Thursday, 6 October 2016

Pohutukawa Rina & Evelyn Page

I feel so lucky. I was browsing through Trade Me when I came across an auction for a print of this painting. Starting bid $8NZ. Just a small photo of a print of a painting but I fell in love with it.
I love the naturalness of the models. They've just been for a swim in the sea and they are drying out in the warmth of the day. You can tell it is a very hot day because they have sought shade under the pohutukawa tree. You can practically feel the warmth of the sun on their skin. And they are naturally naked but not sexual. This is not a picture aimed for the gaze of men. This is a picture about women being women. In a natural way.
And this picture has a familiar feel. I think I have seen it somewhere before but I cannot remember where. The memory eludes me.
Some hours out from the auction finish time someone else places a bid. Until then the auction seems to have been ignored. Now I am tense. I wait. The auction will not conclude until around 10.30pm. I check the auction hourly, no other bids have been placed. I hold my fire until the very last minute of the auction. I bid. $8.50. It is a long minute but finally, I have won. Oh wow, it is mine.
When I go to collect the picture it turns out to be bigger than I thought it was. Luckily I always travel with bunjy cords. The seller, a very nice man, helps me to to tie the picture firmly onto Flora (my bicycle). He wraps her in firm cardboard, I cover her with my high-vis vest. I tell him, thank you, I love this picture. He says, google it when you get home. Pohutukawa Rina is the real name of the picture. She was painted by someone famous. I googled it a couple of years ago myself, but I have forgotten the name.
Flora and I ride carefully home. We are gentle over the bumps. At home I unwrap her. She looks perfect in my house. She seems to sing. Where will I hang her?
But first I google Pohutukawa Rina. And I find her story. I also find her for sale on line price $74.95! Chur!
Then I check a book I happen to own. And here is her story again, this time on pages 118 - 121 of New Zealand Women Artists by Anne Kirker, published 1986 (Reed Methuen).
The painter was Evelyn Page, nee Polson. She was born here in Christchurch in 1899 (just two years after my grandmother, she is of that generation, both of them born after NZ women won the right to vote in 1893). She was the youngest of seven children. She attended Sydenham school. Her parents encouraged their children in art and music., and Evelyn followed her two sisters into the then Canterbury School of Art which she attended between 1915 - 1922. We are told by Priscilla Potts that the art classes included drawing from the antique, still life  and landscape classes with Cecil Kelly and drawing and painting from the life with Roger Wallwork and later by Archibald Nicholl.
A group of friends from art school shared her art and literary interests. Ngaio Marsh, Ceridwen Thornton, Margaret Anderson, Viola MacMillan Brown, James Courage, Rhona Haszard, and Alfred and James Cook comprised the nucleus of painters who formed The Group, sharing clubrooms and exhibitions in Christchurch. In 1933 Evelyn Polson was a foundation member of the New Zealand Society of Artists.
By 1926 Evelyn Polson was exhibiting at the art societies of both Auckland and Canterbury. Three of the works on show were nudes: Sunlight and ShadowThe Green Slipper and Figure out of Doors. In a time when many NZ artists were mostly painting landscapes and figures were clothed, there was some comment. Anne Kirker shares this excerpt from the Auckland Star, 22nd June 1926: "'Surely there are enough doubtful and suggestive pictures to be seen at the theatres without the Society of Arts having to cater to a class of support they would be better without,'complained Purity". Argument raged for several weeks in the newspaper. Such was the backwardness of NZ art and the rarity of nude painting at the time. One wonders if she attracted more comment because she was a woman.
My friend Denise visits while I am hunting out this information and it is she who finds the right place to hang Pohutukawa Rina. I will think about it, I tell her. Later I decide she is right, and Pohutukawa Rina is hung on the east wall of my living room.
It turns out that Pohutukawa Rina was painted circa 1930, but where it was painted in New Zealand I cannot discover. Because of the pohutukawa tree I would guess the North Island, Te Ika a Maui. Pohutukawa Rina was exhibited in several exhibitions in 1935. Eventually the original painting was acquired by the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch which had first opened in 1932, funded by a gift of twenty-five thousand pounds from Mr Robert E. McDougall. The collection was predominately works from the Canterbury Society of Arts and something called the Jamieson Bequest. It is closed on the 16th of June, 2002 in advance of the new Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu opening in May of 2003. This gallery is closed for some time following the 7.3 earthquake of September 2010, and then closed again following the 6.3 earthquake and aftershocks of 22nd  of February 2011, where 185 people were killed and more were injured. The building remained closed as a gallery , instead becoming Christchurch's Civil Defence Headquarters. It was only reopened as a gallery on the 19th December, 2015, following repairs and refurbishment.
Another friend, Zeta, visits. I know something about this artist, she says, my mother told about a famous artist coming and painting nude pictures at Karamea. Evelyn Polson went to Karamea in 1927. The most known painting she painted there was December Morn, shown below.

This original of this painting is/was also held by the Robert McDougall Art Gallery.
Evelyn Polson became Evelyn Page, marrying New Zealander Frederick Page in 1938, whom she met while in London. They went to live at Governors Bay on Banks Peninsula and had two children. Evelyn Page continued to paint, going from strength to strength. A television documentary was made about Frederick and Evelyn Page in 1982. and one on Evelyn in 1987, neither of which I recall seeing but they were busy years for me back then.
In 1986 the Robert McDougall Art Gallery showed "Evelyn Page: Seven Decades, an exhibition to share her achievements and to make her work accessible to audiences throughout New Zealand. And, no, I did not see that either, I was busy in Lyttelton with three children, and  half-renovated cottage. I wish I had. But a friend, Zorma tells me that she did attend this exhibition and actually met the artist. How cool. It brings Evelyn closer again somehow.
But this wonderful print of Pohutukawa Rina hangs on my wall and I feel lucky.

1 comment:

  1. Now that is an amazing story. Both on winning the bid on the print and then finding out about her. I love those two paintings you have shown and why don't I know of her either- a fabulous artist!