Frances Mary Hodgkins (1869-1947) is regarded as one of New Zealand’s leading expatriate artists. Her works capture the spirit of an era greatly influenced by Impressionism and the beginnings of en plein air painting, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and two World Wars. With a professional life that spanned fifty-six years, Hodgkins was one of the foremost artists of her generation. During her time in Britain she became one of the leaders of the English avant-garde movement. She travelled extensively and evolved her style from impressionistic watercolours to striking twentieth-century modernist paintings.
Hodgkins was born on 28th of April 1869 in Dunedin, the third child and second daughter of William Mathew Hodgkins, barrister and solicitor and amateur painter, and Rachel Owen. While her older sister Isabel (1867-1950) inherited their father’s artistic talent, Frances developed more slowly, and the earliest of her sketches date from about 1886 when the family was living at Ravensbourne, near Dunedin. In November the following year she exhibited for the first time with the Otago Art Society, and subsequently with the Canterbury Society of Arts and the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington. She was elected a working member of the Otago Art Society in 1890. Her fifth showing with the Otago Art Society, in November 1894, included the watercolour ‘Old Boathouse’, ‘Port Chalmers’ and four other works, ‘Water at Leith’, ‘Study of a Head’, ‘Washing Day’, and ‘Study in Charcoal – Girl Reading’. Frances Hodgkins’ inclusion in the 1894 exhibition was favourably reviewed by local newspapers, the Otago Daily Times noting that one of her two figure subjects was ‘painted with great skill’ and that her work generally showed ‘strong signs of earnest and attentive study’.