Edith Collier’s contribution to New Zealand art as an innovator, modernist and expatriate painter placed her in a most distinguished group. Edith worked and painted for a time in Bunmahon.
1885 Edith was born on 28 March in Wanganui, New Zealand. Already as a child she took lessons in watercolour painting from her mother.
1903 She started her art education at Wanganui Technical School and despite her responsibilities as eldest daughter of a large family she saw painting as a potential career and alternative to marriage.
1912 Left New Zealand to continue her studies in London and enrolled at St John’s Wood School of Art. A prospectus for the school sets out fees and rules: “£ 22.1.0 for every day of a year or for alternate days £ 12.12.0” “All conversation is prohibited except during rests.”
1914 Bunmahon – Edith came here, originally for a fortnight, with a group of art students to study and work with Miss Margret McPherson (Preston?), an Australian painter.
1915 She returned for more of the successful summer classes in Bunmahon. They hired accommodation in Osborne Terrace for 8 months. It was during these months that Ediths individual strength as a draughtsman and painter became apparent. Her charcoal drawings of working people and children are strong sensitive characterisations which might be comparable to the portraits by German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz. From this period as well date a number of water colours and oil paintings of Irish cottages by the beach or in green landscapes latticed with stone walls. Edith wrote to her parents: “Ireland is the country to paint”, and: “Bunmahon is a grand place for painting. Models of all sorts, seascapes, and landscape without going far.”
1915 Back in London. Painting on her own with some breaks to Cornwall. The outbreak of war had initiated yet another round of family obligations. Brothers and relatives fighting in Europe were in need of her care.
1917 Exhibition: Society of Women Artists’show and her first mention in a critical review: “E.M. Collier’s ‘Rocks on Bonmahon’ is excellently composed and the forms are cleverly simplified”
1922 Returning home to New Zealand where she had to meet insular ignorance and prejudice from art societies and from a public to whom even Cezanne was unknown. The nude was unacceptable in Wanganui. The critics and the public treated her harshly but even worse were the actions of her father: Four or five years after her return home he lit a bonfire in the yard and deliberately destroyed many of her finest paintings. This event as well destroyed her confidence. She painted less and less during the 1940s and 1950s. By that time some of her family never even knew that she had painted.
1964 She died on December 12, 1964