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Portrait of Katherine Mansfield, 1918

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Copyright Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Creator Anne Estelle Rice, artist, 1918
Identifiers Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa number 1940-0009-1 TLF resource R6113
Source Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

This is an oil painting of New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield by American artist Anne Estelle Rice, painted in 1918. It depicts the writer seated, with her hands placed on a book in her lap, while looking intently off into the distance. Her hair is tied back and she wears a red dress with a square neck. To her right is a vase of flowers. The colours jump abruptly from primary to complementary, particularly from red to green, providing an intense level of contrast. It measures 65.5 cm x 52.0 cm.

Educational value:
  • The painting depicts New Zealand-born writer Katherine Mansfield at Looe, Cornwall, UK, where she was staying in an effort to restore her deteriorating health - Mansfield (1888-1923) recalled: 'A. came early and began the great painting - me in that red, brick red frock with flowers everywhere ... I painted her in my way as she painted me in hers' ('Icons Nga Taonga', Te Papa Press, 2004).
  • The portrait depicts Katherine Mansfield in 1918, the year 'Prelude' was published, an evocation of her childhood that was later described as her first significant literary achievement - in February 1918 she had had her first tubercular haemorrhage, and this began her race against time to write more than 'bits ... nothing really finished'; Mansfield left New Zealand in 1908, never to return before her death in 1923, and resulting in some New Zealanders having an ambivalent attitude to her and her works; however Mansfield was emphatic about her debt to the country of her birth: 'New Zealand is in my very bones' ( www.teara.govt.nz ).
  • Katherine Mansfield was a writer who, although influenced by other writers, notably Chekhov, created a mode of short-story writing that was new in many ways - the publication of 'Bliss' in 1920 and 'The garden party' in 1922 established her as one of the pre-eminent writers of the Modernist period and one of the best 20th-century short-story writers.
  • The artist, Anne E Rice (1877?-1959), was an American who went to Europe in 1906, where she associated with other expatriate artists and writers in Paris - 'Portrait of Katherine Mansfield' is part of the body of artworks created by expatriate artists, including artists from New Zealand and Australia, in Europe in the early 20th century.
  • Anne E Rice was an artist who questioned the conventions of portraiture - in the painting, contours in the face and body are left as bald lines; there is little concern with fine detailing of the face and hands, and both raw canvas and the under-drawing show through in places.
  • The style of the painting reveals Rice's interest in the paintings of Henri Matisse and the French Fauves - contemporary art in the early 20th century was often concerned with the formal qualities of art work, and the subject became secondary to the way the image was painted and constructed with colour and line.

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