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Picasso’s muse

Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua turns 100 in September.
To celebrate, we asked Curator of Collections Jennifer Taylor Moore to share her two favourite pieces from the Sarjeant’s enviable 8,000+ collection.

Jennifer Taylor Moore, Curator of Collections at Sarjeant Gallery.

Flight into Egypt by Frederick Goodall RA is one of the largest historical paintings in New Zealand at nearly three by four metres. It was purchased for the Sarjeant collection by public subscription in 1922, shortly after the gallery opened. There are many stories about the work. On reading Goodall’s 1902 memoirs we discovered that the painting, not long after it had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1884, was hanging in Goodall’s London residence over his grand piano when fire broke out at his house, while he was ‘in company with the Old Masters’ at the National Gallery. His neighbours saved many items by moving them out into the garden, but were only able to save the monumental painting from the flames by throwing buckets of water over it. After 92 years of continuous display at the Sarjeant, and as a result of the historical water damage, the paint was flaking from the canvas. With funding from the Stout Trust the paint has been stabilised by Auckland Art Gallery’s Conservation Unit and will be on public display once more when the gallery’s heritage building reopens.

Frederick Goodall ‘The Flight into Egypt’ 1884, oil on canvas, 1922/3/1.  Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Purchased for the Gallery by public subscription, 1922.    

I am always entranced by Ann Verdcourt’s work; her deftness with sculpting clay, and her unique perspective. Making use of her knowledge of art history she often makes reference in her work to other artists, such as Velàsquez, Modigliani, Brancusi and Matisse, translating two-dimensional images into three dimensions sculpted from clay. She gives the viewer an opportunity to see beyond the closed doors in well known images, to view around corners, or see the backs of iconic figures and forms.  Amplifying the sculptural forms using hand-painted slips, she blurs the traditional line between painting and sculpture. This particular work has a wonderful monumentality about it, with the monochrome palette and the hand drawing around the eyes emphasizing the characteristic quality of Picasso’s drawing. Completed in 2008, Picasso’s Muse is based on a 1937 portrait by Pablo Picasso of Marie-Thérèse Walter, who was his muse for over a decade. ‘The wonderful profile combined with the sculptural aspects of the beret and collar made me reach for the clay bags,’ explains Ann Verdcourt in her survey exhibition catalogue, 2010.

Ann Verdcourt ‘Picasso’s Muse’ 2008, grogged paper clay, slip and stains, 2010/4/2.  Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of the artist, 2010.
On Saturday 7 September the Sarjeant Gallery will open a major new exhibition at Sarjeant on the Quay called Turn Of A Century: New Perspectives On 100 Years Of Collecting And Exhibiting.
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