Rita Angus

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Rita Angus
Born Henrietta Catherine Angus
(1908-03-12)12 March 1908
Hastings, New Zealand
Died 25 January 1970(1970-01-25) (aged 61)
Wellington, New Zealand
Nationality New Zealand
Education Canterbury College School of Art
Elam School of Fine Arts
Known for Oil and Water colour

Rita Angus (12 March 1908 – 25 January 1970) was a New Zealand painter. Along with Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston, she is credited as one of the leading figures in twentieth century New Zealand art. She worked primarily in oil and water colour, and is well known for her portraits and landscapes.[1]


Henrietta Catherine Angus was born on 12 March 1908 in Hastings, the eldest of seven children of William McKenzie Angus and Ethel Violet Crabtree.[2] In 1921, her family moved to Palmerston North and she attended Palmerston North Girls' High School between 1922 and 1926. There her talent for art was recognised and she was encouraged to pursue it further. In 1927 she began studying at the Canterbury College School of Art.[1]

She married Alfred Cook, another artist, on 13 June 1930, but in 1934 they separated due to incompatibility,[3] and divorced in 1939. Angus signed many of her paintings as Rita Cook between 1930 and 1946, but after she discovered in 1941 that Alfred Cook had remarried she changed her surname by deed poll to McKenzie, her paternal grandmother's name. As a result, some of her paintings are also signed R. Mackenzie or R. McKenzie, but the majority are signed Rita Angus.[4]

Angus lived mostly in Christchurch during the 1930s and 1940s. In the late 1940s she suffered from mental illness and entered Sunnyside Mental Hospital in 1949. In 1950 she moved to Waikanae to convalesce, and after some more travels around New Zealand she settled in Wellington in 1955.[citation needed]


From December 1969, Angus' condition rapidly deteriorated and she later died in Wellington Hospital of ovarian cancer on 25 January 1970, aged 61.[4]


Rita Angus, Cass. One of Angus' best-known landscapes.

Among Angus' influences were Byzantine art and cubism.[3] She was also influenced by the English painter Christopher Perkins' 1931 painting of Mount Taranaki, a response to New Zealand's distinctive clear lighting. Her landscapes came in a time when many people were concerned to create a distinctly New Zealand style, but Angus herself was not interested in defining a national style so much as her own style. Her paintings are clear, hard-edged and sharply-defined. In the 1930s and 1940s she painted scenes of Canterbury and Otago. One of the most famous of these is Cass (1936)[5] in which she portrayed the bare emptiness of the Canterbury landscape using simplified forms and mostly unblended colours arranged in sections in a style remiscent of poster art. In the 1960s, settled in Wellington, her landscapes focused on this area. Boats, Island Bay is one such iconic painting.[5]

Angus painted a large number of portraits, including "Head of a Maori Boy" (1938) and "Portrait (Betty Curnow)" (1942). She was able to capture the personality of her subjects, moving beyond a mere representation of their form. She devoted much of 1960 to the painting of a mural at Napier Girls' High School which can now be seen at the front of the school hall.[citation needed]


  • 1930: exhibition with Canterbury Society of Arts
  • 1932: exhibition with The Group
  • 1940: Cass exhibited at the National Centennial Exhibition of New Zealand Art
  • 1957: Angus' first solo exhibition, at the Wellington Art Centre gallery followed by solo exhibitions in 1961, 1963, 1964, 1967 [6]
  • 1965 Commonwealth Institute, London (Contemporary Painting in New Zealand)[7]
  • 1969 Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, (New Zealand Modern Art) [8]
  • 5 July 2008: A major retrospective of the work of Rita Angus has opened at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa before travelling to other main centres around New Zealand. The exhibition Rita Angus: Life and Vision celebrates the centenary of the artist's birth and features iconic works as well as works never before seen in public. The website supporting the exhibition features images of all the artworks in the exhibition, audio guides, podcasts of floor talks and radio interviews.


  1. ^ a b "Dictionary of New Zealand Biography". Retrieved 9 September 2010. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b "Art Deco - Rita Angus". Retrieved 9 September 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Official website biography". Retrieved 9 September 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "NZ FINE PRINTS LTD". Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "Dictionary of Women Artists" Edited by Gaze, Delia. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers 1997, pp161-165
  7. ^ "Dictionary of Women Artists" Edited by Gaze, Delia. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers 1997, pp161-165
  8. ^ "Dictionary of Women Artists" Edited by Gaze, Delia. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers 1997, pp161-165.

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