Audio description of Eileen Agar’s ‘Woman reading’, 1936

Eileen Agar, Woman reading, 1936, collage of pen and ink, pasted paper and pressed leaves. Purchased 1972 with Lindsay Buick Bequest funds. Te Papa (1972-0008-1)


Woman reading, by Eileen Agar, 1936

The materials are pen and ink, printed paper, pressed leaves. The collage is about 32 centimetres high, 23 centimetres wide. It has a wide, creamy-white mat board and frame.

The head and shoulders of the woman are cut out of a blue piece of card as a silhouette, facing towards our left. This frames sections of black and printed paper beneath it.

The black paper forms the base of the woman’s form. She has a high brow and long nose, and seems to wear a rounded, brimmed hat, set back on her crown. Sections of printed paper lie on top of this, draping from her ear to her chin, and across her chest and along the back line of her head and shoulder.

The artist says the text ‘is from a book called The March of Time, relating to history and dates of wars through the ages’.

Dried, brown, serrated leaves and flower heads are arrayed across the woman and the blue card frame. Their central stem is hidden and held in place by a narrow, rectangular strip of pale, patterned paper.

A spiky flower head reaches almost to her forehead, and covers where her ear would be. Two smaller flower heads and angular leaves reach out across her neck as the stem follows a central line down her shoulder. From its base, two wide, heart-shaped leaves splay out across her chest and back. These verbs might make the foliage seem almost active, but it has a flatness and fragility to it. Agar says, ‘the dried leaves symbolise the passing of time, the sense of loss and death’. So perhaps they were already dry when she made the work in 1936.

The blue card is framed by blocks of brown and green paper. They all seem worn, lightly scrawled on in places, nothing intelligible. At the right of the horizontal block of brown paper across the bottom, the artist has signed her name, ‘Agar’, in capitals.