Word Pictures

by Marjorie de Lange

Published 2021

The Notebooks of M de Lange recording conversations with Flora Scales, 1982-1983

"She admits that Cézanne was her best loved painter but is careful to tell me that she didn’t copy him. That also applies to her love for Picasso. She wants to be considered as a painter who does it her way."

– The Notebooks of M de Lange recording conversations with Flora Scales, 1982-1983


Introduction to Word Pictures by Marjorie de Lange

Marjorie and Theo de Lange were friends with Patience (Patty) and Pat Tennent for many years. Theo and Pat in particular had much in common having served in the RNZAF in the Pacific in WWII.

It was through Patty that the de Lange family met her aunt, Flora Scales, in 1975 when Scales was visiting Patty at Lake Rotoiti and living at the Rotorua Masonic Village. With the approval of Miss Scales, as we all called her, and the full support of Patty, Scales became the subject of my study towards an MA in Art History (uncompleted) at the University of Auckland, late 1970s. Due to distance, I frequently sent lists of questions or subjects to be delved into, to my mother-in-law Marjorie, who gradually established a pattern of visiting Scales from her home at Lake Rotoiti, with my lists in tow.

My questions and discussion points formed the basis of Marjorie's series of notebooks and letters but the conversations between the two women soon ranged far beyond my suggestions. All was recorded; described in Marjorie’s inimitable style, totally spontaneous, colourful and full of revealing detail and sympathetic observations.

Marjorie came to love the time she spent in company with Miss Scales. She admired her strong views on life and her dedication to art. She often quoted her – “You must hold on and hang on absolutely” was a favourite – as a woman to emulate and honour. And Miss Scales was loveable; her dignity could be formidable but she was completely without guile, tenacious and life loving with the most infectious laugh imaginable.

As a child she had been her father’s favourite, his "marvellous girl". As an older woman she was our "fabled friend", the one who brought mid 20th century European art and the plight of women artists, who often had to juggle family demands and work in the shadow of their male peers, into our lives on a very personal level.

- B de Lange, 2021

Flora Scales Word Picture 1,  Letter from M de Lange to B de Lange, 08.05.1989

I remember her wearing an elegant dress that she said her Russian friend Madame Kalachnikoff made for her in France. Blue grey silk with full sleeves gathered into a cuff at the wrist [Boris Kalachnikoff’s mother was a seamstress trained by the House of Worth, Paris, France].

I never heard her voice a single complaint about anything although life in her small room, where she spent most of her time must have been very confined.

How different the last 10 years of her life would have been if she had had her cataracts attended to.

I could see her heading for the dining room.  Holding the handrail – striding along determinedly.

Her clothes – always in good taste – Viyella blouses, tweed skirts, woollen stockings and elegant shoes.  A fine camel hair scarf tucked around her throat on cold days.  Her best going out suit, a two toned coat and skirt, was classic and the felt hat had a French label inside.

One afternoon soon after I first met her, I found her sitting in the lounge in one of Madame Kalachnikoff’s creations. It was a summer shirt waisted pure natural silk tussore or shantung dress, with pearl buttons, stitched collar and belt, hand made button holes – elegance personified.  Underneath could be seen, because the dress was a little short – an exquisite ninon [sheer] silk petticoat trimmed with real lace.   I admired it and she showed me how in actual fact the ninon was a flounce added on to the skirt of a cotton muslin slip.

She was tall for a woman of her age – she hadn’t shrunk or become bent.  

In spite of her almost formidable dignity she has no false modesty, if she was only half dressed when I happened to call I was invited in whilst she finished doing up suspenders or pulling on her woolly spenser or whatever.  Her clothes were all laid out and spotless.

She was always elegant and always gracious to everyone.  Very popular with the staff who treated her with enormous respect. When I remarked on her popularity with the staff she said that, as a girl, she had to do a lot of housework and feels she appreciates what it entails and is always careful not to make demands. 

She often refers to the difficulties that a woman artist must have to cope with if she is a mother and a housewife.

Flora Scales Word Picture 2, from The Notebooks of Marjorie de Lange recording conversations with Flora Scales, 1982

We got talking about Picasso and her face got all animated – she thinks his work wonderful – described a black and white [painting] she saw that was of a woman with square foreshortened wooden block legs that gave the effect of legs…she threw her head back and said, “wonderful”.

Her appreciation of Picasso is due to her time spent in Germany with Kinzinger. As we turn the pages of the Picasso book [Picasso, Introduction by John Russell, translated Roland Balay, Felicie Inc., New York, USA, 1974] it’s almost sad for I can tell that she so loves his originality and almost childlike simplicity…

She admits that Cézanne was her best loved painter but is careful to tell me that she didn’t copy him. That also applies to her love for Picasso. She wants to be considered as a painter who does it her way.

We got the beautiful Picasso book out and she sat up and had it on her lap and turned the pages very slowly. She is enraptured by everything he does and best of all to her is Picasso himself. “The dear man,” she murmurs as she gazes at the many photographs of him in his studio etc.

She remarked when we came to cubist painting called “In the Huerta de San Juan Factory”, 1909 [Brick Factory at Tortosa, oil on canvas], which is evidently in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad – that it was a painting similar to this that first thrilled her about Picasso.

She stopped at a colour reproduction of a painting done in 1959 “A Profile on a Red Background” [Femme a la mantille sur fond rouge 1], and carefully explained how he has defined the planes of the woman’s face – by a black line.

She couldn’t find a painting that to her expressed her idea of overlapping – She was anxious for me to read as much as possible about any painting she paused to look at. She asked me to get the book renewed yet again from the library.

Flora Scales Word Picture 3, Letter from M de Lange to B de Lange, undated, 1982

I showed her the Matisse book and we quickly settled ourselves to look at it. She, lying at first, soon decided to sit up, which she did without using her hands, her back ramrod straight, to peer carefully at each page. No – she wasn’t a bit interested in the pages you and John [Drawbridge] thought might strike a chord, apart from a careful scrutiny. Instead, was off on curves and straight lines in “Reclining Nude” [Large Reclining Nude, 1935, oil on canvas]. She loved “Plum Blossoms” [Plum Blossoms, Ochre Background, 1948, oil on canvas] and described her reaction to “The Dance” [Dance 1, 1909, oil on canvas] when she saw it first. Remembered “The Snail” [1953, Gouache on cut–and–pasted paper] at the Tate, [and] described it from memory before we actually came to the page reproducing it.

But, “Open Window, Collioure” [1905, oil on canvas] was the talking point of the day. After sitting and agreeing that it is exciting etc she admitted that perhaps if she’d been painting [this subject] she’d have dispensed with perspective – saying “what cheek of me”.

I asked her to explain and was told to find a pencil and paper and then [she] proceeded to give me a lesson on what she had learned from Kinzinger… I got so excited I had to ask her if I could turn off her central heat! …all about breaking with perspective – me trying to take it in correctly and jot down her careful explanations. I’ve kept her wobbly shaky page of lines to describe how she would have seen it [BC142].

The chief thing with Kinzinger – “we’d broken with perspective. Tell your friends – the jars are just the same size a long way off as they are to you. You see the road ahead and you see two motor cars or a dray and you know that the road is just as wide ahead.” And then she continued, “Kinzinger gave me new ideas for instance to have direction – this was new to me – to see one thing behind another. You see things from one side of the canvas then you go to the other side and see it from another point of view.”


Flora Scales looking at Open Window, Collioure (Henri Matisse, 1905, National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA) with Marjorie de Lange, Rotorua, New Zealand, 1982 [BC142]. This sketch demonstrates Scales’s explanations of Kinzinger’s teaching.