After graduating from Wellington Technical School, Mina Arndt studied in London with Frank Brangwyn and at the artists’ colony in Newlyn, Cornwall, with Harold and Laura Knight. She also lived in Berlin, where she studied with progressive portraitists Lovis Corinth, her second cousin Julie Wolfthorn and printmaker Hermann Struck. Of these, it was the Germans’ sombre palette and techniques that most influenced Arndt.
Following the outbreak of war in 1914, and brief internment in Germany as a prohibited British alien, Arndt returned to Wellington, where she found an attic studio in Willis Street above Bartlett & Andrew’s photography shop. Early in 1915, in this ‘delightful room with many and quaint accessories’,(1) she held a private exhibition of her overseas and recent paintings, etchings and drawings, probably including The red hat, now her best-known work.
The painting is typical of Arndt’s single-figure compositions that fill the frame. The model, Wellingtonian Daisy Hay, wears a shapely buttoned tunic and is silhouetted by the soft light behind her, which also highlights the thickly painted green wall. Her face is cursorily built up with rapidly hatched brushstrokes, leaving her expression inscrutable, as though she has drifted off while posing. Once it becomes clear that this is not a portrait intended to reveal Daisy’s personality, the eye moves upwards to contemplate her crowning glory — the hat. Its oval form is swathed in a scarf, expressively rendered in crosshatched slashes of deep red paint. Its gorgeous painterliness and hue are enhanced and thrown into focus by the simple flat background of harmonious brown and green. An Auckland Star critic, perhaps failing to appreciate Arndt’s subtlety in using shape and colour, and accustomed to bright post-impressionist palettes of artists such as Edward Friström, found her art ‘a little wanting in colour and lightness’.(2)
In 1917 Arndt married Leo Manoy and settled in Motueka, where she worked and taught from a home studio. She produced memorable domestic images of mothers and children, and also of Mäori women washing clothes, which she exhibited throughout New Zealand and Australia until her early death aged forty-one.
This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).
1. Evening Post, 4 March 1915, p. 9.
2. Auckland Star, 1 June 1916, p. 2.