Page 1: Biography
Haszard, Alice Gwendoline Rhona
This biography, written by Anne Kirker, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Alice Gwendoline Rhona Haszard was born at Thames on 21 January 1901, the daughter of Alice Elizabeth Vaughan Wily and her husband, Henry Douglas Morpeth Haszard, a surveyor with the Lands and Survey Department. Rhona, as she was known, displayed early artistic promise, and was a pupil of the artist Hugh Scott at Hokitika shortly after 1910. She later attended Southland Girls' High School in Invercargill. Her mother died in 1918 and the family moved to Christchurch the following year.
From mid 1919 Rhona Haszard was enrolled at the Canterbury College School of Art, where her contemporaries included Olivia Spencer Bower, Evelyn Polson (later Page) and Rata Bird (later Lovell-Smith). Rhona was considered one of the most spirited and promising of the Canterbury students. In 1921 she produced a series of competent, tonally subdued oils of Wanganui, and in the same year became a member of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. In 1922 she exhibited with the Canterbury and Auckland art societies.
At Waihi, on 28 December 1922, Rhona Haszard married Ronald James McKenzie, an art master. The couple divorced in December 1925. During this brief period Rhona exhibited under the name Rhona McKenzie. Oils with this signature include 'The gorge, Mangaweka', 'Ranunculus' and 'The Japanese lady'. By August 1925 she had met Herbert Leslie Greener, who had also taken classes at the art school. The unconventional Greener had been born in South Africa and had served as an officer in the Indian Army before trying his luck in the Australian outback. Despite her father's objections, Rhona married Leslie at Waihi on 21 December 1925.
Leslie was restless to return to Europe and the couple left New Zealand shortly after their marriage. They travelled to Sark in the Channel Islands, where Leslie's parents lived, then explored parts of northern France. Leslie was a less talented and committed artist than Rhona, but regarded himself as a painting companion. On reaching Paris they studied together briefly at the Académie Julian, and in search of subjects cycled through the countryside, stopping to paint at intervals, notably in the Marne valley.
Although Rhona had begun to use thicker pigment and flatten the forms of her compositions before she left New Zealand, there is a marked maturity in the work she produced overseas. In 1926 and 1927 she made considerable advances towards a post-impressionist technique. A typical example of this mature imagery is 'The Marne valley' (1927), an oil on canvas, purchased by the Auckland Art Gallery in 1929. The painting displays full brushstrokes, laid in a broken, divisionist manner that commentators later termed 'mosaic'. The colour is pastel and high-keyed, with complementaries played off against one another.
By the end of 1927 Rhona had gained recognition in France and Britain. During the year she received a bronze medal at an exhibition at Wembley, and was represented in the Salon of the Société des artistes français in Paris with the painting 'Sardine fleet, Brittany' (1926), now at Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson. She also exhibited with the Society of Women Artists, London, and at exhibitions organised by Sir Joseph Duveen in Manchester, Leeds, Bradford and Glasgow.
In October 1927 Rhona accompanied Leslie to Egypt where he had accepted a position to teach art and French at Victoria College, Alexandria. An accident in Cyprus the following summer led her to seek treatment in London for several months in 1929 and again in 1930. During this time she became drained, both mentally and physically, and developed a keen interest in health and diet. She published a lengthy article on food reform in the Egyptian Gazette in May 1930.
A comprehensive survey of Rhona Haszard's work, dating from her New Zealand days, was shown at a solo exhibition at Claridge's Hotel, Alexandria, during December 1928. The subjects were chiefly landscapes with a number of still-life studies and portraits. Works based on Egypt that are now in public collections in New Zealand tend to be modest and lacking in authority. Nevertheless, she proved her adeptness in adopting the new graphic process of linocut printing when she held a joint exhibition with Leslie at the Galérie Paul in Cairo during March 1930. It also appears that major paintings were worked up in her Alexandria studio from sketches she had done months earlier. 'The road to Little Sark' (1930), for instance, resulted from an excursion to the Channel Islands in July 1929.
While sketching from the Victoria College tower on 21 February 1931, Rhona Haszard fell to her death. Letters written the following month between her doctor in London and Greener disclose that she was prone to depression and had contemplated suicide. In 1933 Leslie Greener brought out to New Zealand a collection of Rhona's work, which toured the main centres arousing considerable excitement. It was from this memorial survey and the accompanying publicity that her reputation was established in New Zealand.