Page 1: Biography
Eise, Ida Gertrude
Art teacher, artist
This biography, written by Elizabeth S. Wilson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Ida Gertrude Eise was born on 9 September 1891 in Auckland, the daughter of Emma Mary Ann Cox and her husband, Frederick George Eise, a warehouseman. Nothing is known of her life until she was admitted to Elam School of Art as a day student in November 1906. She remained there until 1915, and trained in life studies under Edward Friström.
By May 1915 Ida Eise was teaching art at New Plymouth Technical College. There she organised a craft department, where her pupils worked with enamel, copper and silver. In 1915, while in New Plymouth, she joined the Auckland Society of Arts (ASA) as a working member. She returned to Auckland in 1920 to join the staff at Elam, and stayed until 1956. She taught again in 1959 and retired finally in 1960. She spent the following year in Europe with her friend Lois White, who had been her student and later a colleague at Elam.
From 1962 until 1976 Eise continued to teach one day a week at the Auckland Society of Arts and also took an art criticism class at Elam. Late in life she said that she sometimes wondered if she might have developed further with her own work if she had not given so much time to her students. Although she felt she had 'had a happy time', there is little doubt that her commitment to her teaching and students was at the cost of her own career as an artist.
Eise won the Bledisloe Medal twice: in 1936 for her work 'Mangaotaki River', and in 1949 for 'New Zealand bush'. Although the object of the award was 'to lead artists to devote more time to New Zealand scenery', Eise's landscapes were not the result of a conscious ideology of New Zealandness. She painted what was to hand, in places easily accessible from Auckland. Her passion was always for translating into paint what could be seen in the natural world. She talked of the importance of 'sound constructional draughtsmanship, and a sincere study of nature as a foundation for knowledge of form and colour'. Landscape was for Eise a type of still life, a portrayal of familiar things.
At Elam she was in charge of teaching still life. She believed still life was the basis of all art, that it gave artists the discipline to branch out into their own style. Her passion for translating the natural world into play with form and colour is evident in the still-life flower paintings she produced throughout her career. Her sketchbooks contain botanical drawings of native species, which contrast markedly in style with her flower paintings.
Eise was consistently well reviewed in the 1930s. She was a member in the late 1940s of the New Group, which aimed 'to emphasise the substance of things rather than the emotions evoked by them'. Its members included Lois White, Frances Wright, James Turkington and Pauline Blomfield. Eise largely continued the approach taught to her by Friström; a loose square-brush style with an emphasis on formal concerns within a realist framework. By the 1950s the milieu in which she painted had changed, though her subject matter had not. There was a move towards a more abstract and semi-abstract style of painting, and flower painting was regarded as the art or pursuit of women hobbyists. Eise was described in a review of the 1951 ASA exhibition as 'leav[ing] off work to wield a paintbrush'.
Eise was a regular exhibitor at the ASA. For many years she was a member of the society's council, and she served several terms as vice president during the 1950s and 1960s. She was one of the original elected fellows of the ASA and in the 1960s helped compile an extensive history of the society. In 1931, with a group of artists that included A. J. C. Fisher, John Weeks and Gerald Jones, she compiled a report to the ASA council on the purchasing programme of the Auckland Art Gallery. The report, critical of the under-representation in the gallery of certain European contemporary schools, was designed to put pressure on the gallery to review its purchasing programme. It appears to have had no effect.
Ida Eise was made an MBE in 1976. She died in Auckland on 7 March 1978. She had never married and in a bequest to the ASA left her art collection to be sold to establish a trust that would fund a prize for members' work. The collection included her own work and that of friends, contemporaries and students. The Ida Eise Painting Award, for work in oils or acrylic, is awarded annually. In 1996 it was worth $2,000.