Artwork Description / Detail
Estate of Richard Riddiford, Martinborough
To Arthur Howell, 8th June 1931; from F. H., Hotel Sube, St Tropez, Var, France
I shall soon be back again with the bulk of my work to show you … I have bundles of work and am bristling to finish it – before the weather grows hotter than I can bear. This is a wonderfully nice place – growing hotter & more Bohemian everyday – really amusing to paint.
Frances Hodgkins first visited France in late 1909, when she worked and exhibited in Paris before spending some 15 months in Concarneau, a fishing village in the north west of the country. She returned in Concarneau in August 1914, and in 1920 made her first trip to the south, to the French Riviera, visiting St Tropez, Cassis and Martigues in Provence. A fishing village on one of the mouths of the Rhone known as the Venice of France, Martigues was popular with artists in the late nineteenth century, attracted by its clear light and canals. The main interest here for Hodgkins was the people rather than nature, and she made a number of sketches of the locals and the cafés, but in time her funds began to run out, and at the end of April and for much of May 1921 she was in Brittany in north-west France, searching for a suitable location for a summer school.
Hodgkins returned to Martigues in December 1924, and then again for several months in early 1928.
In March 1930 Frances Hodgkins made the significant step of signing her first dealer contract, in this case a ‘sole agency’ contract with Arthur Howell of St George’s Gallery in Hanover Square. This agreement in reality became rather short lived as the depression took hold in England. It stipulated the purchase of 33 watercolours per annum at £3 each, whereupon Hodgkins promised Howell he would receive the best she was capable of.
In 1931 she made her fourth and final visit to Martigues, leaving London in February and travelling via Paris, where she saw a number of exhibitions, including one by Matisse. Back in Martigues she worked on watercolours and pencil drawings which she sent back to the St George’s Gallery in London. In mid-April she moved on to St Tropez, where she met up with the New Zealand painters Gwen Knight (1888-1974) and Maude Burge (1865-1957). It was through this chance encounter with Hodgkins that Knight was encouraged to take herself seriously as a painter. She was also the subject of several paintings by Hodgkins, one of which, Pinewoods or Under the Pines, is in the collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It was while she was in St Tropez that Hodgkins was advised that her London dealer, St George’s Gallery, had closed, presumably a result of the Depression, and when she returned to London in mid-August she transferred her work to the Lefevre Gallery.
The works Hodgkins produced during this period are all summer paintings, capturing the intense heat of southern France. The subject of the present watercolour painted in the dry heat of the Provencal summer is presented mostly in outline, with the left-hand end wall of the building and what appears to be a lean-to heightened in white. The composition is framed by large foreground trees with sparse ground cover in the foreground and, in the distance and beyond the barn itself, an expanse of green fields. The general treatment suggests a landscape in southern France experiencing the intense heat of a northern summer.
The verso of the present watercolour reveals Hodgkin’s preparatory drawing for this actual work and the complete scene can be clearly distinguished.