Anne Hamblett—also popularly known by her married name, Anne McCahon—was the wife of one of New Zealand's most celebrated 20th-century modernists, Colin McCahon. Considered by some to be a pioneering artist in her own right, her early paintings and illustrations are only just beginning to receive public attention.Read More
Born in Mosgiel in 1915— during the First World War—Anne Hamblett was a vicar's daughter and the second-oldest of six children. Excelling at art at Otago Girls' High School, she went on to study at the Dunedin School of Art in King Edward Technical College in 1934. Like many of her South Island contemporaries she was taught by the influential British painter and sculptor, Robert Nettleton Field.
Receiving her art training and first exhibiting in Dunedin in the 1930s, Anne Hamblett contributed to a distinctive South Island art scene emerging in Otago at the time—part of a regionalist movement that gave birth to New Zealand modernism. She went on painting trips to the countryside with artists who were close friends, like Doris Lusk; Toss and Edith Woollaston; and her future husband, Colin McCahon. In 1939 she started sharing a studio with Doris Lusk and Mollie Lawn in central Dunedin. She also featured in several exhibitions by the Otago Art Society and Wellington Sketch Club.
In 1942 Anne Hamblett became Colin McCahon's wife and, as they went on to raise four children, her focus shifted away from her artistic career to domestic life. While her own career diminished, she contributed to her husband's with feedback and as a model for his portraiture.
Anne Hamblett's paintings from the 1930s and 1940s—comprised mostly of still-lifes, landscapes, and portraits—shared similar influences with her fellow New Zealand modernists, who were similarly exposed to the past few decades of French and British modernism. Her approach to colour and form in works like Clutha River at Ettrick (1937), Poppies (1937), and Portrait of Matthew Hamblett, aged 10 years (1934) shows clear traces of the influence of artists such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse, in stark contrast with the English watercolour tradition dominant in New Zealand.
Since ultimately putting her artistic career on hold to focus on family life and supporting her husband, Anne Hamblett's artwork has remained largely out of public consciousness. However, recent exhibitions and scholarship have brought her life and work into the public eye. Over two decades after her passing in Auckland in 1993, Hamblett was given her first solo show: A Table of One's Own: The Creative Life of Anne McCahon, at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery (2016). Marking the tenth anniversary of the McCahon House—the museum and artist residency space based out of what was the McCahon family home from 1953 to 1959—the exhibition examined her paintings alongside examples of the illustration work she produced to supplement the family income while living at the house. Also shown were the ceramic works created later in her life.
With another solo show—Early Works, at Michael Lett (2020)—and revisionist writing on her career emerging, Anne Hamblett's artistic legacy is now being examined, with discussion being raised about whether the great potential hinted at early in her life was ever fulfilled.
Biography by Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020