20 May 2011 marks 150 years since Gabriel Read discovered the payable gold that led to the Otago gold rush in an area now known as Gabriel’s Gully near the Otago town of Lawrence. This momentous discovery and the gold rush that followed rapidly transformed the face of Victorian Dunedin. This exhibition, which explores the use of gold in contemporary art and photography, has been mounted to commemorate this sesquicentennial. Artisans and artists have been awe struck by this highly malleable and alluring precious metal for thousands of years.
At a time of economic hardship when the price of gold is soaring, the contemporary art and photography included in this show encourages us to look beyond the monetary worth of this precious metal and to value gold for its physical properties and symbolic associations.
The show includes more than forty artworks and photographs that either employ gold as a material or colouring, or take gold mining as their subject. There is a focus on work by artists with strong associations to Otago such as Cilla McQueen, Ralph Hotere, Mary McFarlane and Russell Moses. Other artists that feature in the show, and well known for their use of gold in their work, are Tony Lane and Max Gimblett. Photographers with work on display include Ben Cauchi and Marti Friedlander, who use the early photographic process of gold toning as well as Peter Peryer and Peter Evans who have both captured the open cast gold mine near Macraes Flat in East Otago.A small number of historical items including a fifteenth century Book of Hours from, an 18th century Russian ikon, late nineteenth century gold-toned photographs by Rev John Kinder and an album of photographs of Chinese miners who worked in various Otago goldfields, provide a historical context for the contemporary works.
Few people had heard of the nineteenth century artist David Ogilvie Robertson before an extensive 20 metre long mural, painted by him in 1892, was uncovered last week in Port Chalmers during the demolition of Garrison Hall. According to an article in the Otago Daily Times published on 3 October, 1892, the wall hanging was completed for a Japanese-themed carnival of music and stalls. The linen mural depicted a Japanese scene from the island of Kinsu that included a bridge leading to a temple, adjacent islands and several trading junks.
In 2010 an album comprising paintings, sketches and photographs of marine paintings by Robertson, a former Port Chalmers resident, was donated to the Hocken’s pictorial collections. The 60-page album titled ‘Rough Sketches and Photographs of Oil Paintings by D.O. Robertson’ contains paintings of Japanese scenes, maritime paintings, photographs of the West Coast Sounds and ship paintings, pencil sketches, caricatures and clippings from late nineteenth century newspapers that feature reviews of his art.
Robertson was the son of the accomplished Scottish-born maritime artist Captain Thomas Robertson who first visited Port Chalmers in the 1850s. His second trip was to deliver Pirate, a 280-tonne steamer to a Dunedin company and in 1862/3 he made Port Chalmers his home. For reasons that remain unknown, Captain Robertson moved to Japan in 1871 at the age of 51 and took his son with him. Upon the Captain’s death in 1873, Robertson, then aged twenty-five, returned to New Zealand. This experience of Japan or a later pilgrimage to his father’s grave at the foreigner’s cemetery in Yokohama, may have inspired the theme of the Port Chalmers mural.
David O. Robertson attended the Otago School of Art where he was a contemporary of David K. Hutton, Nellie Hutton and Frances Hodgkins. He was awarded a first class certificate in drawing from the school in 1896. The Union Steamship Company commissioned him to paint pictures of the ships in their fleet, for display in the Company’s Wellington office. He exhibited his paintings at the Port Chalmers chemist shop owned by his brother-in-law, William Elder, and at the atelier of David De Maus, a photographer and one-time mayor of Port Chalmers.
The Hocken holds three oil paintings by Captain Thomas Robertson, whose reputation as a maritime painter surpasses that of his son’s, including one that features the Otago Harbour.
To find out more about the discovery of the Garrison Hall mural by Robertson visit http://www.odt.co.nz/print/159378
Myrtle Lee was born in Taranaki in 1876. Her father was the educationalist Robert Lee, and her grandfather the painter John Gully. Lee studied at the Slade School of Art, London, and became art mistress at Heathfield School, Ascot. In the 1950s she wrote ‘Miranda Looks Back’, an unpublished book of illustrated childhood reminiscences written for children. In one chapter Lee recalls her impressions of her grandparents’ and their house at Nelson in the 1880s:
Our grandparents lived across in the other island and we all loved to go and stay with them in their large gabled wooden house with a verandah all round and a big rose garden. I slept in a wee fairy-tale bedroom up in one of the gables.
They both seemed incredibly old but I think now it was their solemn ways and clothes, and because I was so young.
There was a mystery about them – especially my grandfather, who disappeared all day and was not to be disturbed. He appeared at meals. There he sat with his white whiskers and his kind eyes with their heavy eyelids like my mother’s. I scarcely took my eyes off his face and wondered what he did all day.
I knew what grandmother did. She bustled about the house seeing to old May who did the housework. Seeing to the gardener who produced the fruit and vegetables. Seeing to her sewing parties. These latter were made up of legions of good women doing good works for the poor. They sent off crates of strange and useful garments for Dr Barnado’s Homes in England.
It wasn’t exactly a house for children – we had to be so very good, and what was worse, we wanted to be. Were they not the mother and father of our mother? Yes, and so gentle and kind. These quiet old things living in a sleepy hollow of a town were the same doughty pioneers who landed on a rough beach some 50 years before.
One never-to-be-forgotten day I was exploring the rather rambling house and found a door, usually shut, wide open. There was no one in it. It was full of light which came from a skylight, and big French windows with shutters opened into a rose garden bright with the sun. There among the roses was my grandfather. But it was the room that caught my attention.
So that was it – a studio! My grandfather was an artist. I stared at the unfinished picture on the easel, at the paintboxes and the brushes, at all the lovely paraphernalia, and I crept away, most satisfied, for from that house I knew what I was going to do when I grew up.
[Lee, Myrtle: Reminiscences entitled ‘Miranda Looks Back’. Misc-MS-1997.]
Blogpost researched and written by David Murray, Assistant Archivist.
Two new exhibitions have just been installed at the Hocken Gallery. The touring exhibition ‘The Labour of Herakles’, a show of 8 etchings and 12 lithographs by Christchurch-based printmaker Marian Maguire, will tour for a further two years after it finishes here on 17 July. In this series of works Maguire casts the Greek hero Herakles as a pioneer in New Zealand’s nineteeth century landscape. Appropriating well known pictorial imagery has long been a feature of Maguire’s practice. Here is a photograph of Artcrew installing the Maguire show.
The accompanying exhibition ‘Forever After’, drawn mainly from the Hocken’s collections compliments the touring show by exploring the work of artists who have copied, adapted and re-purposed historical art. This image shows me (the Hocken’s Curator of Pictorial Collections) brushing dust that has gathered in the drapery folds of a Brucciani cast, after the famous Greek statue Venus de Milo. The copying of such sculptures provided the basis of drawing classes at art schools in New Zealand from the late nineteenth, through to the early decades of the twentieth century. The exhibition includes a Greek amphora from the Otago Museum dating to c. 550BC, a fabulous copy of Nathaniel Dance’s 1776 portrait of Captain James Cook, a sampling of Joseph Banks’ Florilegium series and two contemporary portraits by 2008 Frances Hodgkins Fellow, Heather Straka. Straka’s paintings are based on an eighteenth century drawing by Augustus de Sainson of Nataii, a Maori chief from Bream Bay.
To mark our institution’s centenary we have made the founding art collection of the Hocken, Dr Hocken’s picture collection, available online via the University of Otago Library’s Digital Collections.
The showcase offers a representational sample of the pictures that Dr T. M. Hocken gave in trust for the people of New Zealand. At the time of his death in 1910 he had amassed 437 pictorial items, a collection of more than 4,000 printed volumes, as well as photographs, manuscripts and maps. Collectively these items are the Hocken Library’s founding gift. Dr Hocken’s abiding interest in the history of Southern New Zealand continues to shape what the Hocken collects today and preserves for the future benefit of researchers.
Visit Digital Collections:
It you haven’t visited the site before have a look a some of the other material in our collections view ‘A Showcase of the Hocken Collections’. Most of the images that appear here are the result of two digitisation projects undertaken by the Hocken’s Pictorial Collections staff between 2007 and 2009 and funded through the generous assistance of the University Library.