Artwork Description / Detail
Private Collection U.K.
Dunbar Sloane Ltd, Wellington N.Z., December 1991
Collection: P. Isherwood, Wellington
Dunedin N.Z. Otago Art Society, November 1903, Breton Pottery No. 1, £3-0-0
London, Whitford & Hughes Frances Hodgkins July- August 1990, No.1 (as ‘Pottery, Tangier Market’)
Wellington NZ. McGregor Wrights Gallery Exhibition of Oil & Water Colour Paintings by Miss Hodgkins & Miss D K Richmond (London) February 1904 (as Pottery, Dinan No. 32 £3 gns)
Roger Collins and Iain Buchanan, Frances Hodgkins on Display 1890 – 1950 (Hocken Library 2000) p. 34
Whitford & Hughes Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand 1990 in Britain) 1990, p. 27 (as Pottery, Tangier Market)
To Rachel Hodgkins, 28th July 1902; from F.H., Rue de l’Apport, Dinan
The French are early birds and the streets just as busy then, in fact busier than later in the day. Dinan is a first rate place – a variety of everything – old streets, peasant women, fruit stalls, river scenery, feudal castles & two “dashing” cavalry regiments … I am sending out next week all I had for the November show which leaves me with an empty portfolio and it will be several months before I can hope to get some decent work together again.
Frances Hodgkins made her first trip to Britain in 1901, reaching London on 7th April. The following month she attended classes at the London Polytechnic and at the end of June, joined a summer sketching class in Caudebec en Caux in the Normandy region of northern France, led by Irish-born and Penzance-based artist Norman Garstin (1847-1926). Hodgkins subsequently visited Paris and Italy, and returned to London in late February 1902. By now people were pouring into the capital, in preparation for the forthcoming Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Everywhere there was a sense of excitement but, as Joanne Drayton notes, Hodgkins had tired of cosmopolitan life, and the crowds and atmosphere of London ‘weighed on her’. She yearned for the ‘simpler country life’ and, as shortage of money was now a growing problem, she made plans to join another of Norman Garstin’s summer schools in Dinan, Brittany, in the northwest of France.
Dinan is an attractive and well-preserved small town dating from medieval times. Hodgkins arrived there around 7th July 1902, and although the weather was generally wet, she managed to paint most days. Money was still a problem and she wrote to her mother broaching the subject of her returning to New Zealand. However, with the arrival in Dinan of New Zealand friend Dorothy Kate Richmond (1861-1935), Hodgkins was encouraged to remain in Europe. The two artists spent time working together, their paintings permeated with what Drayton describes as an ‘end-of-summer golden glow’, and also showing signs of the winter to come. Hodgkins left Dinan in October and returned to London, which she described in a letter to her mother as a ‘giddy vortex … all is rush, bustle, dirt, fog, rain, fag, busses and fusses’.
On the basis of titled works, and in particular those mentioning Dinan, Hodgkins spent a productive time in Brittany. Her watercolour Breton Pottery is dominated by the rear three-quarter view of a seated vendor, with a large selection of her variously coloured wares – mainly green, blue and shades of brown – arranged on the cobbled market-place in the foreground. Two other background figures, who appear to be in traditional Breton dress, add to the sense of market activity, as does the artist’s vigorous technique. The painting is also distinguished by the economical application of pigment, while the inclusion of large areas bleached by strong light and the lack of oblique shadows capture the market under the heat of the mid-day sun.
Eric McCormick has described Hodgkins’s time in Brittany as less happy than her stay at Caudebec the previous year. Although hampered by the weather and her depleted financial resources, Hodgkins was informed of a positive development back in Wellington where a number of her paintings, exhibited at McGregor Wright & Co.’s Art Gallery on Lambton Quay had been sold. As a result her brother Will was able to cable her a much needed £80. Hodgkins’s prospects also brightened at Dinan when, along with other New Zealand women artists including Margaret Stoddart (1865-1934), Grace Joel (1865-1924) and Dorothy Richmond, she was invited to exhibit at the Bayswater, London gallery of Baillie and Bonner, the former being Wellington-born artist and dealer John Baillie (1866-1926). The ‘Colonial Art Exhibition’ opened on 4 October 1902, and Hodgkins was represented by sketches produced at Dinan, depicting the town’s streets, markets and peasant women. They were described in a review in the Lyttelton Times as being ‘marked by harmonious and attractive colouring and sympathetic treatment’.
A month after her London showing, Hodgkins had 16 paintings in the 1902 Annual Exhibition of the Otago Art Society, which opened on 8 November. Of these, five titles referred to Dinan, being views of an old street, market stalls selling confetti, vegetables and meat. An enthusiastic Otago Daily Times reported that Hodgkins had found ‘a happy hunting ground for her fine artistic talent in the old French villages’, and done full justice to the many ‘quaint and curious subjects to be found there’. It was apparent that the artist – ‘This clever lady’ – owed little or nothing to her early colonial training, and her broad style demonstrated her ‘strong individuality’. Singled out was Old Street, Dinan, depicting a narrow thoroughfare of old-fashioned houses with heavy, over-hanging gables and relieved by the bright colour of the shop blinds. Another Otago newspaper described ln the Meat Market, Dinan as ‘a perfect triumph of spirited delineation in regard to figures every one of which is good enough for a separate study’, while also noting that the artist had inherited from her father a ‘rare gift in the treatment of dazzling light and the massing of colours’.
It appears that Breton Pottery was first shown publicly at the Otago Art Society’s Annual Exhibition in November 1903. It was No. 1 in the catalogue in the watercolour section (and priced at £3/3/0). Breton Pottery was also included in Hodgkins’s joint exhibition with Dorothy Richmond, at McGregor Wright and Co.’s Art Gallery, which opened on 24 February 1904. Of the 37 works contributed by Hodgkins, no fewer than seven depicted the various markets of Dinan.
Another painting produced around the same time as Breton Pottery was a three-quarter length portrait of an Arab girl, Fatima, a product of Hodgkins’s visit to Tangier, from late 1902 until the following April. This painting was selected to be hung ‘on the line’ at the Royal Academy in 1903, qualifying Hodgkins as the only New Zealander to exhibit at the RA that year. The following year Fatima was also included (no. 29) in Hodgkins’s joint exhibition with Dorothy Richmond in Wellington.
In the past Breton Pottery has been incorrectly catalogued as Pottery Market, Tangier. Recent close inspection of its reverse side – a Winsor & Newton watercolour sketching board – revealing the inscription ‘Breton Pottery’ (and the price, ‘£3/3/0’). Further, the uncovered head of the main (European) figure and the peasant-like costumes and bonnets of the two women in the background indicate that the market was certainly not located in Tangier. However, another painting by Hodgkins, Pottery, Tangier Market, was shown, along with Market Day, Dinan, in the Otago Art Society’s Annual Exhibition of 1904, while market scenes from both Tangier and Dinan had earlier been included in her joint exhibition with Dorothy Richmond.