Nelson Suter Art Society Annual Exhibition 1934


2 September, 1934
— 10 September, 1934


Nelson, New Zealand

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.

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 & Co., 32 Rue Caumartin, Paris, 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.

It was at the suggestion of Toss Woollaston that the Nelson Suter Art Society resolved to write to Flora Scales asking her to contribute some pictures to the exhibition. This was duly acted upon, 26 June 1934.

Correspondence Miss D. M. Smith, Librarian, Nelson Provincial Museum, New Zealand, to B. de Lange, 19 July 1983, “A meeting of the Committee of the Nelson Suter Art Gallery Society 26 July 1934 resolved to write to Miss Scales asking her to contribute pictures to the exhibition. The exhibition opened to the public on 2nd September after a private view the previous evening and closed 10 September. Exhibitors were asked to remove their work on the 11th and thereafter the work would be available at J P Cooke and Sons, Hardy Street.”

Excerpt from Bieringa, Luit, Two New Zealand painters: the thirties and forties - foundations and changes in the work of M.T. Woollaston and C. McCahon, Unpublished Thesis, School of Fine Arts Library, University of Auckland, New Zealand, 1971, pp 59-60: 
“[Woollaston] managed to persuade the Suter Art Society to invite Miss Scales to hang some of her works at their spring exhibition. Amongst an ‘uproar of criticism’ they hung in their disorderly state, ‘still on butterpaper pinned over their drawings with drawing pins showing under the edges of the frames.’24 Like a pilgrim the young painter went and looked every day at these works in which the ‘Colours glowed from deep space…Dark, rubbed drawings extended deep into their own grey surfaces by virtue of lines that had been worked for a whole month.’ 24

24 Biographical notes on this period in the possession of the artist. [Now held in the Sir M.T. Woollaston Unpublished Autobiographical Notes 1991, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington]”

Toss Woollaston correspondence with Rodney Kennedy written from Mapua, 1934, held in E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand:
“Miss Scales has eight works in the present exhibition. [W. H.] Allen appreciates the created or spiritual third dimension in them but people who depend for their conception of three dimensionality upon the theory of vanishing perspective, which has to do with optical mechanics and not the inner conception, can't see it at all.”

Excerpt from Toss Woollaston's essay for B. de Lange, 1992:
“…I had a fortnight during which I could go to the Gallery and look at her pictures every day. The Art Society people hated them; but they were the only things in the show I found it constructive to look at. One of them was a drawing at the grease-proof paper stage. The strains of the process had torn the paper, and the artist had pinned the torn edges in place with drawing pins. This sort of presentation proved to the people how shocking these pictures were. That an artist should have things on her mind that made a tear held together with pins not matter was something that could not find room in their thoughts. “Like frying-pans!” was the best thing an Art Society stalwart – Marjorie Naylor – could find to say about them. Art only fit for a kitchen!”

Exhibition reviews

'Exhibition' by R.J. Waghorn*, Nelson Evening Mail, 6 September 1934, pg 2, “In the side room visitors will find much to interest them. Here are hung the brighter and so-called 'modern' works. Opinion will no doubt be divided as to the merit or demerit of some of the works that are prominently hung. One screen is devoted largely to the work of Flora Scales – work that is bold in design and generally rich in colour and sunlight. These pictures illustrate a complete break away from the older accepted traditions and venturing into realms where emotional representation rather than literal transcription is a dominant motive. Of the works in colour by Flora Scales, "The Cactus" [Location Unknown] is a joyous still life composition, while the sun suffused "Old Harbour" [Location unknown] is eminently pleasing. Of the two charcoal landscapes submitted by the same artist, one, a study of road, trees and buildings is excellent.”

*Toss Woollaston identified R.J. Waghorn as the reviewer in the Nelson Evening Mail in a letter to Rodney Kennedy from Mapua in early Oct, 1934. - Toss Woollaston: A Life in Letters, Trevelyan, Jill (editor), Te Papa Press, Wellington, New Zealand, 2004, pg 46

‘Modern Art’, lecture by Mr W. H. Allen, Nelson Evening Mail, 7 September 1934, pg 6, “We are fortunate in having in this exhibition some original works of modern art* to study”

*Toss Woollaston: A Life in Letters, Trevelyan, Jill (editor), Te Papa Press, Wellington, New Zealand, 2004, pg 44, footnote 34, records that these “original works of modern art” were works by Flora Scales.