Audio description of Rita Angus’s ‘Marjorie Marshall’, 1938-39/1943

Rita Angus, Marjorie Marshall, 1938–39/1943, oil on canvas adhered to plywood. Te Papa (2019-0012-1)


Marjorie Marshall is an oil painting on canvas. It’s part of Te Papa’s art collection. It’s 48cm wide and 56cm high.

This is a mid-length portrait of a friend of Rita’s, who she met at art school. The portrait is set in Central Otago, near Lake Wānaka, where Rita and Marjorie sketched together. It was painted over two years when Marjorie was in her late 20s – in 1938 and 1939 – and then parts of it were repainted in 1943.

The painting combines the two main strands of Rita’s work – portraiture and landscape – with particular boldness and intensity. It has a warmth of colour and tone that reflects Rita’s affection for her two subjects: her friend and the landscape.

Marjorie, with fair skin and brown hair, stands in the centre of the frame. Her body is almost full-on to us, her head is slightly turned to her right, and her bright brown eyes look away in that direction as if she’s seen something interesting. She’s smiling – her lips turn up though her mouth is closed.

A soft yellow scarf with thick fringes sticking out along its sides, almost with a life of their own, drapes over her head and ties in a wide knot under her chin. She wears a tailored green jacket. Underneath there’s a richly warm-orange top, almost blazing in the centre of the painting. Marjorie’s warm clothes, the brightness of the colours, and the jaunty angle of her scarf suggest that a stiff spring wind might be blowing through the valley where she stands.

The landscape that frames her stretches from narrow strips of tilled field at the bottom of the work, across bare land with bare trees, to a line of low hills and two sets of higher ranges.

At the top of the painting, the artist signalling their distance with shades of soft blue, the angular shapes of bare, rocky mountain peaks stand against the blue sky with high, scudding clouds. It’s hard to tell where the mountains end and the sky begins.

In front of these, a line of ranges in a rich brown, with dark shadows outlining their steep faces, stands strong and sharp in a triangular block behind Marjorie’s scarf-wrapped head. Softer, lighter brown hills curve across in front of these on the far side of icy blue water, which crosses the painting just below halfway, its lightness framing the line of her shoulders. The shoreline, on her side of it, is fenced off with a line of battens and wire.

On either side of Marjorie, a tree grows from the brown earth and stretches out bare branches.