Page 1: Biography
Copeland, Ivy Margaret
Artist and art teacher
This biography, written by Penelope Jackson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000. It was updated in January, 2012.
Ivy Margaret Copeland was born in Auckland on 15 June 1888, one of five children of English-born parents John Copeland, a mechanic, and his wife, Eliza Ann Barlow. At the age of 10 she took lessons from C. F. Goldie at the Ladies’ College, Remuera, and she later studied with the English artist Dennis Seaward at Wanganui Technical School.
Copeland went on to Elam School of Art, Auckland, where she was taught by Edward Friström and Archibald Nicoll. She joined the staff, and in 1930 was granted leave of absence to travel to London, Paris and Edinburgh to study art teaching and finish her formal art training. She visited the usual artists’ haunts, as suggested by the titles of paintings such as ‘Street in Florence, Italy’ and ‘Waterfront, Mousehole, Cornwall’ (both exhibited in 1951). She also made visits to galleries, evident in the composition of ‘The market garden’ (1950), which is reminiscent of Millet’s ‘The gleaners’ (1857). The arrangement suits her New Zealand subject matter of Māori women gathering kūmara. On her return to New Zealand she became involved in a controversy over the purchase of paintings in Europe for the Auckland Art Gallery. Copeland, who was appalled at the standard of the works selected, was appointed to a committee which reviewed the paintings and drew up guidelines for future purchases.
In 1932 Copeland was made redundant, following the closure of training college courses at Wellington and Dunedin. In 1933 she moved to the South Island and taught art, first at Canterbury College, where she supervised the junior girls, and then from 1936 at Dunedin Training College. She was a much-respected teacher, with a pleasant, friendly personality. Copeland was to remain single and thus had to support herself through teaching, although she exhibited at a regional level throughout her teaching career. After retiring from teaching in 1940, she returned to Auckland and painted full time. In November 1951 she exhibited a staggering 96 works at the Auckland Society of Arts (ASA).
Copeland’s choice of subject matter was traditional and in keeping with subjects deemed acceptable for women painters at the time. She painted subjects close to hand, including the still life, especially studies of flowers, such as ‘Royal purple’ (1949), now held at the Waikato Museum of Art and History. Copeland also painted landscapes wherever she lived or travelled, and in 1946 was awarded the prestigious Bledisloe Medal for her oil painting ‘Back of beyond’. Her treatment was conservative and she did not venture into modernism.
Perhaps best remembered for her portrait paintings, Copeland had a particular interest in Māori subjects – possibly a result of her early association with Goldie. In 1937 the Auckland Star art critic described her study of a girl, ‘Rita Hikiora’, as ‘one of the few portrait studies worthy of attention’ at the time. Another well-known work, ‘Marie’, was a delicate and sentimental portrait of a young Māori girl, who ‘looks tremulously out on life’.
During the 1940s and 1950s Copeland was an active member of the ASA, exhibiting most years and serving as vice president. Her landscape ‘Winter sunshine, Heathcote, Christchurch’ was included in the 1940 National Centennial Exhibition of New Zealand Art and several pieces for sale featured in a New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts exhibition held around the same time. Her work was frequently reproduced in Art in New Zealand , which also published a feature article on her by fellow artist Ida Eise in 1943. Two works were included in the ASA exhibition New Zealand Women Painters 1845–1968, and more recently she featured in the 1993 exhibition White Camellias.
Ivy Copeland died in Auckland on 28 August 1961. In her will she left her paintings to the ASA to raise funds to establish the Ivy Copeland award for portraiture, awarded to a tertiary student biannually.