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Hodgkins, Frances Mary (New Zealand, b.1869, d.1947), Artist
750 x 489 mm sight size
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Purchased 1904 with funds from the Otago Art Society Council.
In Wellington Frances Hodgkins found a space in Bowen Street, a disused carriage house – or garage – where she could set up as an artist and take on pupils. In her ‘studio’, decorated with pictures, fabrics and objects collected on her travels, she painted this large and luminous watercolour of a young woman draped in golden fabric and holding a sintre – a Moroccan lute. Sketches from her Moroccan trip were a reminder of experiences that now seemed impossibly distant
The year before, during a visit to Tetuan near Tangier, Frances and her companion Mrs Ashington had been taken to a harem where they were generously sprinkled with perfumed water and scented with incense before being served sweet mint tea. Frances remarked on the pretty, coquettish ways of the women she met there, but was shocked by their restricted lives and their ignorance of the world. Ayesha is an exotic fantasy, aimed at a New Zealand audience and using a New Zealand model and has none of the local immediacy of her other Moroccan works, but nonetheless, in the dark-eyed, solemn gaze of this young beauty Frances skilfully suggests composed resignation to a life of gilded seclusion. For herself, however, there would be no resignation to life as a spinster artist in New Zealand – gilded and secluded or not.
The painting was exhibited in October 1904 at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington, and the following month at the Otago Art Society’s Annual Exhibition. The works she sent from Europe had sold well at the past three annual exhibitions – she was still Dunedin’s daughter and news of her achievements abroad was received with pride and delight. Ayesha was purchased by the Otago Art Society for the Dunedin Art Gallery at the considerable price of £21. It was the first of her works to enter a public collection.

not on view

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