BARE: Nudes from the collection
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BARE: Nudes from the collection

Nude in Blue Armchair (1972) by Michael Smither. Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery, donated by Jenny Gibbs

Bare: Nudes from the collection

10 April – 26 July 2009

Bare brings together a selection of nudes and life studies from the Edith Marion Collier Loan Collection and the Sarjeant’s permanent collection and includes paintings, drawings and photographs.

The nude has inspired some of art history’s greatest works and as art historian Kenneth Clark commented “even in periods when it ceased to be a compulsive subject it has held its position as an academic exercise and a demonstration of mastery”. The first painting in this exhibition of the Julian Academy, Paris by T.B Gould is indicative of the study of the human form which still has a presence in art teaching today. This painting is also a good lead, in to the kind of environment in which Edith Collier would have encountered the nude form when she attended the St John’s Wood School of Art between 1913 – 1915.

The large female nude pencil drawing from her time at art school shown here clearly demonstrates Edith’s skill in depicting the human form. Joanne Drayton comments  “Although Edith Collier found the nudity of the life class a challenge, like many other students she was aware of the importance of the nude as a signifier of artistic skill and status in Western art.”

If any subject matter was to be the indicator of Edith’s development as an artist it could be traced through her study of the human form. The painting of a young model seated on a bed, although modernist in its use of paint, is relatively conventional in contrast to the sketchy and abstract nature of the two works Folly and Frivolity. Like their titles, these two works are playful, quick and experimental. Given that they were probably produced within five years of her study at art school it is a clear sign that the stimulating artistic environment of London and her interaction with modernist painters such as Frances Hodgkins were clearly having an impact on her work.

On return to New Zealand it was the combination of modernism and nudism that upset her father Henry Collier who unfortunately destroyed some of what he saw as the more offensive pieces. Art Historian Joanne Drayton comments “Henry’s destruction of Edith’s work, though apparently a pious personal response to nudity also reflected his private frustrations and a deep-seated public paranoia that was homophobic in origin: Edith, after all, had painted other women naked. The artist’s ventures into modernism made this trespass even more offensive”.

The additional works from the collection contrast subjects that seem comfortable and uncomfortable in their ‘bare’ state. Although only a portrait, the bare shoulders of Ida Carey’s portrait of a man seem curiously vulnerable as does Christopher Perkins study of a Maori Girl. Fiona Pardington’s portrait of Joseph Makea investigates notions of masculinity and sexuality, as does recent Quay School of the Arts graduate Lydia Davis-Pou in her work I believe in Adam and Eve. Other photographic works in the exhibition by Mike Walker, Richard Reddaway and George Krause look at the body in detail, transforming body into landscape and architecture. Christine Webster’s Provider and Michael Smither’s Nude in Blue Armchair gaze out into the space, perhaps looking at us, looking at them.

Greg Donson
Curator / Public Programmes Manager

Past Exhibitions 2009