Frances Hodgkins and Dorothy Richmond returned to New Zealand at the end of 1903. Throughout her three-year absence Hodgkins had regularly sent work for exhibition in New Zealand and sales had supplemented her savings. She had sought out in Europe the acceptably picturesque themes: market places, street scenes and local people. By the end of her stay the illustrative element was taking second place to concentration on colour and light. She brought work back to exhibit and left some behind with an agent in London. In her absence her work was again accepted by the Royal Academy in 1904 and 1905.
In 1904 Hodgkins established a teaching studio in Bowen Street, Wellington, where she had gone to live with her mother, and tried to settle down to the career her European studies had been intended for. Sometime that year she agreed to marry T. W. B. Wilby, an English writer whom she had met on the journey out from England. Early in 1905 the engagement was broken off and in June Frances Hodgkins was painting with Dorothy Richmond in Rotorua, returning to her earlier interest in the Maori. A few sentences in letters to her mother indicate that she had suffered during her relationship with Wilby, but nothing more is known about it. Hodgkins had many male friends thereafter but this was the only time she seriously considered marriage. She returned to England by herself in February 1906 and by April was in Venice.