Olivia Spencer Bower

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1905, d.1982

Self Portrait

  • Purchased, 1954
  • Oil on board
  • 672 x 520mm
  • 69/109
  • 1950

Olivia Spencer Bower is best known for her lively, sparkling watercolours, but in this formal, elegant self-portrait she has depicted herself in oils in a moment of quietly guarded contemplation.

While her brushwork is spontaneous and appears deliberately semi-finished, a restricted contrasting palette focuses attention upon her facial expression and a questioning gaze. While Spencer Bower gives little away, she portrays herself as a stylish, cultured woman, at a time when she was one of the city’s leading cultural lights.

Born in England, Spencer Bower was a twin daughter of the New Zealand artist Rosa Spencer Bower (née Dixon) (1865–1960). The family came to New Zealand in 1919. Spencer Bower studied at the Canterbury College School of Art before going to the Slade School of Art in London in 1929. She returned to New Zealand in 1931 and devoted her life to painting. Late in her life, she established a foundation which continues to finance an annual scholarship for an artist to work full time for one year.