Review: Friends High Tea – Celebrating Katherine Mansfield

Review: Friends High Tea – Celebrating Katherine Mansfield

Monday 9 January marked 100 years since the death of Katherine Mansfield, writer, essayist and journalist, recognised as one of the most influential and important authors of the modernist movement. In 1940 the then newly established National Art Gallery acquired Anne Estelle Rice’s Portrait of Katherine Mansfield (oil on canvas). Painted in Looe, Cornwall, in 1918, the work spent the war years hidden in the English countryside, finally reaching in Wellington in 1946.

On Thursday 9 March the Friends were treated to a delicious high tea and a fascinating talk by Lizzie Bisley, Te Papa Curator Modern Art, exploring the connections between the writing practice of New Zealand-born Mansfield and the art practice of the American-born Rice.

Portrait of Katherine Mansfield revels in the power and joy of colour. Lizzie drew our attention to its sheer energy and sense of urgency. Like a quickly snapped photo, its vibrant colours and broad brush strokes convey the confidence of the artist. Rice’s use of colour and pattern links back to the work of Matisse.

With no distinction between the figure and the background, tumbling flowers burst out on the sides of the painting, onto the wallpaper and even the upholstery.

Katherine Mansfield, Anne Estelle Rice, c1918.

As Mansfield wrote to her husband, John Middleton Murry, ‘A. (Anne) came early and began the great painting — me in that red, brick red frock with flowers everywhere. While I in turn painted her in my way as she painted me in hers: her eyes … little blue flowers plucked this morning’. Deeply committed to their art practice, both Mansfield and Rice sought to capture the life and energy of a modern world, one with words, the other in paint.

Portrait of Katherine Mansfield is a simply gorgeous work, reflecting the vitality and love of life of these two artists friends. Thank you Lizzie for an illuminating talk.

Elizabeth Kay, Member