Mary Kisler enchants with stories following in Hodgkins’ footsteps



Photo: Gallery Director Janet Bayly (left) introduces Mary Kisler to the Mahara audience.


Curator, author and art historian Mary Kisler painted her own enchanting picture at Mahara Gallery on Sunday 11 October, describing her journey through Europe and North Africa in the footsteps of New Zealand’s most celebrated expatriate painter, Frances Hodgkins.

In 2013, as Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art at Auckland Art Gallery, Mary Kisler took on the task of updating an unpublished catalogue raisonne of Hodgkins’ work.

From early on in my work on updating the Hodgkins’ catalogue, it became obvious that many of her painting were specific to place,” she says. “But the question was, where exactly?

Many titles had been given to paintings long after they were done, by dealers and auctioneers and I sensed that they weren’t all correct.”

Mary Kisler’s journey started in 2015 and resumed the following year. She took images of Hodgkins’ works with her on her ipad.

My hope was to stand in the places Hodgkins stood, to look at the same views, to breath the sea air and smell the wild herbs and resinous forests so as to greater understand the conscious decisions she made when translating these things onto paper or canvas.

My travel allowed me to comprehend more clearly the way villages, their inhabitants, their everyday objects – buildings, pottery, shrines, even tree stumps - became the motifs that linked her work to a specific time and place.”

Her discoveries are described in her book, Finding Frances Hodgkins, published last year by Massey University Press.

In her talk to Friends and visitors at Mahara Gallery, she described the development of Hodgkins’ art during the artist’s travels in Europe and North Africa during the decade between Hodgkins leaving New Zealand to embark on an artistic career and the beginning of Word War 1.

This development culminated in the time she spent in Paris, and during the hot Paris summers, in the Breton fishing village of Concarneau.

One of her proudest moments was becoming the first woman watercolourist teacher at Academie Colarossi.

A logical end to Kisler’s talk was her description of Hodgkins attending the Futurists Symposium in Paris in 1912 where the artist met the founder of the movement, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Hodgkins described him as a “fiery and combative” and an “apostle for destruction”.

Marinetti’s injunction was to “paint ideas not appearances”. Hodgkins struggled with the idea that all art would eventually become abstract – as Marinetti predicted – but her embrace of modernism led to her becoming regarded as one of Britain’s finest modernist painters.

Finding Frances Hodgkins is available for purchase at Mahara Gallery.