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Hodgkins, Frances Mary (New Zealand, b.1869, d.1947), Artist
The Old Bachelor - a Stitch in Time
416 x 285 mm paper size
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Bequeathed 1959 by the Very Reverend Percival James.
A humorous and kindly study of an elderly man tackling one of the unavoidable tasks of everyday life, this work was described in The Evening Star as ‘a perfect triumph in its class’.(1) Frances Hodgkins draws us into the telling small details of the scene: the light coming through the window past the potted geranium onto the stitcher’s task; the concentration in his face and the glasses on the end of his nose; the pin cushion and scissors ready on the stool beside him and the cup of coffee at hand; even the shiny caps of his boots resting on a padded footstool – all imply a pleasant and orderly domesticity. And if the model was, as is thought, a Dunedin tailor called Beresford, he may in fact have been perfectly at home with needle and thread.(2) Sir George Fenwick – reformer, philanthropist, editor and managing director of The Otago Daily Times – purchased the work from the November 1898 Otago Art Society exhibition for £4-4-0. And Frances already had reason to be grateful to Sir George. In May she had written to Isabel: ‘I have undertaken to illustrate the stories in the Xmas number of the Otago Witness. I am to do 20 small wash drawings for which I am to get £10. I sent in a specimen to Mr. Fenwick and the next morning I got the commission… If it is a success it may lead to more work of the same kind. It pays.’(3) It did lead to more, since she went on to provide illustrations for the 1899 Christmas annual and for several issues of The New Zealand Illustrated Magazine in 1900. Her heart was clearly not in this kind of work, but she was a competent illustrator and her travel fund was definitely growing.

1. The Evening Star, 18 November 1898,
2. E. H. McCormick, Works of Frances Hodgkins in New Zealand, p 147
3. Letter to Isabel Field, c. 30 May 1898, Gill, p 56

not on view

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