … New Zealand is at last beginning to recognise me.” The small-mindedness that had no doubt encouraged her to leave in the first place proved tenacious. However, Hodgkins had her advocates, who helped see to it that she was embraced as our quintessential expatriate, the Katherine Mansfield of paint. …
Continue reading on The Spinoff, where this essay is titled ‘The Katherine Mansfield of paint: Frances Hodgkins’ European Journeys, reviewed’.