Girl in a Chair at Night 1947 is an early gem from Douglas MacDiarmid and a portrait of his Polish lover Danuta, a war refugee he met in London during his first overseas trip in 1946-47.
During this time, MacDiarmid painted by day and taught conversational English to foreign students at night classes, including a group of Poles. Danuta was a journalist, a strong, forthright and beautiful woman who came and went from his life, causing Douglas’ life partner Patrick considerable grief. She died tragically in Bangkok when she was struck by a car on her return from volunteering for the Peace Corps in Thailand.
Danuta is one of the many fascinating characters, and complicated relationships, described in MacDiarmid’s biography Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid by Anna Cahill, published in New Zealand in July 2018. She is pictured in the book in two other portraits, including Danuta 1947, which was part of an exhibition of works by MacDiarmid at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery to celebrate the launch of the biography.
The painting was brought to New Zealand in 1949 when MacDiarmid came back for a year, before returning to France to settle permanently. It was auctioned by Dunbar Sloane in Wellington in November 2006 as ‘Seated Woman in a Red Dress’, as part of the Dick collection.
A similar oil on canvas is treasured by Danuta’s family in the United States. In the 2002 art history MacDiarmid, published in French and English to celebrate his 80th birthday exhibitions, Dr Nelly Finet of Paris writes of this painting:
“A certain elliptical refinement of drawing, choice of object, general composition, reveal now the influence of Matisse…..Danuta, comfortably settled in an armchair, holds the book just read.”. Finet notes that the face is not the main objective, “rather, in the manner of Bonnard, there is the implication of inner life evoked through this intimate unity.”
Colours of a Life – the Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid (2018) is available for purchase online or from all good bookstores across New Zealand.
The art history book MacDiarmid (2002) is available exclusively from our website. English and French versions available.