Margaret Stoddart, a photograph likely taken by her sister May c1912
Old Homestead, Diamond Harbour. 1913. Watercolour by Margaret Stoddart. Collection Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.
MARGARET OLROGG STODDART
1865 – 1934
Over her 50-year career, Margaret Stoddart’s art began with accurately detailed botanical drawings for scientific purposes, changed to sought-after decorative flower paintings, then to confident and colourful impressionistic landscapes which tended to become more simplified and sombre as she aged.
Her evolving practice as an artist reflected both personal development and artistic and cultural changes over her lifetime. Stoddart’s technical skill with watercolour was unrivalled in Canterbury and she was considered among the best in New Zealand in this medium at the time. With her sisters Frances and Mary (May) she was also an early adopter of photography as a medium bringing her both her scientific and artistic eye to make images, some of which she used to support her painting.
Margaret Stoddart was born in 1865 to Anna and Mark Pringle Stoddart at the newly-built Stoddart Cottage. Shelived here with her five siblings until she was 11, when the family farm was sold and they returned for a time to herfather’s original home of Scotland. In 1897, Margaret and her family moved back to Diamond Harbour, settling at what was to become known as Godley House, a grand building that had been constructed on the family’s old land.
Her sister May and her husband, moved back into “the old homestead”, as Stoddart Cottage was known, in 1908.
By 1914, Stoddart Cottage and Godley House had been sold as part of the Stoddart Estate to the Lyttelton Borough Council, who sought to establish a modern garden suburb there for its workers.
All four Stoddart sisters attended the Canterbury College School of Art when it opened in 1882. As a student, Margaret regularly exhibited at the Canterbury Society of Arts, making her debut there aged 17 with roses, arum lilies and native daisies painted on panels and terracotta plaques. In 1911 Margaret was to return here for a major exhibition of her paintings, most of which were of subjects and scenes around Diamond Harbour.
By the age of 25 she had completed her formal studies and progressed toward professional practice by working on the flower paintings which were currently fashionable, with roses a favourite subject.
Margaret’s career included a degree of independent international travel that was fairly rare for a single woman of her era. In Melbourne, she presented a well-received exhibition of flower paintings. She also made a trip to Tahiti.
From 1898 she spent nine years in Europe, where she studied with Louis Grier, Charles Lasar, and Norman Garstin, and travelled and exhibited widely both in England and on the continent. While there, she returned to her main base of St Ives on England’s Cornish coast each winter, which had become home to like-minded painters from around the world, and a centre for developing British impressionism.
Over her time in Europe, Margaret’s painting style transformed. She increasingly worked outdoors “en plein air”, with landscapes overtaking flowers as the main theme, and she became a skilled impressionist painter. However, on her return to Christchurch, her “modern style” was considered radical for the time and initially provoked some harsh criticism.
Margaret enjoyed the outdoors. In New Zealand, she went to the Chatham Islands, where she painted its distinctive flora at different seasons, as well as scenes of enthnographical interest. These works are now part of the Canterbury Museum collection.
She was a great walker, camping in Arthurs Pass, and making many trips inland to paint alpine flora, river and mountain scenes. When living on the Cashmere Hill in Christchurch, she painted places around the city, including suburban gardens and public parks, established themes in French impressionist art.
Sharing her knowledge, Margaret gave private painting lessons and took leading roles in various arts organisations and charities. She exhibited regularly in Christchurch and beyond, working continuously until her death in 1934, aged 69.
She is buried in Bromley Cemetery. A retrospective exhibition at the Canterbury Society of Arts in 1935 included 206 of her works.
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu’s collection contains over 40 Margaret Stoddart paintings including several purchased by Canterbury Arts Society during Margaret’s lifetime.
Julie King, Flowers into Landscape: Margaret Stoddart 1865-1934, Christchurch 1997
Ken Hall with Haruhiko Sameshima, Hidden Light: Early Canterbury and West Coast Photography Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Wiawhetu, 2019.