Rita Angus

Portrait of Betty Curnow

Portrait of Betty Curnow by Rita Angus

Artwork Detail

Disguised symbolism operates throughout this fascinating portrait by Rita Angus, one of New Zealand's leading regional realist artists, whose flat hard-edged style and subject matter have their roots in American regionalism, Japanese woodcut prints and the paintings of the Italian Primitives. Betty Curnow is surrounded by objects and motifs which allude to her personal relationships and her place in the world. Seated in her grandmother's chair with a photograph of her father behind her head, she is closely connected to her family and past, while rows of books form a link to her husband, writer Allen Curnow, and the present time. The landscape painting propped up on the bookshelves is by Rita Angus herself, a gift of friendship and a reference to Curnow's rural upbringing in Canterbury and the pioneering existence of her forebears. A reproduction of a harvest scene by the sixteenth century Flemish painter Brueghel symbolises fertility. At the time of the portrait sitting Curnow was pregnant with her second child and the repetition of ovoid forms across the composition makes an allusion to pregnancy and to the future generation. Imbued with historical and regional significance as well as an engaging personal narrative, this compelling image was purchased by the Gallery in the year of the artist's death and has become an icon of the collection which continues to captivate visitors. (from The Guide, 2001)

Portrait of Betty Curnow
Rita Angus
Production date
oil on canvas
775 x 647 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1970
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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