Oil on board
410 x 520mm
Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Christie was born in Wellington. She trained at the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. Unlike her contemporary May Smith, she did not pursue further studies in art in England but remained in Auckland. In 1933, she was an exhibiting member of the Auckland Society of Arts. From 1935 to 1940, she taught art at Takapuna Grammar School. After its foundation in 1936, she was an active member of the Rutland Group, which had been formed by a group of ex-Elam students in order to pursue a more adventurous line in painting than that favoured by the then highly conservative Auckland Society of Arts. During the war, Christie served with the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, and works by her were included in the 1944 Artists in Uniform exhibition.
Throughout the 1950s she exhibited at the Auckland Society of Arts in the company of such contemporaries as A. Lois White, May Smith, Helen Brown and Frances Hunt. Unlike many other painters of the time she struck out on an original path refusing to paint the rather gloomy, empty landscapes which were then in fashion, instead specialising in cityscapes filled with people. She made sketches at social occasions, such as the annual Elam Arts balls, and later worked them up into paintings in which individual characters were clearly recognisable. Ironically, it was probably this very ability as a recorder of social activities which was responsible for her failing at the time to achieve the reputation of her landscape painting contemporaries.
Tobacco Queue, Karangahape Road, Auckland (or simply Tobacco Queue) is a characteristic Christie subject. Here she has observed a typical wartime activity, painting it with dashing informality in contrast to the rather tight, studied watercolour technique she used earlier in her career. Christie is a good example of a talented artist who managed to surmount the obstacles of a conventional art education and to maintain a fresh approach to subject matter in the face of prevailing fashion. In recent years, her work, although rarely found, has become increasingly sought after because of its originality.
Tobacco Queue, Karangahape Road, Auckland was purchased for the Fletcher Challenge Art Collection in 1978. It was formerly in the possession of the artist Charles Tole, to whom it was probably given by the artist. It is illustrated in Eric Lee-Johnson (ed.), Arts Year Book 6 (Te Whanganui-a-Tara: The Wingfield Press, 1950), 83.