Margot Philips (1902 – 1988)

Author: Dr Nadia Gush

German-born Jewish artist Margot Philips (1902 – 1988) is one of the Waikato’s leading twentieth-century artists. Born in Ruhrort, in the German city of Duisburg, Margot moved with her family to Cologne following World War One. Attitudes towards Jewish people hardened with the rise of the Nazi Party, and Margot fled from Germany to London. Margot and her brother then sought refuge beyond Europe, moving to Kirikiriroa Hamilton in 1938.

Determined to become an artist, Margot enrolled in adult art classes. Kirikiriroa Hamilton’s Geoff Fairburn and Campbell Smith, and Auckland’s Arthur Hipwell were amongst Margot’s earliest teachers. By the early 1960s Margot had attended nine summer schools under Colin McCahon. Finding it difficult to replicate traditional drawing methods, Margot flourished under McCahon’s guidance.

In the 1970s Margot looked back at her early paintings – some of which are included here - with disdain, gifting them to long-standing Waikato Society of Arts (WSA) member Enid Claris (1923 – 2017). So harsh was Margot on her own work, she intended children at WSA classes to re-use the backs of the paintings, removing these still lifes, early explorations in abstraction, and experimental scenes painted en plein air, from the historical record altogether.

Instead, Claris retained the paintings, eventually donating almost 100 to Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato in the 1980s.

Looking back on some of these works two years before her death in 1988, Margot said, “I never thought that I could do that”, exclaiming, “Oh Margot, you didn’t do so bad after all”.

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