In the first of these two articles showing some of the pioneering paintings of New Zealand, I covered the first century, from James Cook’s first voyage of 1769 to Nicholas Chevalier’s landscapes of 1868.
George O’Brien (1821–1888) had left his native Ireland for Australia as a child, and arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand, by the end of 1863. He painted this unusual watercolour tondo Otago Landscape in 1870, when much of the land was still open and unused. Tragically, O’Brien drank excessively and died in poverty in Dunedin.
Nicholas Chevalier had returned to Britain in 1869, where he painted for Queen Victoria, but his heart was still in New Zealand.
He painted this watercolour of Crossing Taramakau River in 1876, exactly ten years after the artist, his wife Caroline and their guide Mr Scott forded this tributary of the river. This was on the last stage of their journey from Christchurch to Hokitika, on the north-west of South Island, New Zealand.
Then in about 1884, Chevalier returned to his favourite view across Cook Strait, New Zealand, the stretch of water separating North from South Island. This is a composite in oils, made from his watercolours painted at the time, and has lost none of the atmosphere.
Eugène von Guérard was another European who made a name for himself painting in Australia. In the late 1870s he travelled to Tasmania and New Zealand.
By this time he was facing growing criticism for his unchanging style. His view of Lake Wakatipu with Mount Earnslaw, Middle Island, New Zealand, painted in the studio between 1877-79, remains a timeless masterpiece.
As the paint was still drying on that painting, John Turnbull Thomson retired to spend more time painting in Invercargill, the town he had planned and developed.
He must have travelled to paint Mount Earnslaw in 1883, just a year before his death. This mountain, also known by its original name of Pikirakatahi, is 2,819 metres (9,000 feet) high, and is another peak discovered and named by Thomson, in honour of the home town of his father. The previous year, the mountaineer the Reverend WS Green, who had intended to climb Mount Cook, attempted to climb Mount Earnslaw, but he was forced to abandon the climb at the halfway point, and it wasn’t climbed until 1890.
The same year that George O’Brien arrived in New Zealand, Charles Blomfield (1848–1926) emigrated with the rest of his family. He set up as a sign-writer, painter and decorator, and landscape artist in Auckland.
In 1885, Blomfield painted the active geothermal area of Orakei Korako on the Waikato, with its geysers and hot springs. This is on the bank of New Zealand’s longest river, in North Island, and was opened as a tourist resort in 1937, although it has since changed in appearance due to its use as a source of geothermal power.
Blomfield had visited several times the world-famous pink and white silica sinter terraces near Lake Rotomahana on North Island, before nearby Mount Tarawera erupted violently on 10 June 1886. During that eruption, the terraces vanished under sixty metres of water, and were only rediscovered in 2011. Blomfield didn’t paint the White Terraces, Rotomahana until 1897, when they were presumed to have been lost for ever.
Tom Roberts (1856-1931) was born in England, and migrated as a child to live in Melbourne, where he became a successful Impressionist painter. In 1900 he visited New Zealand, and the following year was commissioned to paint the opening of the First Federal Parliament in Melbourne.
Roberts’ view of Hutt Valley from 1900 shows this gently undulating area near Wellington, at the southern tip of North Island.
The Scottish painter James Nairn (1859-1904) emigrated from Glasgow to Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1890. The following year he moved to Wellington, where he spent the rest of his career.
Nairn’s watercolour Winter Morning, Wellington Harbour from about 1900 shows the way of the future with the growth of steamships, and in the artist’s teaching and influence over the early generation of New-Zealand-born artists.