From Dorothy Richmond to Frances Hodgkins, 19 June 1901, Paris, Place du Trocadero
‘Your kind letter to hand last night I at once decided to come to Caudebec if Mr Garstin will have me. I am writing to him this morning. I am looking forward to meeting you with real hoy. I think companionship doubles the pleasure & halves the sorrows of life. Before I left N.Z. I had formed a strong wish to be with you in Paris ... Apart from companionship socially, I feel so very glad at the idea of seeing your painting. Your work is far better than that of any of the teachers I have seen since I came here’.
Dorothy Kate Richmond (1861-1935) was born in Parnell, Auckland, to James Crowe Richmond and Mary Smith. Her father was a talented watercolourist and Dorothy followed his lead, training at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, 1878-80. On her return to Nelson in late 1880, Richmond was one of a small group of New Zealand-born women to have received a professional training in art. She became a member of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in 1890, relocating to Wellington in 1894 with her father where she studied under James Nairn in 1896.
Richmond’s father was a close friend and painting companion of William Mathew Hodgkins and in the summer of 1898 she decided to leave New Zealand for Europe with the intention of meeting up with Frances. Richmond was a pivotal force in Hodgkins’ life during this period, introducing her to Irish painter Norman Garstin, whose advice, support and friendship she greatly valued. Both artists joined Garstin’s 1901 summer school at Caudebec and later travelled together to Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Richmond and Hodgkins returned to New Zealand in 1903 and rented a studio in Bowen Street, Wellington, where they taught private pupils. In 1904 they mounted an exhibition of 80 of their European paintings at McGregor Wright Gallery in Lambton Quay. When Hodgkins returned to Europe in early 1906, Richmond kept both the Bowen Street studio and the private pupils.
Richmond became a prominent member of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts as a teacher and also exhibiting nationally. In this last role she influenced many other artists including Owen Merton. Richmond was greatly admired as a teacher and she continued exhibiting in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch until 1934.
Seen somewhat stereotypically as a leading flower painter, she is in fact one of New Zealand’s key early twentieth century landscape artists. At Wellington’s annual art exhibition in 1928, her works drew the comment that ‘one of her watercolours among a thousand would be instantly recognised for the subtle beauty of its colour, often suggestive of the interior of pearl shell, and her sure, free and fluent drawing’ (Evening Post). Her apparently effortless renditions of the New Zealand landscape, nearly always in watercolour, show how attractive Naturalism could be, even as Modernism was claiming the headlines.
In selecting the time of day, season and weather in which a scene is at its most beguiling, she made enduringly beautiful paintings. At the same time an accurate likeness of place is delivered with exquisite effect. This makes her landscape watercolours of the 1920s and ‘30s wonderfully evocative for the present-day viewer who may know those scenes that she captured, but are unaware of the generally much more idyllic character they used to have a century ago.
Richmond’s subject illustrated here is one she knew very well, the bays lying on the north-eastern side of Wellington harbour, opposite the city, were a popular leisure spot for locals. This scene was repeated in other works by Richmond, such as Nelson Beach 1927 and Evening, York Bay 1934. The absence of human figures in her compositions indicates the artist’s true calling as a landscapist, inspired by nature rather than society.
Written by Jonathan Gooderham & Grace Alty
We are grateful to Dr Pamela Gerrish Nunn for her assistance in compiling the catalogue entries.