Audio description of Rita Angus’s ‘Self-portrait’, 1947

Rita Angus, Self-portrait(link is external), 1947. Watercolour. Purchased 2022 with assistance from the Te Papa Foundation. Te Papa (2022-0002-1)


Self-portrait, 1947 is a watercolour on paper. It’s on loan to Te Papa from the Rita Angus Estate. It’s 24cm wide by 29cm high.

This half-length portrait, painted when Rita was 39, has an open simplicity to it. The artist is entirely and intentionally the focus and substance of the painting. She offers herself as the primary sense and feel of the work. She presents herself honestly, as if for us to study, as if she has closely studied herself to capture her features and expression with such precision.

Rita fills most of the frame, placing herself against a neutral yet softly textured background. She wears a plain, blue, round-necked jumper, with a hint of soft texture to it, as if it’s been worn and worn and washed, and the wool fibres have softened.

Her dark-blonde hair is parted firmly in the middle, and a straight hairclip holds her curls high off her forehead on her right, with another out of view holding it up on her left. It falls loose in tumbling, almost touchable soft curls to her shoulders.

Her forehead is creased across with light-red lines and vertical ones that rise between her eyebrows, which sweep in a dark curve above her brown eyes. Her cheekbones and long nose are shaded to hold their distinctive forms. Her skin is fair but warm. Rita often used surprising colours. Here, she’s used a pale green to create shadows that highlight the contours of her face.

This is one of the first works where the artist signs her name Rita Angus again, instead of her married name, Rita Cook, which she’d used since 1932. She’d divorced in 1939.

This painting was featured in the 1947 Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand. In her artist’s statement, Rita wrote ‘as a woman painter’ and said, ‘I endeavour to record the alive, constructive and courteous spirit of the age’.