Artist Profile

Margaret Olrog Stoddart

Born 1865, Died 1934

Margaret Olrog Stoddart was born in Canterbury, the daughter of a naturalist whose family home was noted as a meeting place for artists and botanists. Family tramping expeditions in the South Island hinterland gave Margaret an everlasting appreciation of the landscape, its flora and fauna. She was a forerunner of the Canterbury Regionalists and became a well-known water colourist. She was a foundation student at the Canterbury School of Art after returning with her family from Edinburgh in 1882.

She studied botanical drawing and was a student of G.H. Elliot and Alfred Walsh at the Christchurch School of Art. Her work immediately attracted attention and she won several art prizes. At the early age of twenty, she was elected a member of the newly formed Canterbury Society of Arts in 1885.

From 1887, she pursued her art training in Italy, Norway, France and England, and like Dorothy Kate Richmond and Frances Hodgkins, spent some time at St Ives in Cornwall, where the three women met in 1902. Working amongst the Newlyn painters, Stoddart turned from flower painting to landscapes, and in 1906 after her return to New Zealand, her 'stress of colour harmony and manner of subjects rather than the description of the subject' became the hallmark of the Canterbury School of Art.

Her technique displays a calligraphic quality with less emphasis on the impressionistic plays of light than on the tonality of the work. In this, her work can be related to the Scottish colourist tradition and the influence of Whistler and, later, English Impressionism. Her flower paintings have an intensity that belies the fragility of the subject and are treated with the same determination as she painted her wild, untamed landscapes. Her achievement in watercolour painting was remarkable: she received critical approval and financial reward in her own lifetime and her work has always retained its popularity.

Stoddart was a guiding force in the art life of the community. She became celebrated as a teacher at the Canterbury College of Art, with many successful artists among her pupils - including Toss Woollaston. She continued to paint both landscapes and flower-studies until her death in 1934.

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