Gabrielle Hope
1916 - 1962


I first met Gabrielle Hope around 1955 at a party held in the store-room of the Auckland City Art Gallery, organised by Colin McCahon so that the editor of Landfall, Charles Brasch, up from Dunedin, could talk to some Auckland artists and writers. I don't have clear memories of who was present at this gathering, but the company would have included at least my fellow-exhibitors in the early 'abstract' exhibition Object and Image - Michael Nicholson, Kase Jackson, Milan Mrkusich, and probably John Weeks, Peter Webb and Eric McCormick.

watercolour (Private collection, Auckland)

I do remember, however, being impressed by a woman of some presence, wearing a dress of a fine-spun tweed, red hair piled in a Bloomsbury-style bun, with a very acute and vivacious turn of conversation. Beside Gabrielle Hope, almost her shadow, stood her husband Paul, smiling gently, mainly listening but with the occasional penetrating comment. They struck me as an unusually self-contained couple - a pair apart. I wanted to know more about them.

I don't even have any clear impression of what Gay had to say at this time. (My memories are all of later conversations.) It may have been that the Babich wines so generously dispensed by Colin McCahon contributed to a general air of happy oblivion among the younger of us at least. The new director of the Gallery, Eric Westbrook, was there, and the prevailing mood was one of optimism about the 'new deal' for art in Auckland that seemed to lie ahead.

Not long after this I joined the staff of the Auckland City Art Gallery and began to see more of Gabrielle Hope.

She often asked me to their place at Forrest Hill, Milford. It was a big old farm-house overlooking Waitemata Harbour and Rangitoto - crammed with books and paintings and surrounded by the garden she had planted. Later she built a detached studio on a little rise near the house, and named it, facetiously, 'Parnassus', the Mount of the Muses.

I used to go with the Hopes in Paul's old Austin to bathe at Cheltenham and Takapuna beaches, or on jaunts around the North Shore when Gabrielle pointed out various motifs that had caught her eye. We would return to Forrest Hill Road at the end of the afternoon to eat one of her marvellous pilaffs, complete with assorted chutneys and pickles, washed down by the first true table wines made in Henderson by Paul Groshek. Gay always served these meals out on the big old table in front of the living-room windows, piled with an ever-changing assortment of vegetables and fruits and flowers, the site and subject of many of her still-life paintings.

Gabrielle introduced me to their guru', Mervyn Llewellyn-Riley. The studies in occult thought they made under his guidance played a very important part in the Hopes's lives. Mr Llewellyn-Riley - a man who had travelled widely, most recently in the East, and had come to New Zealand not long after the War - was among many other things an amateur painter, and he and Gabrielle and Paul had long discussions on the subject. Like one of their favourite poets, William Butler Yeats, they were particularly interested in the occult meaning of art: the true significance of colour, for instance, as expounded by Goethe and Kandinsky. They were at that time much concerned with the ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. (It may be remembered that Gurdjieff himself valued the arts as a means of enlightenment and psychological healing, and when he looked after the dying New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield in his institute at Fontainebleu had installed her in a loft specially decorated with murals by a member of his community.)

GABRIELLE HOPE Tauhara and Still Life 1962
gouache and chalk, 451 x 584 mm. (Collection of the Auckland City Art Gallery)

In addition to her interest in the Western tradition of esoteric thought - in such of its modern representatives as Yeats and Ouspensky and GurdIjieff and Rudolf Steiner - Gabrielle was keen to know more about the philosophy and cultures of the East. There were the books of Ananda Coomeraswamy on Christian and Oriental philosophies of art, and those of D.T. Suzuki on Zen Buddhism in art (directed specifically at Western readers) were beginning to be circulated here.

I remember Gay showing me a two-volume book on Chinese painting (by Ernest Fenollosa) and rather melodramatically swearing me to silence about her possession of it. Study of the Chinese brush-painters of landscape is evident in many of her paintings: in such 'piled-up' landscapes, for instance, as Watchmans Rock; or in her Mangere Landscape with its generous areas of white paper spacing the calligraphic accents of the drawing in colour.

Born Gabrielle Valerie Hyacinthe Allan at Lower Hutt in 1916, Gabrielle had been educated at Diocesan School in Auckland (where she first took an interest in painting), and did not go on to university. She underwent some intermittent training at Elam School of Art, Auckland c1946: but was largely self-taught as a painter.

After the break up of her first marriage and the birth of her two children Bridget and Kit at Whitford, just out of Auckland, she moved in 1950 into town, where she seems first to have settled down to serious painting.

pen and ink, 463 x 368 mm.
(Collection of the Auckland City Art Gallery)

Just before that, however, there had been an intensive work period on Waiheke Island, where her daughter Bridget remembers how she and her brother would come home from school and find an easel set up in the sitting-room, with their mother painting pictures. 'There would be a stack on the floor and one on the easel and a couple of working drawings lying around and obviously that is what she had been doing most of the day. So we would know that dinner was when mother felt that the light was fading or she had burnt out on the subject or she had suddenly realised she had a couple of kids as well as an easel and some paints. We had grown up with it and it was perfectly fine as far as we were concerned.'

Gabrielle Hope's new house, in Tohunga Crescent, Parnell, became a meeting place for the Auckland W.E.A., and a painting group used to meet here regularly and work from a model. If the model didn't attract them they would draw each other.

Two of her earliest mature works date from this time: the ink drawings Seated Nude (1953) and Colin (the portrait of a young friend of her son Kit), the latter reproduced in Landfall, March 1956, and held in the Collection of the Auckland City Art Gallery. As well, still in the possession of the painter's family, there are some fine figure studies and portraits in watercolour and gouache which date from the Tohunga Crescent days.

It was while she was living in Parnell that Gabrielle became acquainted with a number of other painters including Helen Brown, Jan Nigro, Louise Henderson, Robert Nettleton Field, Michael Nicholson, and with the sculptor Molly Macalister and the poets A.R.D. Fairburn and Allen Curnow. Occasionally she would go on sketching trips with Erie Lee-Johnson and another water-colourist, Lincoln Lee.

GABRIELLE HOPE Lake Horses 1954
watercolour, 330 x 457 mm. 
(Collection of the Auckland City, Art Gallery: Presented by the Auckland Gallery Associates, 1958)

In 1953 she married Paul Hope, and, soon after, they set up a new household at Forrest Hill Road, Milford. (The painting Willows dates from the year of the move.) These were productive years in the companionship of Paul Hope, himself a painter of some talent and well suited to support her in her painting ambitions. It was in these years, too, that she began to exhibit more widely.

Gabriell Hope seems, up until the 'fifties' at least, to have been indifferent about exhibiting her works. it took the persuasion, or constant reminding, of dealers, curators, influential friends, to stimulate her into having them mounted and framed and delivered to some particular venue where they could be viewed by the public.

Exhibiting in Auckland in the early nineteen-fifties meant either showing with the Auckland Society of Arts; or conferring a measure of establishment 'acceptance' - with the Auckland City Art Gallery. The Gallery had at the time a policy eschewing one-person shows, so that what was open to artists was the group exhibition - collections such as the Eight New Zealand Painters series, or more specialised exhibitions.

Gabrielle had exhibited with the amateur societies in Auckland and Hamilton from 1946; and she had two works in the Unit Two exhibition at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1955: but her first showing of any consequence was when she was included in the Festival Exhibition held at the Gallery in 1956.

GABRIELLE HOPE Study of Fowl 1956

In 1957 Peter Webb left his job at the Auckland City Art Gallery to start his own gallery (the first private one in Auckland) at Argus House, 24 High Street. One of his first shows was a solo exhibition of the paintings of Gabrielle Hope. The catalogue, dated November 1957, indicates that the works shown were Head (c1938); Head (c1940); Hawera (c1940); Bridget (1952); Forest Hill (sic) (1953); Gulls (1953); Still life with jug (1953) Pink schnapper (1953); Tuatara (1953); Plus de vache (1953); Aubergines and Roses (1954); Coffeepot: still life (1954); Fly Agaric; feijoas (1954); Forest Hill (sic) (1954); Still life (1954); Still life (1954). Wharf pigeons (1955); Bantam Cock (1955); Kitchen dresser: still life (1956) Exotic fruit (1956) Pots and gourds (1956); Still life (1957); and The magician (1957).

In 1958, the Five New Zealand Watercolourists show, organised largely by Colin McCahon for the Auckland City Art Gallery, was an important gathering together of artists who had worked mainly - or extensively - in this medium. The five were Gabrielle Hope, Rita Angus, T.A. McCormack, Olivia Spencer Bower and Erie Lee-Johnson. Gabrielle Hope exhibited Willows (1954) Lake Horses (1954); Bantam Cocks (1954); Forrest Hill; Fruit by the Window (1956); Quarry Hill (1957); and Spring Flowers (1958). This exhibition toured the country, and (for what it is worth) press notices in various centres gave special attention to the paintings by Gabrielle Hope - an artist whose work is executed almost entirely in watercolour and gouache.

In 1959 the Auckland City Art Gallery's Contemporary New Zealand Drawings included three of Gabrielle Hope's drawings: Beasts; The Chariot and Colin.

GABRIELLE HOPE Mount Tauhara after the Fire 1961-2
gouache, 411 x 570 mm. (Collection of the University of Auckland)

From then on little of Gabrielle Hope's work was shown - until the posthumous exhibition at Ikon Fine Arts in 1965. The Barry Lett Galleries (now RKS Art) mounted A Retrospective Exhibition of Gouaches and Watercolours in 1972; and paintings by Gabrielle Hope were included in collections of women artists shown at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1975 and 1978. The most recent exhibition of Gabrielle Hope's work was held at the John Leech Remuera gallery last year under the title A Review of the Final Years.

Looking over Gabrielle Hope's works of the 'fifties' and early sixties (her most productive period) her 'subjects' can be divided into a few main categories. There are the still-life motifs; the landscapes; the figures and portraits; the animals; and combinations of all these. As well (almost in a class of their own) are the mythological and esoteric subjects. One can write here of only a few examples from a rich and diverse oeuvre.

Her still-lifes were not to any great extent 'arranged'. She seemed content to paint them as she found them. She doubtless used her own wisdom in this. She was happy to let an element of chance come in (what now would be called the aleatoric element). This 'given' or 'found' motif would usually take the form of fruit, vegetables, flowers, piled up or in baskets or standing in jugs or vases on a table in front of a window.

GABRIELLE HOPE Fish Seller, Howick Beach 1962
gouache (Collection of the artist's family)

Forming a bridge to the landscape motif, the terrain outside the window might be brought into the picture. As in many works of Frances Hodgkins the 'Still-life with landscape' was a vehicle for the symbolising of 'inner' and 'outer' imaginative experience.

An outstanding example of a still-life pure and simple is Aubergines and roses (1954), a painting in gouache bought by Charles Brasch from Peter Webb's Argus House gallery in 1957 and illustrated in the catalogue to the exhibition at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1958 of works from the Brasch and Kennedy collection, A Private Collection of New Zealand Paintings.

Tauhara and Still Life (1962), a late gouache in the collection of the Auckland City Art Gallery, shows a return to the still-life and landscape theme, and is painted in the somewhat sombre colours of her last works. An amphora-like vase, some fruit and a cow-horn crowd the foreground of the landscape, floating on an indeterminate ground. Behind is the mountain sacred to the Maori. Rich purple shadows on Tauhara's slopes ring out against the faded ochres of the cliff-face.

A landscape painting related to the above, Mount Tauhara after the Fire, shows the burnt-off mountain, the eroded land, the blackened trees, its dull yellows and slate greys seeming to exude a mood of desolation that was not present in the previous works with all their prismatic colour.

GABRIELLE HOPE Mangere Landscape c1954
(Private Collection, Auckland)

An earlier painting, dating from the mid-fifties, Mangere Mountain, shows the glass-houses of a friend, Eddy Perrett, who grew tomatoes at the foot of the mountain. The treatment is calligraphic, with arabesques of pure colour showing up against white paper left bare of pigment.

Figure paintings and portraits and studies of animals recur throughout Gabrielle Hope's work. They embody her sympathetic interest in individuals, in the human condition, and in the miraculous and inexhaustible morphology of the animal world.

As has been said, ideas and occult philosophies played a large part in Gabrielle Hope's artistic phantasy. Just Roses, a pen-drawing illustrated in Landfall, March 1956, derives from a scene in the Golden Ass of Apuleius, and is without doubt intended to be rich in esoteric reference. Another drawing, The Chariot, shown in the Contemporary New Zealand Drawings exhibition of 1959, incorporates a suggestion of the artist's self-portrait, and seems to be developed from a passage in Plato's Phaedrus, combined perhaps with memories of the Tarot cards. A number of 'Ox Herding Pictures' derive from traditional Zen symbolic motifs.

GABRIELLE HOPE Ox Herding Pictures
brush drawing (Collection of the artist's family)

Two watercolours shown in the Five New Zealand Watercolourists exhibition, willows and the more radical Lake Horses, represent experimental ambitions. Here the painter's evident awareness of the innovations of C├ęzanne and the concerns of Cubism recall drawings and paintings along similar lines made by Colm McCahon in the 'fifties'.

A brief article does not afford adequate scope to discuss the work of Gabrielle Hope. This painter's sadly early death cut short a career that already constituted an admirable achievement within its scope. It is to be hoped that one of our public galleries can in the near future afford her the attention of a well-chosen retrospective exhibition, with a full scale catalogue.

I should like to acknowledge with thanks the kind information of Gabrielle Hope's daughter Bridget Woodrow, and the assistance of Louis Johnston in making his research material available to me.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 30 Autumn 1984