"Scales attended Canterbury College School of Art and studied painting in London before returning to New Zealand in 1912. After World War I her family settled in Nelson where she worked as an orchardist, and one of the works in the Richardson Collection Lot 108 Nelson Farm Landscape [BC127] dates from these years. Like other early works, including Lot 107 Shipping Wellington Harbour [BC128] and Lot 109 Moored Yachts [BC010] it is painted in a harmonious range of low-keyed colours and demonstrates an impressionist interest in atmospheric effects."
Shipping, Wellington Harbour
Seascape. Midground, vessel anchored in still water, port side to viewer. Left, three-masted vessel partially obscured by midground ship. Two small darker shapes, one at the bow and one at the stern of the larger ship. Hills and sky form the background.
LR Flora Scales
Verso framer’s label City Art, 96 Disraeli Street, Christchurch, Job No 5036
Verso Left label Flora Scales, Shipping, Wellington Harbour, Oil on canvasboard, 220 x 275, Purchased: 25/11/08, Cost: $3,500.00
Sold by auction at Dunbar Sloane, Wellington, New Zealand, Painting 19th and 20th Century, New Zealand, Australian and European Pictures, 03.03.1988, Lot 151
Sold by auction at Dunbar Sloane, Wellington, New Zealand, Sir Ivor Richardson Art Collection, 22.03.2006, Lot 107
Purchased by Scales Corporation Limited, Christchurch, New Zealand, from Ferner Galleries, New Zealand, 25.11.2008
Title, Shipping, Wellington Harbour, may have originated in an auctioneer’s catalogue.
Correspondence Danielle Carter, Archives, and Bill Laxon, Library Manager, New Zealand Maritime Museum Library, Auckland, New Zealand, 27.09.2019, “The painted vessel is likely, but not certain, to be a steamship. The red feature to the right of the vessel could be a funnel. Whether a steamship or a motor vessel, it could be described as a merchant ship with prominent cargo handling derricks. The vessel in the background to the left looks like a barquentine, another type of sailing ship.”
V-shapes made by the derricks on the ship deck herald those seen in the agaves of Scales's work of the 1930s [Untitled [Mediterranean Scene] 1 [BC016]], 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.
In the 1930s, the use of a V-shape as a spatial tool appeared in Scales’s work. In the 1920s Scales often painted yachts and ships and it seems she may have recognised the potential of the V-shape made by their riggings and masts and later began to incorporate the form into the vocabulary of her Modernist work following Hans Hofmann's instruction to do away with single-point perspective.
The V-shapes of the agaves, derricks and cranes, flowers, and forked orchard trees, that are such significant elements in her work during and after the 1930s, literally turn the idea of a vanishing point upside-down to suggest a space extending outwards towards the vertical edges of the canvas.
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.
Catalogue essay by Jill Trevelyan, The Sir Ivor Richardson Art Collection, Dunbar Sloane, Wellington, New Zealand, 2006
Photos by John Collie