[Portrait of a Woman in a Green Dress]

Portrait of woman, full face. Sitter wears a V-necked green garment and is shown against a background of brown brush strokes.

1978 1983
Object type
Medium and materials
oil on canvas
Place Made
Rotorua, New Zealand
Credit Line
Current Collection

Private Collection

Current Location

Auckland, New Zealand

General notes

Painted at the Rotorua Masonic Village, New Zealand, where Flora Scales was a resident from 26 October 1978 until just before her death in January 1985.

Sitter unknown. Scales, in conversation with M de Lange, 1983, remarked, “I didn't like doing it and she didn't like sitting – her feet were hurting. Three of her friends came and sat on the bed – work stopped soon after,” and continued, “This is only a beginning – it should have been darker under the chin. I wonder why I did full face. One should never do full face. Extraordinary.”

Toss Woollaston in correspondence with B de Lange, 05.05.1983: “It was good to see the paint functioning so beautifully without the subject. She is a very pure painter. She has gone on working every day and developing. The impairment of her sight seems to me to be no impediment to the paint. I am reminded in some ways of Beethoven's deafness.”

Excerpt from Toss Woollaston's essay for B. de Lange, 1992: "As her sight failed her pictures became more beautiful.  It seems as if a spirit, having the use of her hand more and more to itself, set out to prove the eye an encumbrance. 

Even in pictures where most people would say the process goes too far – of Theo [Theo [Portrait of Male Head] [BC096]] for example, and a woman in a green dress [BC095] – there is a similar sort of pleasure to be had to that we take in the art of young children.  It is not merely freedom for its own sake we admire, but the very clear expression of a world of innocence.  Gone is the mastery of expression in the painting – dated 1960s – of a “Seated Woman” [Seated Woman, Warwick School of Art, London [BC036]].  She is wearing a red beret and a dark jacket.  Her hands are folded in front of her.  The whole atmosphere is of the artist’s social superiority to the sitter.  It is not insisted upon, consciously perhaps, but it is there.

In the Rotorua “Woman in a Green Dress” the artist is humble before her subject, beaten into helplessness by her failing powers but nevertheless persevering to paint.  The result is paint given liberties it never knew before.  We begin by being tempted to criticise incompetence; but end by appreciating in spite of it the unique personality of this artist...

You cannot put the precise definition of the subject in front of the painting in these late pictures by Flora Scales.  There is no “social message”, nothing to help you to run away from pure contemplation of the painting.  This “self” is a good one.  My instant thought – “I wish I could paint like that!” – is curbed by the realisation that if I could it would not be me; and to be myself is the best compliment I can pay to another artist."

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