Seeking hidden Hodgkins

Dunedin Public Art Gallery assistant curator Lauren Gutsell (left), retired academic Roger Collins and curator Lucy Hammonds look at some of Frances Hodgkins’ works. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Dunedin Public Art Gallery assistant curator Lauren Gutsell (left), retired academic Roger Collins and curator Lucy Hammonds look at some of Frances Hodgkins’ works. Photo: Gregor Richardson
A search is on to find as many unknown Frances Hodgkins works as possible for an exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery later this year, Rebecca Fox discovers.

If you have a Frances Hodgkins work hanging on your wall, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery wants to talk to you.

The gallery hopes to put on an exhibition of Frances Hodgkins' work later this year and would dearly love to feature works never seen in public before.

Exhibitions that are drawn out of private collections are often a great treat for the public, Dunedin Public Art Gallery curator Lucy Hammonds says.

''It's a really nice opportunity to provide a treat to those who love Frances Hodgkins.''

As not everyone wants to be known as an owner of one of the Dunedin-born artist's works, the gallery promises anonymity for those who come forward.

Retired academic Dr Roger Collins, who has curated Hodgkins exhibitions in the past, said there was a project based in Auckland Art Gallery to develop an online catalogue listing all known art works by the internationally acclaimed artist.

''We'd like to know her total output better.''

Given Hodgkins had been selling work in Dunedin since she was ''little more than a teenager'', he was hopeful there were still unknown works hanging on walls in Dunedin or wider Otago.

The very first exhibition she had was at the Otago Arts Society and there was a catalogue of her work.

''So she was obviously thinking of selling.''

Hammonds said the exhibition would focus on works in Dunedin collections outside the institutions, although there were works being included from DPAG's collection and Hocken Library's.

''They've been selected to speak about some of Hodgkins' patrons that were in Dunedin whose collections have subsequently come into our collections or the Hocken.

''People like Charles Brasch and the de Beer family, Professor Scott - who supported Hodgkins in her time and have had private collections that have become part of public collections.''

Then there are other works they are considering bringing in that people may not be so familiar with.

''One of the great joys of an exhibition is it gives people a look at new works they might not have seen. It's an opportunity to see what else we can wrangle up.''

Collins said the link with Brasch was an important one as his mother and aunt were taught by Hodgkins.

''So he must have been aware of her as a child, yet when he was in England when there were many exhibitions of her work there is no mention of her in his first volume of journals.''

In his next volume there are lots of references to Hodgkins. He became one of the most ''articulate defenders'' of Hodgkins and also contributed to public subscriptions to purchase her work.

''He put together a substantial collection covering works back to the 1890s - the traditional beginnings and innovative maturity.''

Collins had also discovered Sir George Fenwick, editor and manager of the Otago Daily Times in the late 1800s and early 1900s, owned one and possibly a second unknown work.

''It's introducing some of those people in to the exhibition as figures that supported Hodgkins,'' Hammonds said.

The exhibition will have two focal points, one of which will highlight the historic collectors and supporters of Hodgkins in her career.

''The other part of the show is where we are trying to bring some more work to the surface . . .people who identify very closely with this Otago region who have chosen to collect Hodgkins' work who love and support her within the fabric of the city's cultural identity.''

Already, some works had been identified - about 10 were found, including paintings, drawings and watercolours.

''They span quite a spectrum of Hodgkins' career. Some earlier works and some later works.''

They are hoping other lovers of Hodgkins' work might be interested in collaborating with the gallery.

''We are happy to keep that research private.

''It doesn't mean those works have to go in the exhibition either but it's a very great interest from a research point of view to know about works perhaps we don't know about.''

Collins said it would also be good to be able to feed that information into the Auckland project - a contribution to an international project.

''We haven't really found enough works privately owned now to fill the space.''

The exhibition is scheduled to open at the beginning of December when the gallery re-hangs the ground floor exhibition spaces.

''It'll be part of that big reveal. It'll be a lovely celebration to have over the summer,'' Hammond said.

They hoped people who have works would come forward with their treasures over the next few months.

''People have different relationships with their art.''

Some people could not bear to part with works that hung on their walls and were part of their everyday lives.

''These are works they feel very deeply about and are part of the fabric of their lives. When you become used to living with an artwork that sits by your breakfast table it doesn't feel right if it's not there for a few months.

''Absolutely, we understand that. One of the aims of the exhibition is to understand why these artworks are so important to the people of Dunedin and to us at the gallery.''

It is always exciting to think about what might come to the fore, she said.

''There are always challenges when artists become increasingly well known, to find things less well known that might have escaped the attention of the scholars.''

It is highly possible there are people who do not know they have a work by Hodgkins.

''She was a prolific artist for periods of her career.''

If people are uncertain about works, the gallery is happy to have a look and give advice.

''She didn't necessarily sign. I know someone who found one of her works in a second-hand shop in Christchurch but was very hesitant about attribution. It was a late 1930s watercolour. It took the eye of a lot more experienced person to recognise it,'' Collins said.

If you have a Hodgkins work, contact Lucy Hammonds at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery on lucy.hammonds@dcc.govt.nz

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