Oil on canvas
540 x 650mm
Maud Burge (née May Williams) was born in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, the third of thirteen children. She was a pupil of James McLauchlan Nairn, and, around the turn of the century, she painted portraits at the studio of Charles Frederick Goldie in Tāmaki Makaurau. She was for many years an ‘expatriate artist’, like Gwen Knight and Dorothy Kate Richmond. She studied in France and was for a time a pupil of an English watercolourist, Fred Mayer. In about 1911, she married another painter, George Burge, and thereafter was associated with Frank Brangwyn in Belgium and Philip Connard in England.
Frances Hodgkins had probably met Maud earlier, as one of the circle of her sister, Isabel Field, in Wellington. In 1924, she described Maud, then living in Montreuil, as a charming but changeable woman. Hodgkins painted in the Burges’ garden at Saint-Tropez in 1931 and was influential in persuading them to take up painting seriously, although Maud had been sending work home for exhibition at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, since 1920. Hodgkins was with the couple again at Mallorca in 1932, and at Ibiza, where Maud accompanied her on painting expeditions. In about 1937, the Burges moved to Aotearoa, settling at Taupō.
The unsigned picture known as Portrait of Lady Fergusson is a portrait of the artist’s sister, Githa Williams, wife of Admiral Sir James Fergusson. He was the brother of Sir Charles Fergusson, Governor-General of New Zealand from 1924 to 1930. Githa Fergusson settled in Europe when she married but returned to New Zealand for long visits during the 1920s, staying with her own family in the Wairarapa and with her husband’s family at Government House. The sisters could well have met up in Aotearoa. As the wife of a British naval officer, Githa could also easily have found herself in the Mediterranean setting suggested by the portrait.
This work was formerly owned by the artist’s husband, Captain George Burge. Following her death, he settled at Whakaoriori Masterton. There, in his final years, he was nursed by Mrs Gay Salter, a niece of both the artist and the subject. After his death, in 1960, Salter inherited all of Maud Burge’s remaining paintings, most of which were unsigned. Only this portrait was framed. It passed to Mr Martin Salter and was later auctioned at Dunbar Sloane, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, in October 1985, entering what was then the Fletcher Challenge Art Collection.