Helen Blair (1907-1997):
Scene from the Book of Job, circa 1935
Framed (ref: 9418)
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated
24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm)
Provenance: With the artist when she moved to England in March 1936; Private Collection since November 1992
Exhibited: Kirkcaldie and Stains, Wellington, 1936
The death of Job’s sons – “behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead” – is depicted by Helen (‘Nell’) Blair in a modern form of an almost Renaissance setting, with a biblical allegory in the foreground and scenery in the background. The collapsing walls provide a geometrical frame for the evocative expression of the fate of Job’s sons. We see the table at which they were eating and drinking before destruction arrived.
The stylised figures, and the biblical subject, suggest that the painting was influenced by the English Modernist movement, which included artists such as Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer, and there are similarities of composition with Winifred Knights’ The Marriage at Cana, which was widely reproduced in art journals of the period. Blair was recognised by contemporary critics as highly innovative and “attacking the real problems of painting”.
Before Blair and her husband, the glass engraver John Hutton, left New Zealand for England in March 1936, they mounted an exhibition at Kirkcaldie and Stains, Wellington’s leading department store, in which Scene from the Book of Job was described by the local newspaper as “intriguing”. Little is known about the life and work of Helen Blair since her arrival in England, but for this striking painting alone she deserves to be remembered.
Commentary by Lord King, who served as Governor of the Bank of England between 2003–2013.