Betty Curnow1942 by Rita Angus

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 16th century Flemish painter Brueghel symbolizes 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)

Elizabeth 'Betty' Curnow (31 October 1911 – 24 September 2005) was a New Zealand artist.

Curnow was a painter and printmaker. She exhibited with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts and 'The Group' in 1964.

She is depicted in her close friend Rita Angus' painting, Portrait of Betty Curnow. Curnow and Angus collaborated on the painting, selected clothing and objects that would best symbolize the threads of Curnow’s life as a daughter, wife and mother. The work also inspired Louise Henderson's, Portrait of Betty Curnow.

Works by Curnow are held in the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
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