Storm (Ibiza) c.1932

Watercolour & gouache on paper, 40 x 52 cm
Signed Frances Hodgkins lower right
Inscribed under mount Storm – Ibiza II

Mrs Rée A Gorer, Highgate, London
By family descent to Mr Richard Gorer (1913 – 1994), East Sussex
Mr Alan Rowe, London 1973
Private Collection, France

London, The Leferve Gallery, New Watercolour Drawings, October – November 1933, No. 10

Arthur R. Howell, Frances Hodgkins: Four Vital Years (Rockliff, London 1951) p. 118
Roger Collins and Iain Buchanan, Frances Hodgkins on Display 1890 – 1950 (Hocken Library 2000) p. 68
Frances Hodgkins database (FH1021)

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From Frances Hodgkins to Dorothy Selby, 29th  January 1933, Hotel Balear, Ibiza, Balearic Islands Spain

“Winds high & cold – ships in Harbour – seas rough. But all the time more & more almond blossom on the trees refusing to hold back for all the dirty looks from the sky. But we have ridden the storm and now for some nice weather & warmth. I have got off a batch of work to Lefevres.”

When Frances Hodgkins visited Morocco in 1902, she fell in love with the traditional architecture of cube-shaped houses, their smooth whitewashed walls perforated by dark rectangles of glass; the balconies sometimes decorated with finely traced filigree. Like so many modernist artists, their designs were to serve as important anchor points in many of her European compositions. Such buildings are vernacular, often constructed without plans, yet perfectly suited to the strong contrasts of climate that the Mediterranean provides.

When she visited Ibiza in 1932, wintering over until nearly mid-1933, these kinds of structures delighted her eye once more. During her time on the island, German Dada artist and photographer Raoul Hausmann was photographing the same buildings, providing evidence of how true to form Hodgkins’ depictions are.

The island of Ibiza is a land of contrasts. Ibiza township, where Hodgkins spent most of her time, rises from the harbour to the fortified citadel of Dalt Vila, its ramparts towering over the simple fishermen’s houses of Sa Penya below. At the end of January 1933, Hodgkins wrote to her friend Dorothy Selby,  “Work with me has been at a standstill while freak weather did its worst – we all went down with Flue – one after the other – but are now better and up and doing – but no painting yet – winds high and cold – ships in Harbour – seas rough – but all the time more and more almond blossom on the trees – refusing to hold back for all the dirty looks from the sky – But we have ridden the storm …” Yet Storm (Ibiza) suggests she had hardly waited for the weather conditions abated to strike out for higher ground. This entailed climbing the steep path, lined with irregular ankle-breaking rocks to the great gates of Dalt Vila, and passing through the citadel before striking out along the ridge known as Puig des Molins (Hill of Windmills). Even today the path is rough and stony, and it would have been extremely uncomfortable traversing the ridge in stormy weather with little shelter available.

Hodgkins has carefully considered every element included in Storm (Ibiza). The delicate sails of the mills are long gone, but she captures their towers with their domed roofs, monolithic against the darkening sky. As befitting the chilly temperatures of Spring, the artist has reduced her palette. The yellow ochre tree, its bare branches highlighted by the whitewashed wall behind, complements the rich blues of the shuttered window, while patinated clumps of what appear to be the kind of brushy scrub that seems to thrive in that hostile setting, set off by the washes of brown that indicate the path. Small dabs of orange ochre, almost unnoticed at first, surround a greenish bush, its leaves demarcated in a darker tone, gestural marks rather than botanical renderings. Rather than paint the sweeping bay beyond, a soft greenish grey swirl of water suffices, encircling the promontory in the distance. Ominous dark clouds scud above the harbour, the patches of light indicating that this is a late afternoon work — one which Hodgkins must finish rapidly if she is to cover the kilometre or so of open pathway before reaching the shelter of the citadel’s walls. Hodgkins was always stalwart, and never more so in an environment like this. She loved it, returning several times to paint the Puig, but never in such inclement weather.

In May, by which time she was dating her letters in Spanish, Hodgkins wrote again to Dorothy Selby, noting that Geoffrey Gorer and his mother Rée were in Madrid and might well visit the island. We have no proof that they did, but they acquired Storm – Ibiza II from Lefevre Galleries when displayed there from October to November that year, suggesting that the work may have proved a happy reminder of a brief visit to the island.

– Mary Kisler