STEWART, Helen;

At the Bay

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c.1946
Oil on board
620 x 750mm (image); 770 x 900mm (frame)

Inscriptions: Helen Stewart [l.l.]

Damian Skinner writes, ‘The story is a familiar one. The artist, returning to New Zealand from a progressive art context, is confronted by a culture that will not accept modernist experimentation in art. In this case, it’s Helen Stewart. The hot bed of modernist activity is Sydney, where Stewart is closely associated with the Macquarie Galleries and the Contemporary Group. Her work is shown alongside artists like Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith, and its modernist elements are understood and encouraged.’

Stewart returned to New Zealand in 1946, settling in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. There, her work was rejected by the conservative New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. For 13 years, she refused to exhibit there and so was forced to create her own opportunities. Skinner again: ‘Her first show in 1947 is located in the private studio of Mr A. R. Fraser in Lambton Quay, and features her work alongside a sampling of her contemporaries from Australia. Her second show takes place in the Wellington Central Library in 1949. The reviewer finds in ‘the majority of cases, the crudeness of composition, draughtsmanship and colour effects indicates the beginner of promise, whose need is the guiding hand of one more experienced in art.’ This, to a 49 year old woman who had studied art in Europe and Australia.’[1]

 

[1] Damian Skinner, ‘Making Modernism: Helen Stewart and the Wellington Art Scene 1946–1960’, Art New Zealand 26 (Autumn 2008).

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