Artist Profile

Helen Stewart

Born 1900, Died 1983

Born in Wellington in 1900, Helen Stewart was a contemporary of Dorothy Kate Richmond, Frances Hodgkins and Gwen Knight. Her work is held by major public collections in Australia and New Zealand, including Victoria University, Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa Tongarewa and the Dowse Art Museum. She was included in Anne Kirker's seminal publication 'New Zealand Women Artists: a Survey of 150 Years' (1986).

At different periods of her life Stewart studied in London, in Australia at the Sydney Art School with Thea Proctor, and in Paris, at Colarossi's, La Grande Chaumiere and at Andre L'hote 's Atelier. Moving to Australia in 1928 she regarded her study at the Sydney School of Art in the early thirties as "the beginning of her real art training." In the 1930s she became a member of the avant-garde Contemporary Art Group and went on painting expeditions with her friend Grace Cossington-Smith. Her modernist paintings were exhibited alongside the work of well-known Australian artists such as Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington-Smith.

Stewart's modernism was inflected by European and British post-impressionist art – in particular by Matisse, Picasso, Leger, and the Camden Town artists. She was profoundly influenced by the theory of balanced spatial and colour relationships known as the Golden Section, which she encountered at Andre L'hote's Atelier in Paris in 1932. Equally she believed in abstraction as the unifying principle fundamental to all art, from the classical to the modern. Her acclaimed early Australian landscapes are Cezannesque in composition while her later New Zealand works are characterized by bold, geometric abstraction. Her final paintings of the landscape blended figuration and abstraction.

After her return to New Zealand in 1946, Stewart settled in Lowry Bay, Wellington, became a founding member of the 'Thursday Group' and in 1949 was one of the Group of Nine Artists that exhibited at Helen Hitchings' Gallery in that city. She continued to paint until her death in 1983.

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