"In one of her most beautiful paintings, Port of Mousehole at Sunset [BC026] (1951), the sun – a fiery, burnt orange ball – sets over the sea. The sky is a study in yellow tones, the concentrated landscape a choppy blue-and-green approximation. Figuration here hovers at the edge of abstraction."
Port of Mousehole at Sunset
High viewpoint directly overlooking the scene. Setting sun centre right. Foreground centre blue and red shapes. Houses lower left. Lower right margin cliffs, architecture, possibly a curved road.
Verso UR ball point on support Tableau peint par "FLORA SCALES" offert a son filleul Boris KALACHNIKOFF, titre: Le Port de Moshool, au soleil couchant. (Cornouaille, Angleterre)
Verso Centre Left ball point on paper adhesive label Tableau peint par "FLORA SCALES" offert a son filleul Boris KALACHNIKOFF, titre: Le Port de Moshool, au soleil couchant. (Cornouaille, Angleterre)
Verso printed label DALER (partially illegible)
Alternative title, Le Port de Moshool, au soliel couchant, according to information given by the artist to her godson, Boris Kalachnikoff. Kalachnikoff inscribed on the verso:
Tableau peint par "FLORA SCALES"
offert a son filleul Boris KALACHNIKOFF
titre: Le Port de Moshool, au soleil couchant. (Cornouaille, Angleterre)
Painting painted by "FLORA SCALES"
offered to her godson Boris KALACHNIKOFF
title: The Port of Moshool, at sunset. (Cornwall, England)
“Moshool” is probably the phonetic spelling of an unfamiliar English place name, Mousehole.
Correspondence Boris Kalachnikoff to B. de Lange, 13.05.1983, suggests this painting dates from 1951 or 1953. In later correspondence, 17.05.1985, Kalachnikoff suggests 1946 as a possible date. He reports visiting Scales and meeting her frail, elderly mother, for whom she was caring, in Camberwell, England, between 1944 and 1948 but it seems unlikely that painting excursions to Cornwall were made by Scales in these years of family responsibilities. There are three other paintings by Scales set in Mousehole, Cornwall, England [Untitled [Mousehole Cornwall 1] [BC028], Untitled [Mousehole Cornwall 2] [BC029], Untitled [Mousehole Cornwall 3] [BC030]], dated early 1950s so it seems probable that the dates 1951 or 1953 are the most likely.
Correspondence B. Kalachnikoff to B. de Lange, 17.05.1985 shows a small diagram of Port of Mousehole at Sunset [BC026] lower right [see Related images]. Kalachnikoff describes, “Flora Scales strives with a great knowledge of composition to distribute her coloured spaces so that empty spaces are treated like filled ones, with a mastery reached by feeling her way, by sustained effort, by scumbling.
One can feel the intense work, the care taken to organise the whole painting. What is striking is the unexpected abstract organised composition around the motif, reached without any system, or recipe, or procedures usually used by adherents of non-figuration.
Here all is a recreation of space – a composition completely unexpected, made with purely plastic spatial means.
There is a feeling of great space created in the painting quite unrelated to the modest scale of the wood on which she works. The painting has its own universe. The staggered line of the horizon on the right is surprising, with the sun shown on a different plane and the perpendicular in its centre.
This is another way of asking the same question [of space] and resolving it with the authenticity of a rare and exceptional personality, that only a few artists of very high stature reach – I think of George Braque, Bonnard, for the composition.
Here all is rediscovery of a recreated space of modest proportions of support, but monumental by the effect of the space obtained, where space merges into infinite space...
Flora is a colourist, but in this period I sometimes regretted that the colour was fainter in comparison with the periods of audacious colour like the large Les Eucalyptus [BC123].
Although these paintings have not very spectacular colours, they are among her most structured and plasticly the best balanced [the other paintings to which Kalachnikoff refers here are Les Anenomes [BC048] and Port of Mousehole at Sunset [BC026]].”
Correspondence B. Kalachnikoff to B. de Lange, 25.01.1991, Kalachnikoff writes more about the painting and his memory of the time spent in Mousehole with his godmother in 1951, “This painting is of such refinement and subtlety that all flashy, superficial and facile virtuousity is eliminated. The completion gives way as in Bonnard to an eternal questioning.
It is a lesson in art that Flora offers us – a soul, which was often misunderstood, vulnerable, solitary, strange, which sometimes provoked the derision of ignorance. Through art Flora left the cavern and attained the truth of the sun – of coloured light.
[Flora Scales] arrives in a small town in Cornwall where idle, pretentious snobs see a middle class lady arrive and on top of that, an artist. But there you are, Flora is an authentic artist, lacking any malice and these people are on the lookout for easy distractions. Thus Flora becomes their prey; to distract themselves in their idleness. Flora feels this and flees from them, which irritates these intellectuals who are vexed, and provokes attacks from them. Pettily, they take vengeance. In an apparently kind way these hoaxers carried out a sort of persecution.
Flora was minimised in a society which did not suit her, not knowing how to pull strings. Flora fled from this perverse and insidious mob.
Luckily she met [Roger] Bissière (1886-1964) who was so humane and [E.D.] Kinzinger (1888-1963), so open to all theories of art.”
‘Flora Scales: The Woman and Her Work’ by Barbi de Lange, Art New Zealand, issue 37, 1985, pg 51 (colour)
‘Becoming Modern: The paintings of Flora Scales’ by Jennifer Higgie, written for florascales.com, 2022
Correspondence Boris Kalachnikoff to B. de Lange kindly translated from French by Jenny Kotlarevsky
Photos by Sam Hartnett