Basilica and Lighthouse, St Tropez, Southern France

Landscape. Centre church tower, dividing expanse of cobalt blue sea and notching into far shoreline, rises above roofs of old town architecture. Lower margin path curves to right edged on left by five agave plants. Right tree on mound branching with foliage to left at top margin. Mid left set in from margin lighthouse with black dome. Expressively painted sky with clouds.

Other title(s)
Town by the Water, Town by the Water (Saint-Tropez)
Object type
Medium and materials
oil on canvas on board
Place Made
St Tropez, France

LL overpainted signature

LR green brush point F Scales 1939

Verso framer's label


Purchased by Tim and Sherrah Francis from Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, 1976, when it toured there from the Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand, exhibition, Helen F V Scales, 1975-1976

Sold by auction at Art and Object, Auckland, New Zealand, Tim and Sherrah Francis Collection, 07.09.2016, Lot 34

Purchased by The Fletcher Trust Collection, Wellington, New Zealand, 2016

Copyright Licence
Courtesy The Fletcher Trust Collection, Wellington, New Zealand, https://fletchercollection.org.nz/artworks/town-by-the-water-saint-tropez/
Current Collection

The Fletcher Trust Collection

Current Location

Wellington, New Zealand

General notes

First title and date supplied by the artist for Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand, exhibition, Helen F V Scales, 1975-1976. Listed as artwork no. 1 in this exhibition. Second title supplied by Art and Object, Auckland, New Zealand, Tim and Sherrah Francis Collection, 07.09.2016, Lot 34. Third title from The Fletcher Trust Collection, Wellington, New Zealand, documentation.

It is possible that this painting was brought back to New Zealand by Flora Scales's sister, Mrs Marjorie Hamersley, when she and her husband visited Scales in St Tropez in 1939 after the wedding of her daughter, Patience, in Malta.

This assumption is based on the fact that this painting, along with Mediterranean Village [BC019], Untitled [Basilica and Lighthouse, St Tropez] [BC020], St Tropez [BC022], St Tropez [BC023] and Greniar [Graniers], St Tropez, Southern France [BC024], was safely in New Zealand by 1942 when Scales discovered the loss of potentially hundreds of artworks stored in Paris, plundered by Nazis.

This is the old town of St Tropez, France. The church is L’Eglise Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.

In this painting Scales has chosen to work from a high viewpoint which with an overall intensity of colour brings distance nearer to the picture plane. Planes of colour nudge and nestle together across the lower half of the canvas to portray the ancient town in contrast with the smooth expanse of the sea and the flowing hills beyond. This procedure shows her intelligent understanding of Hans Hofmann's spatial concepts [see Related image 1 from Untitled [loose leaf pages] [BC112]].

There are three paintings in the group based on the basilica and lighthouse in St Tropez from the late 1930s, Mediterranean Village [BC019], Untitled [Basilica and Lighthouse, St Tropez] [BC020] and Basilica and Lighthouse, St Tropez, Southern France [BC021]. It seems that Scales did not return to St Tropez after 1939. These are the last known of her sunny, colourful, cubist compositions.

Taking heed of Hofmann's theories, in these works Scales has adjusted the role of the curved path. Reduced in scale and curved towards the vertical of her canvas it plays its part in the formal arrangement of colour, geometric planes and diverging diagonals to suggest the space and vitality of the scene without recourse to traditional rules of perspective.

The V-shapes of the agaves marking the curve of the path 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.

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