|ARTIST:||Frances Mary Hodgkins|
|DATES:||New Zealand 1869 - 1947|
|TITLE:||Baby with Abacus|
|MEDIUM:||Oil on canvas|
|SIZE:||44 x 44 cm|
|REMARKS:||Signed lower left|
Baby with Abacus
Oil on canvas, 44 x 44 cm
Signed Frances Hodgkins lower left
Ferner Gallery, Auckland
Private Collection, Auckland
Wharf Studio, St Ives, March 30th 1918.
‘Truly living is a fine art these days. Yesterday I sold a 12gn. Baby. Item:
Paint more babies! In fact keep the cradle full . . . ‘
The mother and child theme is one of the most time-honoured subjects in the canon of art history. Hodgkins own mother and baby works were first seen as early as 1894. In these early works Hodgkins depicted New Zealand subject matter in works such as Baby on Beach, 1894, and Maori & Baby, 1899.
Notably, babies were also a common theme during the French Impressionist movement and Hodgkins would undoubtedly have been familiar with the work of Mary Cassatt (1844 -1926) and Lucien Simon (1861-1941), who painted scenes of mothers with babies in intimate domestic scenes. Hodgkins’s own mother and baby works evolved out of a response to the French Impressionists and to the work of the French Intimiste painters Vuillard (1868-1940) and Bonnard (1867-1947).
There are two distinct periods in Hodgkins’s oeuvre when she seems to have been enchanted by the subject of babies. In 1908 she was asked by Mr John Baillie, who owned a gallery in Bond Street, London, to contribute a work to his ‘Children’s Exhibition’ that was scheduled to open on the 1st of January 1909. Hodgkins wrote of the exhibition to her mother saying that the show was to ‘consist of pictures of babies & children & ought to be rather charming’. Hodgkins later returned to the theme of babies in 1918 when she sold a work depicting a baby for 12 guineas. The following year, at her exhibition at Grafton Galleries in London, Hodgkins donated half of the proceeds of the sale of her painting Lullaby to the Child Welfare Fund.
The present painting Baby With Abacus is a brilliant example of Hodgkins’s ‘baby’ works, but is also a rare work in that it has been painted in oils. Like Hodgkins’s other paintings that depict babies such as Summer c.1912 in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the composition is dominated by the baby’s head, while the rest of the baby’s body is not clearly defined. In Baby With Abacus, Hodgkins pays particular attention to form, echoing the circular shape of the abacus beads in the roundness of the baby’s face, the plump rosy cheeks, round button nose and the large dark circular eyes. For the most part, Hodgkins uses a subdued palette, which works to impart an air of gentility to her young sitter. Touches of pink are used to highlight the healthy glow of the baby and to etch out the floral expanse of fabric that is draped across the baby. Hodgkins’s careful attention to the unity of form, combined with her harmonious use of colour, results in a painting that is lively and animated yet simultaneously endearing.
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