The Other Expatriate
Frances Hodgkins, the best-known New Zealand expatriate painter, was only one of several talented artists who left this country to make careers for themselves in the larger sphere of Europe. Lesser known is the life and work of Christchurch-born painter Raymond McIntyre (1879-1933). Now, thanks to a splendid exhibition (and book) organised by the Auckland City Art Gallery, the man and his work can be assessed more fully than was possible before the research and documentation of his career was carried out by art historian Marie Coyle with the help of Art Gallery staff members, Ronald Brownson and Roger Blackley.
RAYMOND McINTYRE Scene in Berkshire c.1920 gouache and watercolour, 315 x 246 mm. (Collection of the National Art Gallery, Wellington)
Unlike Hodgkins, Raymond McIntyre left New Zealand with few regrets. His letters and critical writings reveal a man who enjoyed a full social life and the cultural pleasures London and Paris had to offer. Not for him the isolation and hardships which beset Frances Hodgkins throughout much of her European career. McIntyre found the freedom and tolerance he wanted in London, which enabled him to develop his art and enrich his lifestyle.
In London McIntyre achieved some recognition as a painter and, in his later years, was active as an art critic for the Architectural Review. He is best known in New Zealand for his small paintings of attractive young women—some based on a Miss Cavendish who provided him with a starting-point for his compositions. These pictures are well represented in the Auckland exhibition and reproduced in colour in the accompanying book. They confirm the reputation McIntyre already enjoyed as a stylish painter in this kind of work.
Raymond McIntyre c.1918 silver gelatin photograph (Private collection, Wellington)
Seen together in the exhibition, McIntyre's paintings of women allow further insights into the range of his art. These are limited to head-and-shoulder presentations, set close up to the viewer rather like cropped photographic shots. It is perhaps relevant here that McIntyre refers in his letters—some are published in the book—to an interest in photography. Although this format suggests portraiture, McIntyre refrains from the particulars of individual likenesses to give a more idealised aspect of his subject.
In Felice (c.1913), for example, the features, like the hat and the hair, are seen for their tonal and design qualities at the expense of characterization. Even more than in the fashionable women of late nineteenth century artists like Tissot, to whose etchings Marie Coyle refers in her dry but worthy essay, McIntyre gives a superficial prettiness and elegance rather than real depth and personality. His women have faces like those beloved of sellers of cosmetics. They have smooth, flawless complexions with painted lips and eyebrows.
RAYMOND McINTYRE Felice c.1913 oil on panel, 290 x 203 mm. (Collection of the Auckland City Art Gallery)
These faces can appear like masks: as if McIntyre used them as defences against deeper understanding of his subject-matter. It is hard to believe that he saw women as more than elegant fashion-plates, motifs to be adapted to his conception of art and taste.
Unlike Rita Angus, for example, McIntyre seems incapable of real analysis and insight. And here is the crux of the matter. Even his self-portraits are more concerned with modish posturing than anything more substantial. His art has no message. It is art for art's sake. In this McIntyre reflects the views of fin-de-siècle Europe, of Whistler and Beardsley who influenced him greatly.
Despite his charm, McIntyre was no innovator. He was not even especially sympathetic or understanding of French Post-Impressionist painting when he saw a show of it in London in 1912. But he was quick to catch on to ideas and styles that appealed to him. A lot of his painting recalls that of other artists. In some cases it is Whistler, in others Dufy or Marquet. This, I feel, is the sign of a lesser talent, of someone who failed to achieve his own authentic stamp. Ultimately, for this and other reasons, the show reveals McIntyre as a minor figure of peripheral interest in the history of British art. He was unable to push his talent as far and as hard as Frances Hodgkins was to do in her lifetime. Late in his career he seems to have almost stopped painting to concentrate on his reviews. It is the absence of struggle, the willingness to be content with what comes relatively easily, that gives McIntyre his attractive, casual quality: but also, on closer inspection, his superficiality.
RAYMOND McINTYRE Edward McKnight Kauffer c.1915 oil on panel, 331 x 243 mm. (Collection of the National Art Gallery, Wellington)
What relevance McIntyre has for New Zealand today it is hard to say. The exhibition and book do little to elucidate this matter. McIntyre himself had virtually no interest in achieving success in the context of New Zealand art. `I am not working on the line of making a success with New Zealanders because I happen to be one of them. I cannot see that such success is any real test at all.' Such a viewpoint undoubtedly contributed to the distance between him and his home country. The contrast with Frances Hodgkins again appears dramatic. She continued to send paintings back to this country, and, even in the late nineteen-forties, her work was introducing stimulus and controversy into the New Zealand art world. Today her life and artistic standards of excellence are inspirational to many contemporary New Zealanders: McIntyre lacks these dimensions and, I suspect, will always remain of lesser stature in New Zealand art history.
ARNOLD MASON Raymond McIntyre 1911 pencil on paper, 270 x 210 mm. (Collection of Mrs Julia Campbell, Edinburgh)
Whatever reservations one might have about the artistic importance of Raymond McIntyre, there can be no doubt that the Auckland Art Gallery has given his work the best possible treatment. No expense was spared in gathering together works from all over New Zealand and from Britain. Restoration and framing in keeping with his original presentation of his painting gives the show a professional dimension not always seen in retrospectives. Also, the publication not of a catalogue but of a hard-cover book to supplement the show is an indicator of the thoroughness of the whole venture. It is a pity that Marie Coyle's essay in the book does little to capture the liveliness of McIntyre's painting or his sense of style. Fortunately the well-chosen selection of McIntyre's own letters and reviews compensates for this, and helps give the reader more insight into the man and his art.
The book Raymond McIntyre: A New Zealand Painter is published by Heinemann Publishers in association with The Auckland City Art Gallery. Illustrations to this article are by kind co-operation of the Auckland City Art Gallery.