Louise Henderson

Samoan woman in yellow

Samoan woman in yellow by Louise Henderson

Artwork Detail

'Samoan woman in yellow' is one of Louise Henderson’s most important figure paintings of the 1950s. This decade saw a development in her oeuvre as she became more confident in applying cubist techniques and theories to her practice. Leaving Auckland for Paris in 1952, she furthered her knowledge of cubism in the country of her birth, studying under the French painter and early proponent of cubism Jean Metzinger.

Cubism, having originated with Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso about 1909, was by this time a widely accepted painting style in Europe, however it was yet to receive the same favour in New Zealand. Practitioners working in a cubist idiom, such as Colin McCahon and John Weeks, were seen by the public as avant-garde. On her return from France, her work was shown to critical acclaim in solo exhibitions at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1953 and the Architectural Centre Wellington in 1955, where Samoan Woman was first exhibited.

Samoan woman draws on her learning in Metzinger’s studio. The form of the subject is greatly simplified and broken into flat planes or facets of colour, rather than being naturalistically rendered in the round. The reclining woman, her head supported by her hand, recalls the subject of the odalisque, popularised in the 19th century by artists interested in the oriental and exotic. Rather than opt for a middle-eastern model, Henderson prefers a subject from closer to home. The woman, wearing a yellow evening dress, appears thoroughly modern, not the submissive maiden of Ingres or Gauguin. It is an exceptional example of her depiction of a Pacific sitter, a subject she returned to throughout her career using Samoan, Māori and Tahitian women as the models for many of her paintings, watercolours and drawings.

As Christina Barton observed in 1991: ‘The relative absence of landscape has, retrospectively, served to minimise the impact of her work. In contrast, her interest in the figure, that neglected subject in New Zealand painting, has not as yet been fully acknowledged.’

Samoan woman in yellow
Louise Henderson
Production date
oil on canvas
627 x 1113 x 100 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2005
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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