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Specular Reflection

12th Oct 2013 - 30th Mar 2014

This exhibition focuses on a selection of Frances Hodgkins watercolours from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s permanent collection that depict the play of light on water. Specular reflection is a scientific term for the mirror-like refraction of light from a single incoming direction into a single outgoing direction. As a natural phenomenon, we often notice this event on the surface of water. 

The representation of water can be notoriously difficult for an artist to master; it presents many challenging elements for rendering including colour, clarity, reflection and the illusion of fluidity, movement and flow. Watercolours, which can build layers of opacity, lend themselves well to showing both depth and transparency. Through her finely honed skills as a watercolourist Hodgkins was able to produce rich and unique compositions showcasing the optical effects of light on water.

Hodgkins’ oeuvre features many examples of specular reflection as well as more experimental investigations, particularly noticeable in Washerwoman, Brittany, where human figures bleed into a rippling, moving sea of liquid and light. A number of works in Specular Reflection feature boats at port and sea settings. By utilising the boat as an anchor object to explore different modes of light and movement, Hodgkins demonstrates her expertise at capturing varying atmospheric conditions. Sometimes the water is broken, the mirror image warped and moving as in Red Sails and at other times Hodgkins captures stillness and inverted images that are crisp and bold as seen in The Ebbing Tide, Concarneau.

Painted in Italy, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand these works also illuminate Hodgkins’ journeys, reminding us that as an artist she was adrift herself, travelling constantly in the search for inspiration and new material.

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