BC066

Portrait 3

Portrait. A close up portrait of the head and shoulders of a woman with her head diagonally inclined over her left shoulder. Nose marked with diagonal in red and a touch of blue indicates the back of the head against the yellow ochre ground at the right margin. She is wearing a blue garment.

Date
c. 1968
Object type
painting
Medium and materials
oil on canvas
Dimensions
348x267mm
Place Made
England or France
Inscriptions

LR brown brush point H Scales

Verso (not in artist's hand) Portrait 3, 350 x 270mm c 1968 Helen F V Scales Mr L Paris

Details
Credit Line

Purchased by Mr L. Paris from Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington, July 1976, when it toured there from the Auckland City Art Gallery exhibition, Helen F V Scales, 1975-1976

Current Collection

Private Collection

Current Location

Sydney, Australia

General notes

Title supplied by the artist for Auckland City Art Gallery exhibition, Helen F V Scales, 1975-1976. Listed as artwork no. 14 in this exhibition.

The Auckland City Art Gallery preparatory catalogue notes suggested dates 1970-1976 for all three included self-portraits [Portrait 2 [BC065], Portrait 3 [BC066], Portrait 1 [BC120]]. Scales was in New Zealand 1972-1976. The gallery later revised the date to c1968 for the printed catalogue, during which time the artist would have been in England or France. 

No. 101 in the exhibition Academy Women: A Century of Inspiration, An Exhibition Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Art in New Zealand, New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts Galleries, Buckle Street, Wellington, 1993.

Although this is a portrait of Flora Scales, as is Portrait 2 [BC065] and Portrait 1 [BC120], in conversation with M. de Lange, 1983, Scales said, “I never did self-portraits, just used myself as a model when necessary.”

This is a painting of the artist scrutinising her reflection with a cool intense gaze. It is a penetrating search for structure as if her own head was an architectural or landscape subject to be investigated and reconstructed.

Toss Woollaston in correspondence with B. de Lange, 05.05.1983, wrote: “After stimulating me thirty-nine years ago Miss Scales has done it again. This time not because of the theories, but because of her painting. The paint is the thing. It is so sensitive, infinitely varied in application, strong and adventurous.”

Toss Woollaston in correspondence with B. de Lange, 29.06.1983, wrote: “And in the self portraits the construction is again part of the expression, and, greatly, a means of it. Whereas the drawing dated c 1930 [Untitled [Cubist Drawing of a Seated Man] [BC098]] wears its construction like plates of armour, the recent works have plenty but it doesnt [sic] show. It is absorbed into a way of painting so sensitive and personal that its contribution cannot be isolated. It can to some extent be described in "Portrait 2" [BC065] – the short steep diagonal upwards to the left in the chest and shoulders, contrasting with the much longer upward-to-the-right one in the head; which again contrasts with a shorter flatter diagonal to the left across the face - this last echoing, while it varies from, the one in the torso.

But this description as it stands is too simple – to extend it would be to emphasise that these diagonals are not merely lines but become planes and volumes that impart life to the painting by their movement over the page and through the space of the picture.

Construction in these portraits is subtly and powerfully the means and mode of likeness. The "Portrait 2" [BC065] is a picture of an old woman first and a particular old woman last. The construction is powerfully - and delicately - appropriate to the subject. The brush strokes are so sensitive, the colours so beautiful. There is a quality that is hard to describe about both the pencil marks and the brush strokes - as if they hesitated to come into existence – but they do arrive, they make it - and the result is an amazing degree of sensitiveness. There is no weakness, the underlying sense of purpose and structure is so strong it looks after them, as a mother would her children. In a painting of this kind, at this height, the question of 'likeness' does not arise. In the differences between each portrait there is an assurance of a profound likeness to the undoubted individuality of each. Construction is used to achieve this. The same painter's vision is in them all – the same means. Infinitely varied yet always recognisably the same painter's vision. It makes no grandiose statement. It is just 'there'. It is like life itself.”

Excerpt from Toss Woollaston's essay for B. de Lange, 1992: “When I saw the [1976] exhibition of her work at the Peter McLeavey Gallery in Wellington I revised my estimation of her as an inveterate student. The pictures were all small, beautiful and sensitive evidence of an artist's personality. Nobody else could have painted them. I would dearly have liked to acquire one or both of her self portraits with the head tilted to one side, not only laterally, but in depth, so that your vision moved with it in deep space – but they were gone before I got to the exhibition.”

This excerpt suggests that only two of the three portraits [Portrait 2 [BC065], Portrait 3 [BC066], Portrait 1 [BC120]] were included in the Peter McLeavey exhibition when Woollaston saw it in 1976.

Images taken from photographic transparency slides.

Used as illustration

Helen F V Scales, Auckland City Art Gallery, 1975, fig. 14, pg 11 (black and white)

References

Foreword by Colin McCahon, Helen F V Scales exhibition catalogue, Auckland City Art Gallery, November 1975

“We hope this exhibition will tell people of a lifetime of painting, from her sometimes didactic early work to the poetry of her plum trees [BC071-BC075, BC077] and the portraits [BC065, BC066, BC120].

The beauty of her vision comes from her thinking about painting and from the grace and care she gives to her work. Without this, how could the plum trees have grown and the portraits become so real?”

'Art award a lottery for losers' by James Ross, The Week, 16 July 1976, pg 17

“The three ironic Self Portraits [BC065, BC066, BC120] are among Scales's best work and testify to a lifetime's devotion to her art.”

‘A Personal Reminiscence’ by Gretchen Albrecht, Art New Zealand, issue 37, 1985, pg 52

“One of the galleries upstairs was filled with small oil paintings, mostly landscapes and still lives, and three self-portraits [Portrait 2 [BC065], Portrait 3 [BC066], Portrait 1 [BC120]]. One of those self-portraits [Portrait 3 [BC066]] stopped me in my tracks in its extraordinary emotional power. The head tilted on an angle, black smudges for eyes, a large triangular nose, mouth wiped away to a broken line - the skull beneath the flesh palpably felt – it seemed to me at once vulnerable and very strong: the brushstrokes in all their variety of smudges, the rubbed bare canvas patches, the licks, wisps and firm thick strokes of paint constructed an image redolent of a life lived – an image full of the presence of old age. It belonged, in my mind, with the great self-portrait of 1945 by Bonnard, and those direct, exposed self-revelations of late Rembrandt.”

'A Friend of Flora' by Gretchen Albrecht, Flora Scales, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, 2018, pp 39-43

“My response to these self portraits [Portrait 2 [BC065], Portrait 3 [BC066], Portrait 1 [BC120]] and a poetic group of landscapes all titled ‘ Orchard and Plum Tree’ [BC071-BC075, BC077], with their strokes of paint dissolving and reassembling edges and planes of colour, was immediate and intense. I left the gallery driven by an urgent desire to meet and speak to the woman who had painted them...For me she was living proof that painting could stand at the core of a woman’s life and sustain her through anything. She was humble and unambitious for herself but always hungry for painting knowledge, which ended in her 98th year. I am richer for having known and loved her.”

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