New Zealand Society of Artists Second Exhibition
In 1934 Flora Scales exhibited in three exhibitions in New Zealand, directly after her time in Munich, Germany, at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art. If known, the eight works exhibited at the Suter Art Society, Nelson, in September 1934, would no doubt provide a great deal of information and insight into the immediate results of that experience. So far, all that is known of the works shown in the New Zealand Society of Artists Second Exhibition is documented in a photograph published in the Christchurch Sun, 24 October 1934, pg 24 (see Related Images).
One of several possible explanations for the lack of information about or known locations of the artworks shown in these three exhibitions is that Scales may have taken them back with her to France in 1936. The tragic extension of this supposition is that they then shared the fate of much of her European work from the late 1920s and early 1930s, stored in Wheatley’s Warehouse, 32 rue Caumartin, Paris 9e, that was plundered in the early 1940s by the German Army of Occupation.
Flora Scales in conversation with Janet Paul, 1983, described learning about this event when she returned to retrieve her possessions after being released from WWII internment camp Frontstalag 142 in Vittel, Vosges, France, October 1942:
“[I was told that] the Germans came to the warehouse and marked anything of interest. They returned the next day to collect the marked material.”
The modernism of Scales’s work signalled its status as ‘degenerative’ art. As such it may have been appropriated by an interested public or private collector, stored, sold or destroyed. So far, investigations have not revealed any more specific information.
The photograph published in the Christchurch Sun (24 October 1934, pg 24) shows a press photograph of Still Life with the caption:
“Modernist Work at Arts Exhibition – "Still Life," by Flora Scales, one of the “modern” pictures included in the exhibition of the New Zealand Society of Artists in the Durham Street Art Gallery, Miss Scales has spent some years of study in France and Germany.”
The catalogue entries for exhibition catalogues the works as follows:
No. 292 Drapery £25.0.0
No. 293 Group £20.0.0
No. 294 The Old Harbour £20.0.0
No. 295 The Cactus NFS
No. 296 Still Life Group £25.0.0
It is assumed that three of the five paintings listed are the same paintings catalogued in the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts Annual Exhibition 1934:
No. 146 Drapery £25.0.0
No. 147 Group £20.0.0
No. 148 Still Life Group £25.0.0
A photograph published in the Northern Advocate, 9 October 1934, pg 8 [see Related Images], shows a press photograph of eight paintings on an exhibition wall at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts featuring these three works, all in identical frames – lower left, no. 146 Drapery, 3rd from lower left, no. 148 Still Life Group, 2nd from upper left, no. 147 Group.
26 October, 1934
— 8 November, 1934
Christchurch, New Zealand
“Purely abstract work of the most advanced type is exhibited by Flora Scales, once a pupil of Van der Velden, who has studied for some years in France and Germany. Her pictures are bound to provoke comment. "Still Life", for example will no doubt appear to many as a mere splashing of paint on canvas in a series of crazy and fantastic patterns. It is not, however, intended in any way to be representational, although certain representational elements enter the composition. Each picture has been very carefully designed, and it must be realised that the same fundamental principles of colour, balance and composition have been adopted in the artist's work as in more representational pictures.”
“Because the section devoted to the 'modernist' is already provoking discussion, it might be well to deal with that first, although the paintings of Sydney Thompson, John Weeks, J D Charlton Edgar, Russell Clark and others merit first consideration. Of course, the work of these artists is also 'modern' but as they do not strain perspectives as a habit, which in the opinion of some persons is either a sign of eccentricity or of criminal tendencies, they escape the generally accepted classification. Flora Scales strains perspectives, juggles with planes, colour, lights and shadows, and with full intent commits other crimes in the artistic calendar, and yet there are good artists, whose academic work is considered beyond suspicion, who admire her paintings. She is an artist who for many years painted according to academic standards, land and seascapes, mostly in Europe. These were usually very colourful; now she is a modernist, and the colour pitch of her work has been lifted much higher by the principles she adopts. Colour with her is the first consideration, and she heightens its effect not only by juxtaposition, but she seeks to assist the process by mental reactions set up by an agitation of angles and curves. Even those who scoff at the group of five pictures she shows us, possibly on reflection would admit these possess a stimulating colour quality, although they might vehemently deny that the angles and curves that annoy them, often with their acute 'wrongness' have paradoxically contributed to the appreciation of the gaiety of the piece.
Nevertheless the employment of angles and curves in order to secure particular mental reactions is by way of being an exact science these days, and with science on my side, I bravely admit a strong admiration for her "Cactus" and "Still Life Group".
There is such a cocktail quality about the colour that some of the colour of conventional paintings about seems flat beer by comparison.”
*The reviewer writing under the pseudonym “Chiaroscuro” is possibly James Shelley, who opened the first exhibition of the New Zealand Society of Artists in Christchurch, 1933
“Of the exhibitors who devote themselves to a deliberate 'modernist' idiom, Mr Rodney Kennedy is the most convincing…Miss Flora Scales has a pleasing command of colour composition, but her choice of manner and of formal elements is dictated by imitation of a fashion that has no real importance…”
“The second class of artists – who endeavour to effect an escape from the 'civilisation' surrounding them – are idealists or liars; it depends which way one looks at them. As painters, their work ranges from sentimental, timid productions to highly complicated abstractions. For all grades of culture regarding art as a luxury (which is precisely what it should not be) they provide work that is pleasurable and innocuous though not always conventional. In its best forms though, communicating only an original or abstract sense of beauty (removed from the Greek ideal), it enrages the critics and spectators, as did some of Flora Scales's pictures in the recent exhibition...”
“It would have been interesting to see Flora Scales's pictures hung apart from the deliberately modern efforts.' (pg 80)
“None of the modernist group…amounted to very much, excepting the pictures of Flora Scales. Powerful, even repellent, they had a genuine look which the others completely lacked; they also had much in common with those reproductions one sees in German tomes on modern art labelled 'Expressionismus und Gegenwert'…even to the guitar, an instrument which appears as frequently in some kinds of modern paintings as do collisions between augmented fourths in some kinds of modern music.” (pg 88)
“New Zealand Society of Artists held its second Christchurch exhibition in the Durham Street Gallery…the two rooms were filled…the wall of the large gallery was given to the pictures with a decided modern tendency. Several new members' work was on view for the first time. Guest exhibitors were: Miss Flora Scales, Mr John Weeks, Mr G Tovey, Mr Nugent Walsh, Miss Kathleen Salmond and Mrs Christine Kirk.”