Objects from the Fine Art Collection at RPM get an extended holiday

With this lovely weather I have been thinking about my summer holidays and travel to far flung destinations. Some of the objects in RMP collections are getting longer holidays, with loans nationally and internationally being extended by the Covid-19 crisis.

One of such is a lovely charcoal drawing on paper

Elizabeth and Sarah Martin, 1929, charcoal on paper (FA101848)
Elizabeth and Sarah Martin, 1929, charcoal on paper (FA101848)

These two sisters (nieces of the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia) were brought to paper conservation in March 2019 where I was able to give them a thorough condition check to prepare them for loan, and, after a quick remount and frame with conservation grade mountboard and UV filtered glazing, they were ready for travel. All works travelling on loan leave the building with a full condition report and with a digital image. This condition report records any damage or marks on the art work in detail so it can be checked at each venue when unpacking for display, and then repacking for transport, and any change or damage can easily be identified. Some example of such damage could be a split or tear in the paper, insects inside the mount, or perhaps mould growth – all very undesirable.

In April 2019 the works were packed up into a crate (which can be recycled when it returns) and transported by a recognised art transport agent and accompanied by a courier. Couriering means travelling with the art work, usually from when it’s packed up until it is unpacked at the final destination to ensure that the item is correctly and safely transported and installed. It can often be time consuming and expensive to send a member of staff on each trip and so, when possible, we try to find other lenders to share with. We have been able to do this here and sent these under the watchful eye of a UK National museum.

Still Life with Eggs and Mushrooms, 1930, Frances Hodgkins oil on canvas (FAH1940)
Still Life with Eggs and Mushrooms, 1930, Frances Hodgkins oil on canvas (FAH1940)

This art work (along with the above Still Life with Eggs and Mushrooms, 1930, oil on canvas (FAH1940) has gone to New Zealand for a touring exhibition: Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys and is the culmination of a significant international project to bring together art works from New Zealand and around the globe to explore the artist’s place in 20th-century art.

Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, Frances Hodgkins (1869–1947) left for Europe in 1901. Today, she is celebrated as one of New Zealand’s most successful expatriate artists of the 20th century.  

Gallery closures in New Zealand have led to requests for the exhibition dates to be extended and a return currently booked in for April 2021. We hope that the exhibition will be a success over there and look forward to the art works safe return next year.

Mary Kisler, Senior Curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, kindly contributed these words:

Frances Hodgkins – European Journeys

Both of these works have played an integral part in the touring exhibition Frances Hodgkins – European Journeys, which opened at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki in 2019, and has since travelled to Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Christchurch Art Gallery. Their last display on the New Zealand stage will be at the Adam Art Gallery at the University of Victoria, Wellington in September 2020.

Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. *
Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. *

Ethiopian-born, British-educated physician Hakim Workneh Eshete (also known as Dr Charles Martin) sent several of the children from his first marriage to England for their education in the late 1920s. Elizabeth (Elsie) and Sara studied at The Vyne, a private girls school which was part of a huge Elizabethan mansion in Hampshire, where Frances Hodgkins stayed for several weeks in the summer of 1929. According to the headmistress Lucie James, the sisters fascinated Hodgkins, who made several studies of them. They possibly reminded her of the young Māori women who were her favourite subjects before she left New Zealand in 1901.

Installation shot of the exhibition showing the Elizabeth and Sarah Martin drawing *
Installation shot of the exhibition showing the Elizabeth and Sarah Martin drawing

Around the same time, Hodgkins painted Still Life with Eggs and Mushrooms where the viewpoint is from above. Of most interest is the shirt sleeve dangling on the left, which is almost certainly a precursor for the cloths that weave in and out of her paintings over the next few years.

Installation shot of the exhibition showing Still Life with Eggs and Mushrooms *
Installation shot of the exhibition showing Still Life with Eggs and Mushrooms

Photographs by Jennifer French, Auckland Art Gallery 

Discover More

Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys exhibition

View and download Frances Hodgkins works on our image website

Amy Junker Heslip, Paper Conservator

3 Responses

  1. Adam Pride

    Lived in Ethiopia in the 1970s when Emperor Haile Selassie was quite old (and in fact about to be deposed) but fascinated by this. ‘Nieces’ is somewhat difficult to define – what were their parents relationship to Haile Selassie ? This might make a great story !

  2. Stephen Musgrave

    I may be able to shed more light on this. My father was Clifford Musgrave, who was in charge of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton Art Gallery and more from 1939 to 1968. I have just been looking in his unpublished memoirs where he describes how he came to acquire this drawing for the Art Gallery in the early 1950’s. At the time he was interested in acquiring a work by Hodgkin for the Gallery. He happened to see the drawing in the window of a local antique dealers’ and the price was “reasonable”.
    Clifford relates that an almost unbelievable – and rather complicated – co-incidence took place that very evening when he happened to be introduced to a young daughter of Haile Selassi. My parents had been invited to Glyndebourne Opera by a friend, the daughter’s headmistress at her private school. He explained to this young lady that he had bought the drawing of the Abyssian girls only that morning. She confirmed that the girls were her cousins.
    Clifford’s memoir suggests that the girls were actually cousins by adoption, as they had a brother who had been adopted as a child by Dr Martin.
    This boy was said to have been an actual brother of Haile Selassi. Dr Martin had saved him from the ruins of the city of Magdala where he had been held hostage by the Italians in the first Italo-Abyssinian war.
    I have not been able to confirm any of this account, though I do remember Mrs Elizabeth Curtis (the headmistress) as a remarkable, formidable and bohemian character. I think I can also identify the antique dealers shop. If Amy or any other colleague at the Gallery would like to see a copy of the original version of this account I should be only too pleased to send it.

    • kevinbacon

      Thanks for this, Stephen. Great to read the back story to this.

      Amy is away at the moment, but will pass this to her for when she returns.

      Kevin

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