House and Plum Trees

Landscape. Central brown vertical branches into V shape against blue, white, green and brown brush strokes to left. Brown disc-like shapes above central left branch and above central vertical. Pale area below right branch. Lower left margin diagonal tilts towards left margin. Series of darker brown green horizontal shapes related to the left diagonal. Centre top margin cadmium yellow horizontal brush strokes.

1968 1974
Object type
Medium and materials
oil on canvas
Place Made
Bry-sur-Marne, France

LR brown brush point F Scales, 197 (date partially illegible)

Verso yellow gallery label Ron O’Reilly (owner address) Helen F V Scales, House and Plum Trees, 1968,

Verso pencil on stretcher (not in artist's hand) Helen Flora Scales, House and Plum Trees, 1972 scratched out, oil c1968, purchased Dec 1974 273mm x 352mm

Verso biro (not in artist's hand) Full size 273mm x 352mm


Purchased by Ron O’Reilly [Librarian, Canterbury Public Library, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1951 -1968] from the artist, 1974

Private sale, Auckland, New Zealand, c1980

General notes

Title supplied by the artist to original owner, 1974. Date on the painting partially illegible. The mark after 19 is approximately >, which is more readily interpreted as a seven than a six, and the fourth mark appears as merely a drop of paint. By July 1972, Scales had arrived in New Zealand and was living at 159 York Place, Dunedin, New Zealand.

The central V-shape of the forked tree trunk is reminiscent of the ship's rigging seen in Scales's work of the 1920s [Shipping, Wellington Harbour] [BC128]]. It also brings to mind the agaves of the 1930s [Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 1 [BC016]] and the derricks of the 1950s [Untitled [Mousehole Cornwall 2] [BC029]], 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.