Today I went on the ‘Hobson Street houses tour’ organised as a fundraiser for the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace.
One of the houses on the tour was formerly owned and lived in by Frederick and Evelyn Page. Fred was a musician and music teacher at Victoria University of Wellington. There is a short biography of him on Te Ara.
Evelyn was a painter, although she was also a musician, which is probably how they met – they had the same piano teacher for awhile. There is a short biography of her on Te Ara.
The image of them is on the back cover of Frederick Page: A musician’s journal, edited and arranged by J M Thompson & Janet Paul, John McIndoe, 1986; Evelyn Page’s ‘Music at Hobson Street’ is also from that book – it was then in the artist’s collection but is now in the Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection (VUW.1986.9).
On 9 April 1938 Evelyn Margaret Polson and Frederick Joseph Page were married in Governors Bay, Canterbury. In 1946 Fred got a lecturing position at Victoria University and they moved north. They bought the house in Hobson Street in 1948, and as art historian Michael Dunn has written:
“The old house at Hobson Street, crammed with books and paintings and filled with the sound of music, was a centre of intellectual life in the capital while Frederick Page was Head of Music at Victoria University. It was a meeting place for writers, composers and artists where good conversation and good food were part of the mix.” This is from the catalogue entry for this painting, ‘Breakfast at Hobson Street’, in a Webbs auction:
Michael Dunn again:
“It is hard to believe that this joyous, light-filled painting was made in 1975 by an artist in her late 70s. But, when we know that the painter is Evelyn Page, it comes as less of a surprise. Though troubled with arthritis, she continued to paint in the lively, spontaneous style of post-impressionism that she had developed in Christchurch in the late 1920s. … It depicts her husband, the noted musician Frederick Page, at their home at 20 Hobson Street, in Thorndon, Wellington, reading the morning newspaper over breakfast. Her biographer, Janet Paul, tells us that this was “one of the painter’s favourite works” (in the catalogue for the retrospective show Evelyn Page: Seven Decades, held in 1986) … By the time this picture was painted, Frederick Page had retired and Evelyn was unable to complete more than a few works a year but Breakfast at Hobson Street reflects the ongoing energy and creativity of the couple who had formed such a productive partnership.”
Frederick died suddenly on 29 November 1983. In 1987 arthritis forced Eve to move to a retirement home in Karori and she died on 28 May 1988.
The house was a lovely light-filled one. This picture is from the Hobson Street houses brochure.
In Frederick Page: A musician’s journal, friend Janet Paul wrote some memories of the house. They lived on the ground floor and rented out the upstairs: “A fine central staircase had to be removed in order to make two upstairs flats”. In fact, the current owners showed some photos of later renovations, which revealed the staircase was still there, just boarded up. “The entrance hall had been designed so that it could be cut off by folding stable doors from the living room. In its corner a bay window faced the small back garden which Eve transformed by planting trees around its perimeter (p. 185) [I was very taken with these bay windows forming little alcoves with a couple of chairs placed in them.] … It was Freddy who spent what little they could afford on buying pictures…. They called on Ivon Hitchens when they were in England and together chose a subtle colour abstraction of a path through trees. They met Mathew Smith. Freddy visited the painter David Jones”… (page 186)
“In 1976… Eve had had two narrow front-facing bedrooms turned back into the original square room…In this lovely music room were four paintings by Colin McCahon (p. 186)… The music room like the sitting room, has big folding wooden stable doors which in the original house would have allowed the whole ground floor to become one ballroom. One side of these doors generally remained closed… (p. 187).
The house was built in 1905 and when it was sold in 1928 it was turned into flats. The current owners had a Janet Paul painting of people at Hobson Street (presumably the Pages and some friends – unfortunately I didn’t look closely enough to try to work it out).
In 2005 I saw an exhibition at Aratoi, Masterton’s art gallery, called “Luncheon under the ash tree: the Ian and Elespie Prior collection”. The name of the exhibition and the cover painting on the catalogue is by Eve Page, and the subject is Elespie and children.
Elespie Prior (her maiden name was Forsyth) was a cousin of Charles Brasch – another of that group who from the late 1920s on were associated with most of New Zealand’s small coterie of writers, artists and musicians. I love all these connections. My only not-even-tenuous connection is that some of the Prior family were our family doctors in Masterton!
Image from Enduring Legacy: Charles Brasch, patron, poet, collector, ed Donald Kerr, University of Otago Press, 2003, p. 55