Boarding House, St Ives, Cornwall


Sea/landscape. High viewpoint. Centre white building, roof with two blue peaks, white chimney. Blue/green sea. Lower left, cropped blocks of ochre and terracotta tilt to left margin. Top of canvas, horizontal areas of pale ochre, blue, green perhaps indicating beach hills and sky. Upper centre, blue/white brush strokes on area of green.

1968 1970
Object type
Medium and materials
oil on canvas on board
Place Made
St Ives, Cornwall, England

LL cobalt blue brush point Helen Scal (signature partially illegible)

Verso 2x Hocken Library stamps

Verso label Scales, H F M [sic] Boarding House, St Ives, Cornwall ca1965 – 70 oil on canvas on hardboard 300 x 390mm


Purchased by Hocken Collections - Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago Library, Dunedin, New Zealand, with the assistance of a subsidy from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand

Copyright Licence
Courtesy Hocken Collections - Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago Library, Dunedin, New Zealand, 76/58
Current Collection

Hocken Collections - Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago Library

Current Location

Dunedin, New Zealand

General notes

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. 17 in this exhibition.

This is probably the painting titled St Ives from the Artist's House (oil on fabric mounted on board, 310 x 405mm, no. 44) from the exhibition New Zealand’s Women Painters, curated by Anne Kirker, Auckland City Art Gallery, 31.10.1975 – 23.11.1975.

This is one of a series of paintings based on the location of the Pedn-Olva Hotel on Porthminster Beach, St Ives, Cornwall, England. Pedn-Olva means 'lookout on the headland'. The hotel is a registered navigational mark for ships which perhaps added to its attraction as a subject for Scales, with her lifelong interest in boats, ships, piers and the sea.

The location of this work was identified by British artist, Patrick Heron, an artist-in-residence at the International Art Workshop, Teschemakers Resort, Kakanui, Oamaru, New Zealand, 9 February - 1 March 1991.

The coloured rectangles at left and lower margin may indicate the blocky granite construction of the tower of St Ia, which dates from 1410-1434.

In her series of studies of this subject Scales may well have moved between a greater and lesser degree of abstraction making it difficult to determine in which order they were painted.

Diana Mills, Flora Scales’s great niece, in a letter to B. de Lange, 12.11.1983, “I visited her there in a sparsely furnished house on the side of a hill. It was jolly cold and the wind was prevented from making life completely miserable only by thick red velvet curtains. Heavy as they were they still blew at an angle into the room...I was appalled by the lack of comfort with which she lived her life.”

After the death of her mother in 1948 Flora Scales moved to Cornwall, England. Flora Scales in conversation with Janet Paul, Rotorua, New Zealand, 27 March 1979, “I went to a horrible room in Mousehole, all yellow rocks. Not a good place for painting. Back to St Ives. I lived in a little hotel on the sea front at Penzance. Had a sale and then went back to St Ives. I used to pass Barbara Hepworth's studio and could hear her hammering. She was always hammering. I didn't like to disturb her and never went in." 

The 1950s saw the burgeoning of the St Ives School of artists in England which included Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Peter Lanyon, Bryan Wynter and Bernard Leach. 

Used as illustration

Helen F V Scales, Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand, 1975, pg 12 (black and white)

Kirker, Anne, New Zealand Women Artists: A Survey of 150 Years, Reed Methuen, Auckland, New Zealand, 1986, plate 9 (colour)


‘Flora's Grapes are Trod’ by Alan Brunton, Spleen, no. 5, September 1976

“Given the slightness of this exhibition, the case for Flora Scales must rest. That the connection between Scales and Woollaston is considered significant, is evidenced by the heavy institutional buying from the exhibition. Twelve works were sold, for instance, during two weeks in Wellington. As a result of the exhibition, Ms Scales' work was purchased (at starting prices of around the $300 mark) by the Auckland City Art Gallery, the Robert McDougall Gallery, Govett-Brewster and the National Art Gallery. Private collectors in Auckland and Wellington paid the price. The Hocken Library acquired a 1939 work, Greniar, St Tropez, Southern France [BC024], which shows a persuasive affinity with some of McCahon's landscapes of around 1940, and Boarding House, St lves, Cornwall [BC060], 1968-70.”

Kirker, Anne, New Zealand Women Artists: A Survey of 150 Years, Reed Methuen, Auckland, New Zealand, 1986, pg 77

“The works belonging to 1968-70 in particular mark Flora Scales’s mature vision. They are small, shimmering essays in colour that attract the epithet “poetic”. Boarding House, St Ives, Cornwall [BC060] (c. 1968-70) is a superb example (Plate 9). It has the thin liquid oils she had grown to prefer over the years and vivid hues which only just define her subjects. Behind the fleeting impression of whitewashed cottages on the sea frontage is a fully digested knowledge of “drawing with construction”. As if referring to this picture, Woollaston wrote to McCahon, who initiated preparations for the 1975 exhibition, “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.”

‘The Cornish Connection at the Suter Art Gallery, Nelson’ by Michael Moore-Jones, https://mmoorejones.com/cornish-connection-suter-art-gallery-nelson/, 2017

“Interestingly, Flora Scales was perhaps the star of the show. A number of her late oils show the range of influences acting on her, and the kinds of skills and style she passed on to Toss Woollaston and, through Woollaston, McCahon."

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

“Greniar [Greniar [Graniers], St Tropez, Southern France [BC024]] offers evidence of Scales’ increasing independence, which would strengthen further following the war. From the mid-1940s, her imagery became softer still and her paint application thinned to the extreme. Initially, in works like Port of Weymouth Bay [BC025] (1945) and Untitled [Mousehole, Cornwall 2] [BC029] (ca. 1950-59), she built scenes around a contrast between canted three-dimensional motifs, like boats and buildings, and a hazy, often gold-tinged environment. Once complete, these compositions appeared to have been painted in two registers: the first flat and the second volumetric.

As time wore on, however, this spatial disjunction disappeared, and by the early 1960s, the buildings that still featured in her landscapes had become as indistinct as their surroundings. Emblematic of this shift are Bry-sur-Marne Looking Towards the Marne Valley [BC045] (1965) and Untitled [Pedn-Olva Hotel] [BC063] (ca. 1966-69). Evidently there are structures nestled at the heart of both scenes, but in the former, their presence is disclosed by just a few white and terracotta dabs. In the latter, which Scales left untitled, it is only the work’s resemblance to named paintings like Boarding House, St Ives, Cornwall [1] [BC060] (1968-1970) that allows us to discern a hotel. Even then we may have doubts about its shape and construction.

In works such as these, Scales drew upon her decades of experience to develop her own radical approach to Impressionism. Setting Cézanne’s pursuit of solidity aside, but retaining and adapting his patch-work approach to composition, she returned to her Impressionist roots. Yet rather than revive her orthodox Impressionist technique of the 1910s and 1920s, she intensified the style’s dissolution of its subjects into light."

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