PHILIPS, Margot;

The Lighthouse

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Oil on canvas on board
650 x 800mm

Margot Philips and other members of her German Jewish family left their home shortly before the start of the Second World War, seeking to escape Nazi persecution. Philips arrived in Kirikiriroa Hamilton in 1938. There, she mixed with liberal intellectuals, including Blackwood Paul (1908–65) and Janet Paul (neé Wilkinson; 1919–2004). The couple were booksellers, publishers, and strong advocates of the arts. Janet was an artist herself. She encouraged Margot to begin painting and wrote introductions for her exhibitions.[1] The Lighthouse was purchased by Janet or given to her by Philips in acknowledgment of her support.

The titular structure might be interpreted as a beacon of hope and safety, reflecting the role played by Aotearoa in Philips’s life. At the same time, it might suggest dislocation, loneliness, and yearning for elsewhere, standing as it does before a vast and empty sea. Its form indicates that the location of the picture is Te Rerenga-wairua, or Cape Rēinga (sometimes called Te Rēinga). For Māori, this is the ‘leaping place of spirits’, from which the wairua of those who have died returns to the traditional homeland of Hawaiki, or to Te Pō, the underworld.

The work shows the hallmarks of the artist’s mature style: distinctive stratified and veined forms, meticulous paintwork, and poetic colour. The landscape has been noticeably abstracted or reimagined by Philips, yet she preserves a sense of veracity, evoking the atmosphere of the place, rather than imitating its appearance. Although no figures are present, the land feels animated—full of vitality and deep history.


[1] The Pauls’ daughter, Joanna Margaret Paul, would also become a renowned artist.

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Margot Philips. / 1967. [l.r.]


Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from Mary Paul, Tāmaki Makaurau, 18 January 2024

Collection of Mary Paul, inherited from her mother, Dame Janet Elaine Paul DNZM (née Wilkinson; 1919–2004), Te Whanganui-a-Tara

Collection of Janet Paul