Monday, August 29, 2016

Southern comfort

If you want to know what New Zealand was like before Auckland stole the idea of modern art, Peter Simpson’s Bloomsbury South is the book for you. Hard to believe now that once the South Island was the place even Auckland artists chose to exhibit it if they wanted to be at the center. Simpson’s book takes the history of the south far beyond the usual telling of the story via the long-lived Group. It finds the space in its twenty years coverage to include poets, playwrights, designers, publishers along with the visual artists plus a very detailed account of the fuss over getting Frances Hodgkins’s painting The Pleasure Garden into the collection of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery (as the Christchurch Art Gallery was known back in the day). Some years ago we posted on how Bill Sutton’s well-known painting Homage to Frances Hodgkins was itself based on the 1900 painting Homage to Cezanne 1900 by Maurice Denis. On the cover of Simpson’s book is yet another image to add to the story: a sketch made by Bill Sutton before he embarked on his painting. Its brushy urgency probably gives a more incisive view of the controversy than the finished painting although we can’t be certain as the painting was unfortunately destroyed.

Images: Top, Homage to Cezanne 1900 by Maurice Denis. From left to right the figures are: Odilon Redon, Edouard Vuillard, Mellerio, Ambroise Vollard, Maurice Denis, Paul SĂ©rusier, Paul Ranson, Theodore Roussel, Pierre Bonnard and Marthe Denis. Middle, Homage to Frances Hodgkins 1951 by W A Sutton. Figures from left to right are: W.A. Sutton, Doris Holland, Colin McCahon, Heathcote Helmore, Margaret Frankel, Beth Zanders, R.S. Lonsdale, Alan Brassington, John Oakley and Oliver Spencer Bower. Bottom, Bill Sutton’s sketch for Homage to Frances Hodgkins and appearing on the cover of Peter Simpson’s book