From Frances Hodgkins to Isabel Field, 12 November 1899, Castle St.
‘Your pictures are splendid! And I am glad to be able to tell you that one is sold. “Tranquill Waters” Dr Roberts bought it. It is simply wonderful to me how much you have improved and to every one else too – you must have been storing it all up and the result is beyond all expectations. I was prepared to be critical but I must confess I could only admire when I saw them’.
Isabel Jane Field (née Hodgkins) (1867-1950) was born in Dunedin, the daughter of painter William Hodgkins and older sister of Frances Hodgkins. Isabel inherited her father’s talents and grew up in a household where a dedicated, almost professional attitude to painting and exhibiting was a normal part of family life.
Isabel accompanied her father on sketching expeditions, received tuition from him and became a successful painter of landscape and still life. The early artistic promise she showed resulted in regular exhibitions from 1884 at the Otago Art Society and Canterbury Society of Arts, which brought her local and national success as a watercolour flower painter and landscapist. From that point she ranked with fellow Canterbury artist Margaret Stoddart in setting the standard for flower paintings. Reviewers competed to praise her ‘rare qualities for drawing and harmonious treatment of colour’ (Evening Star).
Marguerites, the watercolour illustrated here, is a beautiful example of Isabel’s work and demonstrates vividly why she was the first of the sisters to become a successful artist. The work attracted great praise in the Lyttleton Times when exhibited at the Otago Art Society’s annual exhibition in 1888.
‘The last of the ladies’ contributions is undoubtedly one of the most important pictures in the gallery. We refer to Miss Hodgkins’ study entitled “Marguerites” (229). This is not only beyond comparison, superior to any work of the kind here, but it stands on an
altogether higher plane of art’.
Later that same year Isabel was included in the New Zealand section of the Centennial Exhibition in Melbourne, setting the seal on a career that flourished until the end of the century. In 1893 she married aspiring politician William Field and took on a busy life in Wellington as wife, mother and society figure. She remained in touch with her younger sister until the end of Frances’ life.
Written by Jonathan Gooderham & Grace Alty
We are grateful to Dr Pamela Gerrish Nunn for her assistance in compiling the catalogue entries.