The Corner of the Woods c.1941

The Corner of the Woods c.1941

Gouache, 40 x 51.5 cm
Signed Frances Hodgkins lower centre

Private Collection U.K. until 1979
Sotheby’s, Modern British Drawings, Painting & Sculpture, London 27/6/79 No. 128
Private Collection, Wellington
Private Collection, Auckland

H. & A. Legatt, Frances Hodgkins, Works from Private Collections (Wellington 1989)
Catalogue raisonne number: FH1199

Wellington, N.Z., Kirkcaldie & Stains, Frances Hodgkins, Works from Private Collections, August 1989, No. 40
Auckland, N.Z. Jonathan Grant Gallery, Frances Hodgkins: A New Zealand Modernist June 2019

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To John Piper, 8th September 1941; Studio, East Street, Corfe Castle, Dorset

… the nicest letter I’m ever likely to have on this earth telling me of all the nice things you and Mr Brown have fixed up for me with the ultimate glory & honour of the inner gallery thrown in – it’s too much greatness … Talking of titles, I feel mine to be banale & inadequate – if Myfanwy and you have some silver words up your sleeve, give them to me

This is a typical Frances Hodgkins ‘farmyard’ composition, whose identifiable elements include a pair of wheels on an axle, a plough, a barrel and what are presumably other bits of discarded agricultural machinery. The scene appears to depict mechanical equipment that has been put aside and left to stand idle during the war and commune with nature. In between the various elements, flowers sprout up and in the background a bank of tall trees representing the woods mentioned in the title.

The Corner of the Woods is reminiscent of a slightly later painting, The China Shoe, a gouache of 1942, in which still-life objects take on a ‘ghostly quality’ and the composition is animated by an array of calligraphic flourishes. The subtle dark colouring and somewhat mysterious mood connect it closely with British Neo-Romanticism, and in particular with the works of artists John Piper, John Craxton and John Minton. The China Shoe exhibits graphic effects similar to those employed by Piper, who was a close friend and an admirer of Hodgkins’s paintings, and dates from an excursion to Wales in 1942, when she stayed at the Dulaucothy Arms in the village of Pumpsaint, Carmarthenshire. From there she wrote to her close friend, supporter and Knightsbridge gallery owner Eardley Knollys that she had been making pictures of chimney ornaments, which she found lent themselves to decoration: ‘I love them – tender silly unarranged things.

Wheels, which make a dominant appearance in The Corner of the Woods, were a recurring motif in Hodgkins’s work, and was also common in the neo-romantic and surrealist imagery of the time, as in the work of Paul Nash. It had various interpretations, such as suggestions of the self, or modernity, while it could also have an anthropomorphic aspect, with wheel hubs being read as eyes. Such forms are apparent in Hodgkins’s 1942 gouache Broken Tractor, of which Elizabeth Eastmond describes that vehicle’s wheel hubs as looking like ‘grotesque, anguished eyes.’Broken Tractor was included in the exhibition ‘Gouaches by Frances Hodgkins’ at the Lefevre Galleries in March-April 1943, along with another following the wheel theme, Mill Wheel, while there were also several Welsh subjects, including Dulaucothy, Barn Interior, and Dulaucothy Arms, Green Valley, Carmarthenshire, and Welsh Emblem and Welsh Farm.

Hodgkins’s 1943 exhibition, Gouaches by Frances Hodgkins – A new series of Gouaches painted during 1942 – 3, was held at the Lefevre Galleries, which had recently reopened after closing in July 1940 due to the falling demand for art during wartime and the difficulty of obtaining paintings. With this exhibition Hodgkins was able to realise her long desired aim of presenting a thematically unified display of recent work, in this case produced in the period 1942-3. Her 1943 exhibition was also significant because her paintings were shown alongside another exhibition, Picasso and his Contemporaries, which was a departure at Lefevre, and in so doing it demonstrated her affinities with French painting. In addition, the nature of the works in her exhibition reflected the shift on the part of the gallery towards the work of the new and emerging British neo-romantic group, the best known of whom was Graham Sutherland.

The 1943 exhibition Gouaches by Frances Hodgkins was a sell-out, and so successful that five further gouaches were added to the original fifteen in the show. Three of these suggested the artist’s interest in wheels and discarded farmyard machinery – Wheelwright’s, Corfe and Wheelwright’s, Solva and Wreckageem>, Kimmeridge, while a fourth work, Verge of the Woods, may have been similar to or in fact the present The Corner of the Woods by another title. In any event, little appears to be known about The Corner of the Woods; it remained in a private collection in the United Kingdom until 1979 when it was sold in London at Sotheby’s auction, Modern British Drawings, Painting & Sculpture.

Written by Jonathan Gooderham & Richard Wolfe.

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