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Rita Angus

(1908-1970)

Aliases: Henrietta Catherine Angus, Rita Cook

Painter

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Biography

Rita Angus (12 March 1908 – 25 January 1970) was a New Zealand painter. Along with Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston, she is credited as one of the leading figures in twentieth century New Zealand art. She worked primarily in oil and water colour, and is well known for her portraits and landscapes.

Henrietta Catherine Angus was born on 12 March 1908 in Hastings, the eldest of seven children of William McKenzie Angus and Ethel Violet Crabtree. In 1921, her family moved to Palmerston North and she attended Palmerston North Girls' High School (1922–26). In 1927, she began studying at the Canterbury College School of Art. She never completed her diploma in fine arts but continued to study until 1933, including classes at the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. During her studies she was introduced to renaissance and medieval art and received traditional training in life drawing, still life and landscape painting.

Angus married Alfred Cook, a fellow artist, on 13 June 1930, but they separated in 1934, and divorced in 1939. Angus signed many of her paintings as Rita Cook between 1930 and 1946, but after she discovered in 1941 that Alfred Cook had remarried, she changed her surname by deed poll to McKenzie, her paternal grandmother's surname. As a result, some of her paintings are also signed R. Mackenzie or R. McKenzie, but the majority are signed Rita Angus.

After a short period teaching art in Napier, Angus lived mostly in Christchurch during the 1930s and 1940s. In the late 1940s she suffered from mental illness and entered Sunnyside Mental Hospital in 1949. In 1950 she moved to Waikanae to convalesce, and then settled in Wellington in 1955.

Death: From December 1969, Angus' condition rapidly deteriorated; she died in Wellington Hospital of ovarian cancer on 25 January 1970, aged 61

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