Alternative title and date, Basilica and Lighthouse, St Tropez, 1934, taken from Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, documentation and the exhibition Flora Scales at The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, New Zealand, 2018.
Date inscription partially illegible, last figure possibly resembles a 9.
This is the old town of St Tropez, France. The church is L’Eglise Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.
John Drawbridge, in conversation with B. de Lange, 1983, noted the “small, human scale of the painting and the groupings of the roofs, which convey aeons of time, tradition, human lives and work – something one would not find in New Zealand.”
Mark Stocker, Curator Historical International Art, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, in conversation with B. de Lange, 03.05.2019, “… she was a Modernist with conviction.”
B. de Lange, 15 June, 2021, “Gwen Knight’s Mediterranean Scene [see Related artworks], of a similar scene, shows that although both artists had been exposed to Hans Hofmann’s deeply significant theories they were free to make of them what they chose. There was no uniformity of result – all was valid and valued – except for the artifice of linear perspective, outlawed in the 19th Century by Cézanne and the Cubists who followed him, including Hans Hofmann.
Scales’s version is a very deliberately selected fragment of the expansive Mediterranean coast chosen to fulfil her aesthetic requirements. It includes the three key elements of lighthouse, tower and tree which, like the monuments along ley lines, seem to have an almost supernatural significance – in this case as signifiers of pictorial space.
Scales has condensed, cropped and simplified; she has used contrasts of height, shape and colour to enliven and energise her work. The resulting abstraction is direct, strong, uncompromising, almost harsh, in its intense focus on the concerns of Modernism – in which the subject of the painting is the painting itself.
Scales has no interest in replicating the landscape but recruits it as a vehicle for her vision. She has taken a position above the town and bay which effectively tilts distance close to the flat surface of her picture plane or canvas. The construction of shallow space is reinforced by joining the tip of the cupola to the mountains – as if the hook is reeling them closer.”
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.
Peter Ireland on his 2010 exhibition, Notes about Modernity, Thermostat, Palmerston North, New Zealand, 28.11.2020 [see Related artworks], “In 2010 I had a solo show titled Modernity at Thermostat, a dealer gallery in Palmerston North. It consisted of 13 works made specifically for the show (barring the Gozzoli-influenced image mentioned in the following paragraph), around the theme of (a) European artists who came to New Zealand in the 1800s, particularly those more professional ones arriving towards the end of that century, and (b) New Zealand artists who went to Europe to study and work from around the same time, those comings and goings marking a new stage in the professionalism of New Zealand artists, who made – and continue to make, in some cases – a contribution to this culture, whether they ever returned to New Zealand or not. The cases of Frances Hodgkins and Len Lye amply illustrate this point.
The idea for this project grew out of a slightly earlier work from 2006-2010 titled “Benozzo Gozzoli Reaches Modernity, 1451”, a reworking of an image by the Italian artist Benozzo Gozzoli 1421-1497 derived from his fresco cycle around the life of St Francis of Assisi. Gozzoli, being an early Renaissance artist, was a kind of Modernist for his day, such nomenclature suggesting an historical continuity starred throughout by sudden and seemingly radical developments refreshing and often destroying current conventions of depiction. For instance, a recent development during Postmodernism specific to New Zealand is how Maori and Pacific imagery and practice is more generally affecting local art-making – but not without a debate about appropriation.
The catalogue for this exhibition was as follows:
William Fox reaches Canterbury, 1851
Edward Fristrom reaches Auckland, 1903
Benozzo Gozzoli reaches Modernity, 1451
Rhona Hazard reaches France, 1926
Raymond McIntyre reaches London, 1909
Charles Meryon reaches Akaroa, 1845
James Nairn reaches Dunedin, 1890
Flora Scales reaches France, 1928
Sydney Thompson reaches France, 1900
John Weeks reaches Paris, 1925
Richard Wilson reaches Dunedin, 1947 (the year a work of his Roman Bridge at Rimini, was acquired by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery)
Rita Angus reaches herself, 1951 (a work based on her Rutu, but restoring her Pakeha identity)
Each image consisted of my take on a particular image by the respective artist, and for Flora Scales I chose one of her Mediterranean coastal settings “Untitled [Basilica and Lighthouse, St Tropez]” 1939, but I changed one thing and added a set of four others. The landscape in the background was changed to the hills behind Eastbourne as seen from Wellington city, and I added a triangle at each corner of the work, to “secure” it as photographic corners secure an image in an album, each triangle depicted in either black, red or white, a trio generally accepted as indicating a Maori reference, itself indicating a nod to Aotearoa. In a sense, I guess I was “bringing the image back home”. It’s now in a private collection in Whanganui.”