Gwen Knight (1908-1974)
Untitled [Fishermen Sailing Boats and Row Boats]
Reproduced with the kind permission of Mrs Gabrielle Carmen Lees
Photograph B. de Lange, taken 1980s
Image taken from photographic transparency slide
This painting was exhibited and sold from John Leech Gallery, Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand, in the 1980s. Records of the work are now not available.
This is a close view of La Pesquiere, the fishermen's landing stage on the eastern side of Plage de la Ponche, the fishing harbour of St Tropez, France. Flora Scales in conversation with M. de Lange, 1984, said that Gwen Knight had also painted this scene which she vividly remembered. This is possibly the painting Scales was referring to.
Gwen Knight, Frances Hodgkins, Maude Burge and May Smith went to Ibiza at the end of 1932. Francis Hodgkins was there for six months, Gwen Knight stayed for six years.
[Mediterranean Scene] 2
High viewpoint looking over houses, jetty with moored small boats. A body of water. Hills at upper third of canvas. Centre midground a green tree.
LL black brush point Flora Scales
Donated to The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, by Margaret and Geoff Candy, 1977
The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū
Nelson, New Zealand
The two paintings by Flora Scales, Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 1 [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.
This is a view from La Citadelle, the fort of St Tropez, looking over La Pesquière, the fishermen’s landing stage, village houses and the beach of La Ponche. It shows the Tour Portalet, the 15th century tower of the fortified town.
Letter from Hélène Riboty, Archives communales de Saint-Tropez, France, to Gérard Dubosson, researcher, Nelson, New Zealand, 03.04.2020: “[This] represents a view of the painted ponche from the hill of the Citadel with also a view of the fishermen’s meadow.”
The landing stage is also seen in St Maxime [BC018].
The tree central to this composition is painted as a spiral similar to that of Untitled [Landscape with Curved Road and Trees] [BC121].
Possibly painted in 1931 or early 1932, under the tuition of E. D. Kinzinger, before Scales left to briefly visit New Zealand. Certainly painted before June 1932. From October, during the winter of 1932-1933, Scales was in Munich, Germany, at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art.
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)
While in St Tropez, France, Scales met artists Frances Hodgkins and Gwen Knight. As reported by The Evening Post, 25 January, 1932, ‘Valuable Pictures’, “Maude Burge and Flora Scales were staying last summer  at St Tropez in the South of France with Frances Hodgkins and Gwen Knight of Wellington and all were attending a summer school there.”
Excerpt from An accompanied solitude, an essay by Boris Kalachnikoff, January 1991: “[Flora Scales] had an artist friend, Miss Knight, with whom she had warm and sincere conversations and exchanged paintings in a friendly way, in the sunny countryside of St Tropez.”
Excerpt from Letters of Frances Hodgkins, ed. Linda Gill, Auckland University Press, New Zealand, 1993, pp 441-442, letter 438 to Dorothy Selby from the Hotel Sube in St Tropez, 25 June, 1931, from St Tropez, France: “There is a Professor from Munich here who is making them stretch their brains. He is very able – and a good lecturer – young and nice looking with a charming pyjama-ed American wife…His principles are sound – even if one dislikes his sort of art.” Gill’s footnote no. 39 for this letter states that the Professor was Edmund Daniel Kinzinger.
These reports suggest that Scales knew, and possibly received instruction from, Kinzinger in St Tropez before arriving at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art, Munich, Germany, in October 1932.
Apparently it was Gwen Knight who advised Scales to travel to Munich for a longer and more concentrated period of tuition at the Hans Hofmann School where she herself had spent six months, 3 October 1929 – 2 April 1930.
Scales may have bought this painting to New Zealand with her when visiting in 1932 for a few months to care for her mother, or when she returned again in 1934.
The support of this painting is of similar size to that of Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 1 [BC016], which is in landscape format.
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] 1 [BC016] and Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 2 [BC017] to her son, Neil Ostenfeld, who in turn gave them both to his sister Mrs Margaret Candy.
Correspondence Mrs Candy in a letter 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 writes: “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, volume CXXXII, issue 110, 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.
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).
‘More News’, Suter News, no. 48, December 1997 - March 1998 (black and white)
Photos by Tim Cuff