Rutu by Rita Angus

Rutu by Rita Angus

Rutu, 1951, by Rita Angus.

Rita Angus’s (1908–70) body of work is dominated by self-portraiture. In their unflinching characterisation these portraits reflect both technical and spiritual journeys. Many are strictly objective but others, such as this work, are highly symbolic. Rutu was painted soon after the artist had recovered from a physical and mental breakdown and is probably her most imaginative self-portrait.

The depiction of Rutu references many representations of the Virgin Mary, but she has dark skin and fair hair. Behind her the sun looks almost like a halo. Rutu gazes inland from the Tasman Sea, and her throne is ornamented with shells and lush vegetation. This painting merges Christian and Pacific emblems in a celebration of a hybrid and uniquely New Zealand culture.

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