Artist Profile

Dame Louise Henderson

Born 1902, Died 1995

Born in Paris, Louise Henderson enjoyed a culturally privileged childhood - her father was Secretary to Rodin and her grandfather a Minister of Arts. In 1925, she came to New Zealand with her husband, and attended the Canterbury School of Art, graduating in 1931. Her early paintings were regional landscapes of Canterbury, where she often joined Rita Angus on sketching trips. She was an early exhibitor with other leading Christchurch painters including Rata Lovell-Smith, Olivia Spencer Bower and Leo Bensemann. In the 1940s she moved to Wellington where her style tended towards more modern, formal, and figurative work. Explorations in cubism led her to look to the work of John Weeks and in 1950-51 she travelled to Auckland to study with him.

In 1952 she followed Weeks' footsteps and returned to her birthplace, Paris, where she studied under the cubist painter Metzinger. On her return to Auckland, she was recognised as one of the leading modern painters by her peers. The public, however, was not always as receptive, and hostility was often expressed about her more avant-garde, cubist works. The Object and Image exhibition at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1943, in which her work was hung alongside that of Milan Mrkusich, Michael Nicholson, Kase Jackson, John Weeks, Ross Fraser and Colin McCahon, helped establish an interest in 'modern art' in New Zealand.

She lived in Beirut from 1955-58 as her husband was posted there with UNESCO providing her with new and innovative subject matter. In the 1960s, after the death of her husband, her work became more gestural and less formally structured. These works were exhibited in Brussels, Paris and London where her 'lyrical visionary qualities' and her 'free handling of paint' were praised. Having won acclaim as a hard-edged abstractionist she now moved from the cerebral to the sensuality of expressionism.

Regardless of the style and medium, nature always played an important part in her art. She explored a lively and diverse use of materials and approaches, working in every paint medium: printmaking, weaving, tapestry, embroidery, glass mosaic and sculpture, using colour in a carefully controlled way to create a sense of movement or contemplative calm.

Her association and in depth of knowledge of contemporary European art practices made her a rare personage in the NZ art scene, and an influential teacher and lecturer. Among her pupils were Gretchen Albrecht and Geoff Thornley. She taught as Assistant Lecturer in embroidery design at Canterbury University, Assistant Lecturer in the Art Department of Wellington Teachers College, Lecturer in Painting at the University of Sydney, and Lecturer in Painting at the University of Auckland. In 1983 Henderson was granted a QEII Arts Council Fellowship in recognition of her contribution to New Zealand painting. Her works are included in all the public galleries and major private collections throughout the country.

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