Edith Collier : Her life and work (1885-1964)
Thesis DisciplineArt History
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Edith Collier (1885-1964) is a Wanganui artists whose life and oeuvre is the subject of this biographical essay and catalogue raisonné. She was educated in Wanganui, and at the age of twenty-seven years travelled to Britain and remained there almost a decade from 1913-1921, studying and producing art. She enrolled at London's St. John's Wood Art School and toured extensively executing work in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Kent, Oxford, Bibury, and Bonmahon in Southern Ireland. Margaret Macpherson and Frances Hodgkins were her most significant teachers, and their ideas and the art that she was exposed to in Britain inspired the artist to work in an increasingly modern manner. Edith Collier returned to New Zealand in the early 1920s with work that reflected the more radical innovations of British modernism, and she was publicly criticised and personally vandalised because of it. Though she worked and exhibited with some determination after her return, from the early 1940s she ceased to paint. The neglect of Edith Collier's career has been canonised in the writings of subsequent art historians, whose theoretical perspective either did not allow an acknowledgment of her achievement, or whose perception of her as a tragic figure did not let them see it. Edith Collier's contribution to New Zealand art history demands re-evaluation because of her unique place as an early modernist, and in light of the impact of modernism in New Zealand in the 1920s, and particularly in provincial Wanganui. Edith Collier's significance must be rewritten in the literature of New Zealand art history, and central to a re-assessment of her achievement is a better understanding of the complex relationship in her biography between the discrimination of sexism and the impact of cultural-lag on the introduction of modern art to New Zealand.