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Author Q&A with Samantha Niederman

This week we caught up with our favourite Floridian Samantha Niederman, author of 'Frances Hodgkins', to find out more about her passion for this remarkable artist, the second to be featured in our Modern Women Artists series.

Hi Samantha. Can I begin by asking how you first came to learn about the work of Frances Hodgkins?

I actually found out about Hodgkins through the work of fellow modernist, Cedric Morris. Before beginning my thesis, which looks at the artistic friendship between these two artists, I encountered a considerable asymmetry in that only publications on Hodgkins briefly mention Morris but there is rarely reference to Hodgkins - beyond minor footnotes - in publications on Morris. The majority of books and exhibition catalogues on these two artists continue a 'knight in shining armour' narrative, but Hodgkins's significant artistic influence and importance in Morris's life continues to be obscured. With Frances Hodgkins, my aim was to subvert this notion of the woman artist allegedly "needing" male companionship, assistance and guidance in order to achieve professional success as an artist.

Is there a particular work by Frances Hodgkins that you love?

One of my favourite works is Wings over Water from circa 1931-32 at Tate Britain and illustrated in the book. Hodgkins created this oil painting while exhibiting with The Seven and Five Society and just after she received her first contract with St George's Gallery, London. It's a significant example of Hodgkins's interest in combining interior still lifes with exterior landscapes, as she later synthesised this technique into her distinctive open-air still lifes.

Why do you think work by Hodgkins has been overlooked?

Hodgkins's art has been excluded from the historiography and scholarship on British Art History because she was considered as an unconventional "outsider" to the English art establishment, due to a variety of factors including national identity, gender and her advanced age. Born in Dunedin into an English family in a Scottish settlement, Hodgkins has been heralded and continues to be celebrated as New Zealand's most distinguished twentieth-century expatriate artist. Working as a woman artist, Hodgkins endured challenges related to establishing her professional identity during her career in her native country, throughout the Continent and ultimately in Britain. Along with sexism, ageism proved to be an oppressive obstacle for Hodgkins to conquer, particularly in the art world, which frequently features exhibitions organised for emerging artists under a certain age. Hodgkins did not enjoy the stability and the benefits of a gallery contract until the age of 61. From 1914 until her death in 1927, she was based in England, but her positioning in British Modernism has been and continues to be demoted to a footnote-- until now!

Our Modern Women Artists books are short introductions to each artist, or 'mini-monographs'. What else would you have included in the book if you could have?

Hodgkins lived a long, eventful life, as she continually experimented and strove towards her aim to become a professional painter recognised in the Old World rather than just by her compatriots in New Zealand. This book is actually a pretty comprehensive introduction to the artist. A more specific study on Hodgkins's national identity will soon be published as a chapter: 'Frances Hodgkins: A Twentieth-Century Modernist Painter Torn Between Nations' in Transnational Perspectives on Artists' Lives (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Can you describe Hodgkins in three words?

Fearless; Independent; Visionary.

If our readers fall in love with the work of Hogdkins, where is the best place to go and see some examples of her work in real life?

Since a plane ticket to New Zealand is probably out of the question right now, I would recommend visiting Tate Britain to see several of Hodgkins's paintings including Loveday and Ann: Two Women with a Basket of Flowers which was bought in 1945 for their collection and is illustrated in the book. Other significant paintings by Hodgkins can also be found at Towner Art Gallery, and the Whitworth Art Gallery holds multiple drawings by the artist.

And finally, if readers enjoy your book on Frances Hodgkins and are inspired by her work, which artists would you recommend they could read about next?

If readers are interested in twentieth-century British women artists working primarily in still lifes and landscapes, I would suggest exploring the works of Mary Fedden, Winifred Nicholson and Anne Redpath.

Frances Hodgkins by Samantha Niederman is published by Eiderdown Books and available to buy here.

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