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Adele Younghusband: The New Zealand Artist That Typified Kiwi Resilience

We continue to explore women’s art, this time in New Zealand: a place with emerald green valleys, where the past coexists with the present in harmony, and where women, in their essence, demand equality without nonsensical resistance. In this article, we celebrate the life of Adele Younghusband, a Kiwi artist whose works shot to prominence in her homeland in the 20th century.

A Precocious Passion for Visual Art

Born in Te Awamutu on 3 April 1878, Adela Mary Roche (later changing her name to Adele) grew up in an artistic environment, with her aunt Fanny Osborne being a well-known painter of New Zealand flora. It is for this reason that a very young Adele showed an advanced sense of creativity, displaying a very active propensity for photography in particular. Similar to a lot of women throughout history, however, Adele had to fight to get what she wants. Her parents were initially opposed to their daughter’s studies as a photographer, but after the hostility subsided, a photographer capable of meticulously capturing the essential was born.

Pines on a Hilltop, 1962

Heartbreak and Success

After working as a photo editor in Hamilton, Adele decided to spend time in Gisborne, where she met her future husband, Frank Younghusband. The couple got married in Christchurch on 1 August 1905 and moved to the capital, Auckland. Marriage would not prevent Adele from continuing to nurture and cultivate her love for the arts – painting, drawing and photography remaining her best interests. In 1909, she became a member of the Auckland Society of Arts, but her young life would become riddled with unforeseen heartbreak: a divorce from Frank and the premature death of two of her three children.

The Scientist, 1951

In 1919, with a separation behind her, Adele chose not to abandon her dreams and passions as a child, taking over Ernest de Tourret’s photographic studies in Whangarei. After this leap of faith, she established herself as a successful portrait photographer – and that was only the beginning. In 1921, with the artist and photographer George Woolley, she founded the Art Studios. Adele was responsible for retouching and most of the work in the darkroom, while Woolley would teach drawing and painting classes. Together they founded the Whangarei Art and Literary Society.

Never Too Late to Paint

Until that moment, painting acted as a distraction rather than a pursued art form for Adele. Her great love was photography, but a change of heart was soon on the cards. At forty years old, thanks to Wooley’s influence, Adele dedicated her life to painting. From this new passion came works imbued with everyday life that amaze and leave the viewer pensive, not just dazzled.

Nautical Composition, 1952

In 1937, Adele traveled to Australia, successfully exhibiting in Sydney and studying under George Bell in Melbourne. It was here where her interest in abstract art strengthened and her style matured. A year later she exhibited successfully in Auckland and settled there permanently, living and working in a small studio in a suburb of the capital Panmure.

Adele continued to exhibit and teach until the 1960s, having the time and fortune to see her art become revered by those in her homeland of New Zealand.

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