[Mediterranean Scene] 1

Landscape. Village scene, agave plants left and right lower margin. Body of water and hills upper half of canvas.

Other title(s)
Untitled [Mediterranean Village]
Object type
Medium and materials
oil on canvas
Place Made
St Tropez, France

Donated to The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, by Margaret and Geoff Candy, 1977

Copyright Licence
Courtesy The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, Accession no. 848
Current Collection

The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū

Current Location

Nelson, New Zealand

General notes

The two paintings by Flora Scales, Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] I [BC016] and Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 2 [BC017], in collection of The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, are among the earliest of her South of France studies.

Alternative title, Untitled [Mediterranean Village], used by William McAloon in his catalogue essay 'Modern Arrivals' for The Promised Land: Art in Nelson from Tasman to Today, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, 1999, pp 12-13.

Gretchen Albrecht recalls, “Years later [after 1975] Helen [Flora Scales] told me that [this] was painted from the garden of Paul Signac in St Tropez.” – excerpt from Flora Scales, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, 2018, pg 40.

The support of this painting is of similar size to that of Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 2 [BC017], which is in portrait format.

Possibly painted in the summer of 1931 in St Tropez, France, where E.D. Kinzinger was conducting Summer School classes in place of Hans Hofmann during the months of July, August and September. Another possible date is the spring of 1932 before Scales left France to briefly visit New Zealand. It is also possible that Scales painted this work in the summer of 1933 before leaving from London for New Zealand in September 1933. 

Scales described the delight of travelling south to St Tropez by train in the 1930s to Linda Gill, 27.08.1976, “...through the most wonderful landscape – the houses are pink and they rise straight out of the grapevines which are sometimes quite yellow.”

A few years earlier the English painter Vanessa Bell had also described the dramatic contrast between Northern Europe and the South of France, and the joy of living and working in the "Midi", in a letter to her sister, Virginia Woolf, 05.02.1927, “Painting is a different thing here from what it can be in the winter in England. It’s never dark even when the sky is grey. The light...is perfect and even now one could often work out of doors, if one wanted to. It makes such a difference to be sure one won’t be suddenly held up in the middle of something by fog or darkness. Also the beauty is a constant delight. The people are very friendly and helpful and living is very cheap...it seems more and more ridiculous for painters to spend half their lives in the dark.” – excerpt from Spalding, Frances, Vanessa Bell: Portrait of the Bloomsbury Artist, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, London, England, 2016, pg 216

The V-shapes made by the foreground agaves are reminiscent of the ship's rigging seen in Scales's work of the 1920s [Shipping, Wellington Harbour] [BC128]]. The agaves also bring to mind the derricks of the 1950s [Untitled [Mousehole Cornwall 2] [BC029]] and the forked tree trunks of the late 1960s and early 1970s [Bry-sur-Marne, Orchard] [BC069]], in which this shape becomes a tool for her construction of dynamic pictorial space.

The V-shapes of the agaves, trees and derricks, significant elements in her work during and after the 1930s, begin to form the vocabulary of her Modernist work following Hans Hofmann's instruction to do away with single-point perspective.

As well as the equilibrium established by the balanced vanes of the V-shape, there is also an immanent sense of movement. Hofmann said, "We have to experience the object as vital in her existence in space" (Dickey, Tina, Color Creates Light: Studies with Hans Hofmann, Trillistar Books, Canada, 2011, pg 27). Hofmann explained that volumes revolve on their axes to create a sense of movement and counter-movement, which animates and gives depth to the flat surface of the picture plane.

Scales's use and manipulation of the V-shape is one of several examples in her work which demonstrate the way she assimilated, and made her own, the teachings of Hans Hofmann. This example in particular shows her personal interpretation, without imitation, of his theories about the creation of plastic space, which were crucial to the development of her modernism.

This is one of several gifts of her work from the artist to Mrs Elizabeth Ostenfeld, Nelson, New Zealand, in 1934. In 1965, Mrs Ostenfeld gave both Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] I [BC016] and Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 2 [BC017] to her son, Neil Ostenfeld, who in turn gave them both to his sister Mrs Margaret Candy.

Letter from Mrs Candy to B. de Lange, 29.09.1983, “I was told that the paintings we have were actually painted in France and brought back here with her. The scenes, as you will see from the photos, are certainly Mediterranean in character, and are definitely not of Nelson.

We lived on the Tahunanui hill, above the beach. Miss Scales apparently boarded with a Mrs Lyall¹ not far down the hill from our home. My mother had taken us to the beach to play and Miss Scales approached us because she was very attracted to my brother, (he was four years old at the time) Neil. There are two older brothers and myself, two years younger than Neil. She wanted to adopt Neil and take him to France with her. Naturally my parents were not willing to consent to this plan.

The upshot was that Miss Scales became very friendly with the family and, during the course of the friendship, gave my mother several paintings and drawings. Of these, only the two we have remain in the family. Of the others; I know my mother gave them away during the war years, usually to be raffled at functions designed to raise money for the war effort. I can remember several of these paintings and drawings being stored in the back of a wardrobe! Sacrilege indeed. The ones I remember best were of large houses and gardens – really mansion like buildings done in charcoal or pen and ink.

Miss Scales kept in touch with my mother until the war years. I remember a letter came just after the war, my mother replied but that was the last time we heard from Miss Scales.²

I remember my parents talking about the letter and the very hard time Miss Scales had had, the writing of the letter was very wavery and obviously written with great difficulty.

Because we didn't hear any more, the family assumed Miss Scales must have died and it wasn't until the exhibition she had at the Auckland Art Gallery was reviewed in the Auckland Herald (I think) that we found she was still alive. I sent to the Art Gallery for any information and they very kindly sent me a catalogue of the exhibition, it had a photo of Miss Scales in it – and I actually remembered her when I saw it.

I remember her as someone I was frightened of – someone who was gigantically tall and extremely stern. Toss Woollaston doesn't know we have these paintings, although the people at the Suter Art Gallery do and they may have told him.

I hope this information is useful.  I have asked my brother, Neil, if he remembered anything – but he has no recollection of her at all.

Miss Scales did tell my mother of the little French boy she wanted to adopt and said Neil was very like him. We were very pleased to meet Miss France [artist Patricia France] and Mr Kennedy [artist Rodney Kennedy] at Dunedin and learn so much more then. We have found that when we mention Flora Scales, very few people know of her. Toss Woollaston's book has helped, of course.”

In answer to questionnaire sent by B. de Lange, 1983, Mrs Candy wrote, “I grew up with the painting and must confess that I did not appreciate it. I began to develop an interest in art during the 60s – and realised that the Flora Scales I had was not just a 'painting' as ornament – but indeed a most interesting work.

The feelings of both paintings is one of a peaceful comfortable atmosphere. As I grew to understand more about art, I realised that the work helped show the development of abstract landscapes. Some of Sydney Thompson's work has the same effect. I felt Theodore Robinson's³ "Village in Crete" which we saw at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Exhibition had much the same effect and atmosphere.”

¹ Mrs Lyall may well be the Mrs Lisle given as a contact for Flora Scales, Evening Post, 05.11.1941, “'Captured at Sea' List of prisoners now in detention camps. 'Scales, Miss Helen Flora Victoria (artist), Front Stalag, 121 Vittel, Vosges. (Last known address) Care Bank of New Zealand, Wellington; or care Mrs Lisle, Tahunanui.”

² An unsent letter dated 2 January from Flora Scales to Mrs Ostenfeld, Nelson, New Zealand, was in her room at the Rotorua Masonic Village, New Zealand, where Scales lived 26 October 1978 to January 1985 [transcribed below, see Related images].

³ Theodore Robinson (1852 - 1896), an American Impressionist, spent time in Barbizon, France, 1884, and between 1887-1892 lived mostly in Giverny, France, where he met and befriended Claude Monet (1840-1926).

UNSENT LETTER FROM FLORA SCALES TO MRS OSTENFELD, 2 January c.1979-1985, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Reference no. MS-Papers-6263-1 [see Related images]

Masonic Mission 
2nd January

Dear Mrs Ostenpath,
                                       I hope I have spelt your name correctly?

This is to wish you all A Happy New Year. Prosperity and Good Health Please excuse my spelling: my sight is not good.

All your children will be grown by now,             and Neal   

This place where I am now living is a home for the elderly; it is well managed and the food is good!  

I hope you can understand my writing.

I trust you and all your family are in the best of health. Happy and Prosperous New Year

Flora Scales 

Peter Ireland on his inclusion in the 2021 exhibition, Diverse Landscapes, A Gallery, Whanganui, New Zealand, 2023 [see Related artworks], “my general Sampler series now comprises about 200 works, and the Landscape Samplers are a sub-set of 70. I guess this latter is a kind of piss-take on the continuing - and pretty mindless - tradition of landscape painting here, which in 2023 has well passed its use-by date in my view, especially given that here in Aotearoa we should be very aware of the distinction between land and landscape and the political implications involved. But no, every amateur painter and his/her dog slaves away trying to breathe fresh air into the corpse. In this Landscape series I use common phrases - such as "serving suggestion only" to highlight my project. And as all them are tondos (a regular 300mm in diameter) the artist's works I chose have to survive being reduced in this way - and of course, my pirating them (always with acknowledgement) completely alters the original compositional dynamic.”

Used as illustration

‘Flora Scales: The Woman and Her Work’ by Barbi de Lange, Art New Zealand, issue 37, 1985, pg 50 (colour)

Butterworth, Susan, The Suter: One Hundred Years in Nelson, Nikau Press, New Zealand, 1999, pg 159 (colour)

'Five Year Sponsorship Boost for Suter' by Tracy Neal, Nelson Mail, 05.02.1999 (black and white)

The Promised Land: Art in Nelson from Tasman to Today, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, 1999, pg 12 (black and white)

'Gallery celebrates with art of Nelson', Nelson Mail, 21 January 2000

Trevelyan, Jill, Toss Woollaston: A Life in Letters, Te Papa Press, Wellington, New Zealand, 2004, pg 49 (colour)

Simpson, Peter, Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch, 1933 - 1953, Auckland University Press, New Zealand, 2016, pg 95 (colour)

Catchpole, Julie and Julia Warren, The Suter: People, Places, Perspectives: Artworks from the Collection, The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, 2016, pg 159 (colour)

Flora Scales, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, 2018, front cover (colour)


‘Flora Scales: The Woman and Her Work’ by Barbi de Lange, Art New Zealand, issue 37, 1985, pp 48-51

'Modern Arrivals' by William McAloon, The Promised Land: Art in Nelson from Tasman to Today, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, 1999, pp 12-13

“At the Lhote Academy, Scales learned her modernist principles well: 'Do not think of the proportions but of the directions', she recorded in her notes. 'Build your house before you furnish it. 'Do not say "this is a woman or a model," but these are lines, rounds, cylinders, etc.'54  To this she added the experience of the Hofmann school. As Anne Kirker summarises, teaching there was based on the idea 'that a creative process lies not in imitating nature but paralleling nature. A picture should be expressive and live according to its own rules.'55 Perspective, the Hofmann school taught, was the fatal inheritance of the Renaissance. This understanding necessitated a new analytical approach – looking for squares and diagonals in the Old Masters – one adjoined to a profound sense of the possibilities afforded by colour: 'You cannot use colour as colour and as value at the same time – must get contrast in colour only',56 Scales wrote in her notes.

Scales's Mediterranean Village [BC016], painted on a school excursion to St Tropez, shows the application of those theories. Taking a high viewpoint – 'always draw from a position above your subject', she later told Woollaston57 – it presents the village and surrounding landscape in layers of flattened planes. 'Tilt the planes up', she explained 'and make them closer to the picture plane.'  In doing so, Scales offsets the rectangularity of canvas against the diagonals of her composition, using the interrelationships of heightened colours to bring the painting towards equilibrium.

It was works such as this that drew the attention of Woollaston in 1934, when he saw them at the home of Scales's sister in Christchurch. Returning to Nelson he sought out Scales. She was by then living at Tahunanui, having departed Germany with the impending rise of the Nazis, and she reluctantly agreed to meet him. Woollaston recalled that he “earnestly begged to be taken as a serious pupil for a season [...]. My eager homage was accepted at first and I was admitted, though a little nervously I felt: but before long the inconvenience of my visits was made plain to me even in my importunate state. Perhaps I distracted her from her own work [...]”58...

54 Anne Kirker, New Zealand Women Artists: A survey of 150 years, Sydney: Craftsman House, 1990, pp69-70
55 Kirker p70
56 Kirker p70
57 Toss Woollaston, Sage Tea: An autobiography, Auckland: Collins, 1980 p247
58 Toss Woollaston, The Far-away Hills: A meditation on New Zealand Landscape, Auckland: Auckland Gallery Associates, 1962, p36"

‘Flora Scales’ by Jill Trevelyan, September 1998, in Butterworth, Susan, The Suter: One Hundred Years in Nelson, Nikau Press, New Zealand, 1999, pg 158

 “Flora Scales is best known for her minor role in the history of early New Zealand modernism, rather than as an artist in her own right. Her name is usually associated with that of Toss Woollaston, for whom she was an important influence during the mid-1930s. Even today, when most of her contemporaries have had retrospective exhibitions, her own art remains little known.

Flora Scales was born in Lower Hutt in 1887. Her father, a shipping agent, encouraged her interest in art, and in 1908 she travelled to London to study animal painting with the academician, Frank Calderon.

In 1912 Scales returned to New Zealand. During the war, when her family lost two sons, she spent a year as a volunteer at a Military Convalescent Hospital in Lowry Bay, Wellington. After the war the family moved to Nelson where she worked as an orchardist. When her father died in 1928, leaving her a small annuity, she was able to return to Europe to resume her studies.

Scales was now 41 years of age, and was driven by a new sense of urgency in her work. Animal painting now seemed passe to her, and in the late 1920s she studied at schools of modern art in Paris. In the early 1930s she met Frances Hodgkins and Gwen Knight, and it was on Knight's advice that she travelled to Munich to attend the Hans Hofmann School of Art. Hofmann had already settled in the United States as a political refugee, but Scales was able to take lessons from Edmund Kitzinger [sic]. Later, she dated the beginnings of her 'artistic independence' to this period. At the Hofmann School, she wrote 'we made up our minds to do away with perspective'1. Untitled (Mediterranean Scene) [Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 1 [BC016]], dated from this period, is a confident and vibrant work. All the forms are reduced to essentials – interlocking planes of vermilion for the rooftops, a dramatic sliver of cobalt for the sea. The Mediterranean scene illustrates the dictum of modern art 'that a painting before being a battle horse or a nude woman or some anecdote – is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order'.2  It was works like Untitled (Mediterranean Scene) that so impressed Woollaston, when Scales returned to New Zealand in 1934 to care for her elderly mother. Few shared his enthusiasm, however, and her work was ridiculed when it was exhibited at the Bishop Suter Art Gallery. In 1936 Scales returned to Europe, and it was not until 1972 that she again settled in New Zealand.

Scales's later work is painterly and atmospheric, and increasingly subtle and personal in style. Although often nearly abstract in appearance, it always remained grounded in her observation of nature. Much of Scales's work consists of repeated versions of a single motif; the landscapes of St Tropez, Bry-sur-Marne, and St Ives; still life arrangements; and the view from her Dominion Road flat in Auckland. Hers is a modest, reflective project, of small intimately observed, often radiant paintings. Although Scales was a remarkably independent and self-sufficient woman, she seemed to have had little ambition for her art. She seldom exhibited her work, apparently viewing it as an 'interruption' to her painting routine.3 In 1975 she had some recognition of her work, when Colin McCahon, at Auckland City Art Gallery, organised a small retrospective.  This, her first and only solo exhibition, took place when she was 77. Today, Scales still awaits the exhibition and publication that will restore to her a fuller role in our art history.

1 Flora Scales, quoted by Barbi de Lange in Art New Zealand No. 37, Summer 1985-6, p.50
2 Maurice Denis, ‘Définition du néo-traditionnisme’ Art and Critique, 1980
3 Flora Scales, quoted by Barbi de Lange in Art New Zealand No. 37, Summer 1985-6, p.50.”

'Sir Mountford Tosswill Woollaston KB' by Errol Shaw, October 1998, in Butterworth, Susan, The Suter: One Hundred Years in Nelson, Nikau Press, New Zealand, 1999, pg 123

"While fruit picking in Mapua in 1934 he met Flora Scales, a painter who had studied at the Hans Hofmann School of Art in Munich. Hofmann's theories of space construction and colour influenced Woollaston's ideas of depicting pictorial space."

'Recent Acquisitions', Butterworth, Susan, The Suter: One Hundred Years in Nelson, Nikau Press, New Zealand, 1999, pg 161

"Notable recent examples include two untitled Mediterranean scenes by Flora Scales, generously gifted by Margaret and Geoff Candy. Scales was a Nelson artist of the early decades of the twentieth century, who was an important influence on the young Toss Woollaston."

‘Great Expectations: The Promised Land at The Suter’ by Jill Trevelyan, Art New Zealand, no. 96, 2000, pg 99-101

“[In 1934] Flora Scales made a brief trip home from studying at the Hans Hofmann School of Modern Art in Munich. She is represented here by one of her largest paintings the exuberant Untitled (Mediterranean Scene) [Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 1 [BC016]] (c 1932). Works like this were a shock to the art society stalwarts of Nelson but they had a galvanising effect on Toss Woollaston, whose "Landscape, Tahunanui", 1934, oil on canvas, 483mm x 610mm, collection Hocken Library University of Otago, is hung on the adjacent wall in the exhibition.”

‘A Tour of the Galleries’ by Josie McNaught, Dominion Post, Wellington, New Zealand, 29.01.2000, pg 21

“Nelson Gallery, The Suter, continues to celebrate its centenary with a programme of exhibitions beginning with 'The Promised Land: Art in Nelson from Tasman to Today'. Curated by William McAloon…the exhibition explores the significant contribution that Nelson artists made to New Zealand’s modern art movement, from early twentieth century artists, Mina Arndt and Flora Scales to the mid century works of Toss Woollaston, Doris Lusk and Colin McCahon."

Review by John Daly Peoples of The Promised Land: Art in Nelson from Tasman to To-day, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, National Business Review, 04.02.2000, pg 30

“There are two fine works by Flora Scales, who was one of the important influences on the late Sir Toss Woollaston."

Canon: Celebrating Nelson's Art History exhibition notes, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, March 2007, pp 22-23

‘Flora Scales’ by Julie Catchpole (Director) in Catchpole, Julie and Julia Warren, The Suter: People, Places, Perspectives: Artworks from the Collection, The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, 2016, pg 158

“Scales has not had much recognition as an artist in her own right; rather, what is reported is her role in inspiring the young Toss Woollaston in 1934. At that time she was briefly back in Nelson, fresh from studying under Edmund Kinzinger at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in Munich.

Fifty years on from his five 'lessons' with Miss Scales, Woollaston wrote 'I do remember being told one should sit above the level of a landscape, on a hillside: that lines diverging outward correspond to our sense of space, increasing as you get further away.¹ ²

In this painting [Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 1 [BC016]], and another Mediterranean-themed work in The Suter's collection [Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 2 [BC017]], Scales has fulfilled the idea that a picture should be expressive and live to its own rules; that it is, in effect, an arrangement of colours and shapes on a two-dimensional surface.

Her skill as a colourist is very evident as she orchestrates high-keyed warm colours – ochres, pinks and oranges – in a dynamic arrangement of geometric forms set against cooler, but no less intense, blues and purples for the sea, hills and the spiky agaves in the foreground. Scales also creates enough illusory space for us to follow a sloping road wending its way through a seaside village.” ³ JC

1 In a letter to Anne Kirker 20 November 1984, quoted in her book New Zealand Women Artists Reed Methuen, Auckland, 1986, p 77
2 See plates, Woollaston frequently painted his landscapes from a high vantage point, tilting the landscape up to fill the canvas.
3 To learn more about Scales “Flora Scales the woman and her work” by Barbi de Lange in Art New Zealand 37, Summer 1985, pp48-51"

‘Flora Scales’ Flicker’ by Luke Smythe, written for florascales.com, 2023

"Scales concentrated on Impressionism throughout the 1920s, before exploring subsequent French modernist developments, most notably Fauvism and the work of Paul Cézanne. The impact of both was registered in works that she painted on the South Coast of France around 1930, of which Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 1 [BC016] (ca. 1931) is typical.

In Cézanne’s view, the Impressionists had failed to endow the scenes they painted with sufficient solidity.2 To consolidate his own forms, he used a palette closer to that of Naturalism. He also shaded objects more extensively than the Impressionists, and limned his forms in black on occasion to increase their tangibility.3 In his views of L’Estaque from the 1880s, which Scales may have taken as a model, the dwellings appear more substantial than they would in an Impressionist work. Like Cézanne, Scales depicts houses as cleanly bounded, geometric volumes, and like Cézanne she loosens the constraints of single-point perspective: spatially, her painting feels credible, but there are slight variations in the viewpoints from which each house is shown. By virtue of her painting’s subject-matter, her palette overlaps with Cézanne’s, but only to a limited extent. His greys are nowhere to be found in her work, and the hints of red and green in Scales’ shadows introduce to her modelling an element of Fauvist colouration that was foreign to Cézanne’s technique."

2 ‘I wanted to make out of Impressionism something solid and lasting like the art of the museums,’ Cézanne is reported to have said. (Cézanne, quoted in Joachim Gasquet, Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne: A Memoir with Conversations, trans. Christopher Pemberton [New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991], 164.)
3 On the details of Cézanne’s technique, see Richard Shiff, Cézanne and the End of Impressionism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 199-219.


Photos by Tim Cuff

Related images
Related artworks
By other artists