David O. Robertson and the Port Chalmers Garrison Hall Mural

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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

This entry was posted in Painting and Painters by Anna Blackman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Anna Blackman

I'm Head Curator Archives here at the Hocken Collections and one of my tasks is to maintain this blog.

3 thoughts on “David O. Robertson and the Port Chalmers Garrison Hall Mural

  1. I have an oil by DO Robertson titled Pt Charlmers , can someone tell me any further history please

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