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Around 70 works by one of New Zealand’s most important 20th-century artists, Rita Angus (1908–1970), will be exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in October 2020.
The exhibition will then open in Te Papa’s Toi Art in autumn 2021.
Developed in partnership by Te Papa, which houses the largest collection of Angus’ work in the world, and the Royal Academy, this will be the first solo show of a New Zealand artist at the Royal Academy.
Te Papa CE Geraint Martin says the exhibition, Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist, is a significant opportunity to showcase the work of one of New Zealand’s most important early modern artists.
“As holders of the national art collection, Te Papa champions New Zealand art. By partnering with the Royal Academy, we are thrilled to be internationally profiling this stunning collection of works by Rita Angus,” he says.
Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist will include the significant recent acquisition, Marjorie Marshall. The 1938-39/1943 oil painting on canvas measures 540 x 460 mm.
Te Papa Head of Art Charlotte Davy says Marjorie Marshall was painted at a pivotal moment in Angus’ career.
“Angus decided to leave commercial work and commit to being a full-time artist. This portrait forms part of a group of works that Angus painted of close friends during this period,” says Ms Davy.
Iconic works from across her career such as Rutu, 1951, Cleopatra, 1938, Central Otago, 1953-56/1969, and Cass, 1936, will be on display.
Ms Davy says the exhibition highlights Angus’ huge contemporary relevance.
“The exhibition will draw out the themes of pacifism, feminism and nature that shaped so much of Angus’ work.”
Award-winning biographer Jill Trevelyan, who wrote Rita Angus: an artist’s life, is co-curating the exhibition at the Royal Academy together with Adrian Locke, the Royal Academy’s Senior Curator.
Ms Trevelyan says this exhibition of Angus’ work will introduce an international audience to her rich and varied practice.
“Although Angus identified as a New Zealand painter, her nationalism was always tempered by a global outlook, and a keen interest in other cultures,” she says.
Adrian Locke, says: “The Royal Academy is delighted to be showcasing this pioneering woman artist whose work deserves to be better known. The RA has a long tradition of highlighting such artists whose work has made significant contributions not only to burgeoning national art histories but to the broadening international history of art.”
Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist will be presented in The Jillian and Arthur M. Sackler Wing of Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts from 18 October 2020 – 24 January 2021.
The exhibition will be on display at Te Papa in Toi Art in autumn 2021.
The Royal Academy of Arts was founded by King George III in 1768. It has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to be a clear, strong voice for art and artists. Its public programme promotes the creation, enjoyment, and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education, and debate.
The Royal Academy launched a new campus as part of the celebrations of its 250th anniversary year in 2018. Following a transformative redevelopment, designed by the internationally-acclaimed architect Sir David Chipperfield RA and supported by the National Lottery, the new Royal Academy reveals more of the elements that make the RA unique – sharing with the public historic treasures from its Collection, the work of its Royal Academicians and the Royal Academy Schools, and its role as a centre for learning and debate about art and architecture – alongside its world-class exhibitions programme.
Rita Angus is one of New Zealand’s most important and best-known artists. Over a period of 40 years she produced a remarkable body of paintings, watercolours, and drawings. She was fundamental to the establishment of a distinctive, modern school of art in New Zealand.
Born in Hastings on 12 March 1908 as Henrietta Catherine Angus, Angus was the eldest of seven children of William McKenzie Angus, a carpenter, and his wife Ethel Violet Angus. Three weeks after Angus’ birth the family moved to Palmerston North, and she attended primary school both there and in Napier.
Angus attended Palmerston North Girls’ High School and moved to Christchurch in February 1927, where she enrolled at the Canterbury College School of Art. She received a traditional art training with an emphasis on fine draughtsmanship and close observation of nature.
In 1930 Angus exhibited for the first time with the Canterbury Society of Arts, her Self-portrait (1929) was praised by the influential critic James Shelley.
Angus went on to become fundamental to the establishment of a distinctive, modern school of art in New Zealand. Although her work bears a relationship to that of her contemporaries, especially through her interest in the New Zealand landscape, she also developed a very individual style and subject matter. This is particularly visible in her portraits, many of which will be included in Rita Angus:New Zealand Modernist.
Te Papa houses the largest collection of Angus’ work. This is comprised of both artwork in Te Papa’s own collection, and of over 700 oil paintings, watercolours, sketches, and works on paper from the Rita Angus Loan Collection. The loan collection has been held by Te Papa, on behalf of the Estate, since the artist’s death in 1970.
This portrait is of Rita Angus’ friend Marjorie Marshall. It was painted in 1938/39, after a visit to stay with Marshall and her husband William at their house in Wanaka.
The painting combines the two main strands of Angus’ work – portraiture and landscape – in a work of particular boldness and intensity. Through bright slabs of colour and light, she evokes both the drama of the Central Otago Alps and the affection and warmth of her friendship with Marshall.
The work forms part of a group of works that Angus painted of close friends during this period (for example, her portrait of Betty Curnow, painted in 1942 and now in the collection of the Auckland Art Gallery). This was a time when she was without a permanent address, and spent long periods living and painting in friends’ houses.
Marjorie Marshall offers a remarkably intimate portrait of one of the artist’s close friends, in the dramatic Central Otago landscape around Wanaka. The stylised, simplified forms of the Alps and lake are rendered with exquisite clarity and colour – reduced to their basic geological structure, the mountains rise vertiginously behind Marshall, buffeted by brilliant white clouds in a bright blue sky. Marshall sits close to the picture plane, the tones of her clothes tied to the forms of the hills behind her.
The painting is a fantastic example of Angus’ very clean, clear style of portraiture. As is typical of her work, every detail in the painting feels considered and significant: the landscape, the use of colour, and the carefully-rendered detail of Marshall’s hair, face, and clothing, all come together to form a complete picture of the sitter. This creates a portrait of unusual directness, in which we, as viewers, are able to feel a great connection to the subject.
As was typical of her practice, Angus repainted parts of the portrait in 1943. The painting is significant as a demonstration of Angus’ way of working. She would often return to her paintings over the course of many years, making adjustments or ‘corrections’ to the colour, subject, or composition.
This habit of returning to paintings reflects Angus’ wider attitude to art – she saw her work as an important expression of pacifist, feminist, socialist beliefs, one that could have a role in provoking social change for future generations. Angus rarely sold her paintings, preferring to keep the body of work together so that she could continue to perfect it and ensure its future public life.
In addition to work from Te Papa’s collection and the Rita Angus Loan collection, the exhibition will bring together key loans from private and public collections around New Zealand. It will consist of over 70 works, dating from 1929 to 1969. The exhibition will be accompanied by a new catalogue in which Angus’ work is considered, for the first time, in the context of international modernism.
The exhibition is developed in partnership between the Royal Academy of Arts and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Jill Trevelyan is a curator and writer specialising in 20th-century New Zealand art. She was the editor of Toss Woollaston: A Life in Letters (Te Papa Press, 2004), shortlisted for the Montana Book Awards in 2005; co-curator of Te Papa’s exhibition Rita Angus: Life & Vision (2008), and co-editor of the accompanying catalogue; and author of Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life (Te Papa Press, 2008), winner of the Montana Medal for Non-Fiction in 2009. Jill lives in Wellington and manages the art collection at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Adrian Locke joined the Royal Academy of Arts in 2001 having completed a PhD at the University of Essex. Since then he has worked on a wide variety of exhibitions including Aztecs (2002), Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600 AD (2005), Kuniyoshi (2009), Anish Kapoor (2009), and Ai Weiwei (2015). Adrian also worked very closely with the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Tesoros: The Arts in Latin America, 1492–1820 (2006). He was the curator of Mexico: A Revolution in Art, 1910-1940 (2013) and co-curator of Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection (2014). Most recently he curated The Art of Diplomacy: Brazilian Modernism Painted for War at the Sala Brasil in London (2018), contributed to the exhibition catalogue for Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up at the V&A (2018) and co-curated Oceania (2018) at the Royal Academy. In 2018 he was awarded the Ordem do Rio Branco for services to Brazilian culture.