- Sheila Hawkins
- Gypsy Mother
- oil on canvas
- 60 x 49 cm
signed lower right: HAWKINS
copyright the Estate of the artist, courtesy Anna de Polnay
A photograph in the collection of The Australian War Memorial, Canberra shows Sheila Hawkins in her Hamptead studio around 1944 with the painting Gypsy Mother on the wall behind her.
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Paisnel Gallery, London, c.1990
private collection, Tasmania
Deutscher and Hackett, Melbourne, May 2016
private collection, Melbourne
Goupil Gallery Salon, 33rd exhibition, New Burlington Galleries, London, July 1939, cat. 318 (as ‘Gipsy Mother’)
Hawkins is most recognised for her contribution to children’s literature, particularly as an illustrator, and her strong sense of design and layout is evident in her painting. Gyspy Mother embodies an atmosphere of calm, despite the tangle of limbs and foreboding clouds, in a tightly controlled and complimentary colour palette. The monumental maternal figure is a picture of stability and dependence against the writhing child, her vertical presence contrasted against the limbs, rolling hills and clouds.
Sheila Hawkins was born in Kalgoorlie before moving to Perth, then Melbourne where she briefly attended the National Gallery School but was largely self-taught. Moving to Sydney, she undertook a commercial art course and her work was included in exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney in the early 1930s. Hawkins then moved to England, where she began her career in children’s book illustration. A period spent in Spain in 1934, with the New Zealand artist John Cook and his wife, allowed her the freedom to focus on her painting but was cut short by the Spanish Civil War. On her return to England she was inspired by her travels to create the first of her own illustrated stories, Pepito(1938) and her paintings also were inspired by this time, with Catalan market scenes and this painting titled Gypsy Mother, included in the 1939 exhibition at Goupil Gallery, where many of the Camden Town Group artists had exhibited.
During the second world war, Hawkins worked for RAAF Headquarters, as well as recording the realities of wartime life through her drawings of the backbreaking work clearing forests; women working the coal barges in London, and undertaking portraits of RAAF members. The modernist style of these compelling portraits reveal her use of colour and pattern to create tone. During the war, Hawkins visited Scotland and made a series of dynamic drawings of the Australian Forestry Units. Some of these compositions with their monumental figures were worked up into murals painted for the Force’s canteens in London.
Hawkins regularly exhibited her strong landscapes and abstracts at the Free Painters and Sculptors group and the Ridley Society, London. Her work is represented in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.