Letter from Frances Hodgkins to Kate Rattray

27 Aug 1901
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27 Aug 1901
Hotel de France Caudebec-en-Caux Seine Inf. Aug 27.
My dear Kate
I shall not attempt anything like an excuse for not writing before this, for one thing you would not believe me, you know me too well for that. It is the same old trouble I am afraid the fatal little habit of putting off , in this respect only have I not improved since leaving N.Z. Thank you all so much for your letters, it was a real joy getting them and they received a thousand welcomes and I should have answered them before this, but – I forget there are to be no excuses. I howled over your description of Mrs Denniston’s adventures with the Duke and Duchess. I lay on my bed and kicked me feet in pure joy and laughed so loud my neighbour requested me thro’ the wall either to stop to tell the joke, needless to say I did neither. What luck your being presented. I hope you are not comporting yourself with undue arrogance in consequence. It must have been very bad management on my part, but the whole time I was in London I never managed to see anything approaching a Royalty. I crossed their trail several times but they had either just passed or weren’t expected till tomorrow. I finally had to content myself with buying a portrait of the Queen and reading the Court Circular, and that was the extent of my dealings with Royalty. I have been here now nearly two months, very glad indeed to get away from London & its many distractions it’s a glorious world Kate for those who can afford it, but for impecunious artists, it is an excellent place to get out of, my money was melting at such an alarming rate I saw myself returning to N.Z. at the end of six months. I have vowed a vow not to return till I have written the name of Francis Hodgkins in capital letters across – is it the scroll of fame or what that we are all so anxious to sign I am getting a trifle mixed, anyhow I am afraid my return will be somewhat delayed in consequence. Mrs C. Smith was a really good friend to me but she nearly killed me in her efforts to show me London on a thoroughly practical and business like system. I left London just in time and have been recovering ever since. I know how very much you would dislike it if I went thro’ a list of what I saw. I tried to see every picture in London in the first three weeks, but I found it was not to be done. I expect Issy has told you all about the Academy. Mr Colin Hunter’s picture was very beautiful, his son’s work quaint & clever and as for his wife her picture was quite one of the successes of the year – hung in very select company indeed and to my eyes one of the most attractive small pictures in the Academy. I was so sorry I was unable to go to Melbury Rd. Issy was so good trying to arrange for a meeting but I was unfortunate enough to have another engagement when Mrs Hunter asked me to dinner. I worked for a month in London at one of the Studios which quite decided me it was not the life for me. I got knocked up with the heat. Fancy working in summer in a temperature over 70 deg. I came over here & joined Miss Dorothy Richmond from Wllgtn and we have since been working together under Mr Garstin. I move on next week to Paris with Molly Sale who is also here – for a week – when Molly goes back to London and I shall then join a Miss Nicolls an artistic friend I have made since coming to Caudebec, and we intend going for a short bicycling tour in Normandy and settling down for a sketch for a few weeks when ever we find a good camping ground. We shall probably be joined by Mr Garstin & later by Miss Richmond. In October she and I will go down to the Bas Pyrenees, to St Sebastian on the Spanish frontier and make our head quarters there for the winter and sketch there or thereabouts till Christmas and then perchance along the Italian Riviera. It sounds a delightful programme and I hope I shall be able to carry it out. Mr Garstin want me to have an exhibition of my sketches in London in the Spring, if Miss Annie Black could – I can – n’est ce pas? I expect after the attempt I shall sneak back to N.Z. by the next boat and you will have to be very good indeed to your poor returned failure. It is a very pleasant life we have been leading here, such a beautiful old town on the north bank of the Seine, with quaint picturesque streets & subjects in plenty for every day in the year. We are a very jolly party, Mr & Mrs Garstin most delightful people, with a large following of artists of all shapes & sizes. Artists “en masse” are quaint folk and it is quite interesting studying their life & habits. Caudebec is being most thoroughly painted. Wherever one goes one stumbles against an easel with a depressed looking artist sitting in a shadow behind it. A distinguished French artist has just been here and the fortnight he was here he spent it profitably painting a dead pig (query – does a dead pig last a fortnight?) – with such a realistic regard for detail that it me one gasp – how French & how incomprehensible fancy wanting to paint a dead cochon in a town famed for its beauty. You would love the Normandy peasants I wish I could buy a few and taken them out to N.Z. with me as properties. As we can’t do this, Miss Richmond & I think seriously of negotiating for a pair of blue corduroy bags which the men wear and look perfectly fascinating in. I wonder if you ever met Miss Richmond in Wllgtn. She is the dearest woman with the most beautiful face and expression I think I have ever seen. I am a lucky beggar to have her as travelling companion, and strange to say she is both practical & artistic. She has undertaken to look after me on the continent & see I don’t get into the wrong trains & cross the wrong frontier. Heigh ho! Kate how I wish I wish I could see you sometimes & have a crack, tho’ I haven’t written I have often thought of you all at Craighall and how good you all were to me before I left. If any of my friends as after me tell them I am possessed of a painting devil and I will write to them as soon as I can cast it out. I have not forgotten friends home & country, tho’ it may look like it. I have been working fairly hard these last two months getting work ready to send out for the Nov. show; it goes off next week I am thankful to say and then I shall take things more leisurely. Thank Fanny for her letter and tell her I am so sorry the post cards didn’t suit. If she only knew the ardour with which I despatched them for every port. I shall keep any that come my way for her. I hope you will be able to read this letter, it is well worth it, my inkpot has run low, drained by the last Frisco and I have had to water it twice – one has to economise in some things! Why not in ink.
Do write me another good gossipy letter soon. I know I don’t deserve it but be forgiving. Please give my love to Mrs Rattray & Ada & thank them for their letters. I shall answer Ada’s next time. How is Mrs Butterworth: Give her my love. Address always to B.N.S.W. 64 Old Broad St.
With love Yours ever sincerely Frances Hodgkins ENVELOPE:
Miss Kate Rattray, Craighall Mornington, Dunedin, New Zealand care Dr Hope Lewis, Upper Simon Street Auckland. Postmark : 27th August, 1901.
6 pages
Sender's address
Hotel de France, Caudebec en Caux, Seine Inf.
Recipient's address
Miss Kate Rattray, care Dr. Hope Lewis, Upper Simon Street, Auckland
Institutional No.
Credit Line
Frances Hodgkins - Letters. Field, Isabel Jane, 1867-1950 : Correspondence of Frances Hodgkins and family / collected by Isabel Field. Ref: MS-Papers-0085-10. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.