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Angus. Rita

Henrietta Catherine Angus was born on 12 March 1908 in Hastings. Angus was the eldest of seven children of William McKenzie Angus and Ethel Violet Crabtree. In 1921, her family moved to Palmerston North and she attended Palmerston North Girls' High School between 1922 and 1926. There her talent for art was recognised and she was encouraged to pursue it further. In 1927 she began studying at the Canterbury College School of Art.

She married Alfred Cook, another artist, on 13 June 1930, but in 1934 they separated due to incompatibility, and divorced in 1939. Angus signed many of her paintings as Rita Cook between 1930 and 1946, but after she discovered in 1941 that Alfred Cook had remarried she changed her surname by deed poll to McKenzie, her paternal grandmother's name. As a result, some of her paintings are also signed R. Mackenzie or R. McKenzie, but the majority are signed Rita Angus.

Angus lived mostly in Christchurch during the 1930s and 1940s. In the late 1940s she suffered from mental illness and entered Sunnyside Mental Hospital in 1949. In 1950 she moved to Waikanae to convalesce, and after some more travels around New Zealand she settled in Wellington in 1955.

From December 1969, Angus' condition rapidly deteriorated and she later died in Wellington Hospital of ovarian cancer on 25 January 1970.


Among Rita Angus' influences were Byzantine art and cubism. She was also influenced by the English painter Christopher Perkins' 1931 painting of Mount Taranaki, a response to New Zealand's distinctive clear lightning.

Her landscapes came in a time when many people were concerned to create a distinctly New Zealand art, and the American regionalism movement was growing. Angus herself was not interested in defining a national style so much as her own style. Her paintings are clear, hard-edged and sharply-defined. In the 1930s and 1940s she painted scenes of Canterbury and Otago. One of the most famous of these is Cass (1936) in which she portrayed the bare emptiness of the Canterbury landscape. In the 1960s, settled in Wellington, her landscapes focused on this area. Boats, Island Bay is one such iconic painting.

Although perhaps best known for her landscapes, Angus also painted a large number of portraits. These include Head of a Maori Boy (1938) and Portrait (Betty Curnow) (1942). She was able to capture the personality of her subjects, moving beyond a mere representation of their form. Her many portraits of women expressed her feminist ideas. She also painted 55 self-portraits at different stages of her life, showing her passing years and changing emotions. Angus devoted much of 1960 to the painting of a mural at Napier Girls' High School which can now be seen at the front of the school hall.

Information courtesy Wikipedia.


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