Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 3. 1962.
"The Arid and the Bountiful"
"The Arid and the Bountiful"
Contributing editor G. L. Evans takes a critical look at some recent exhibitions.
The first two exhibitions of paintings to be reviewed this year are notable collectively for the diversity in their range and style and individually for their utter disparity in quality.
On the one hand we have a large and costly collection entitled "Paintings From The Pacific" which, overtly, was intended to be a representative collection of the type of work painters in the Pacific Basin—Japan, U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand—are indulging in today. This voluminous collection recently on show in Wellington and in other main centres, attracted some considerable interest and controversy. The avowed purpose of the organisers was to see whether the Pacific Basin provided some common characteristic influencing each country's painters.
In my opinion these paintings supposedly representative of the type of art being produced in each country, were no more characteristic than would a collection of children's comics be characteristic of serious literature being produced today in New Zealand. There were, however, a very few works outside the all-pervading abstract and impressionistic style which were very worth seeing.
In the Japanese section the traditional preoccupation with Nature was readily apparent—Chikooka's "Long: Nosed Goblin in the Forest," for example, was a large and interesting canvas. The Australian section showed a marked concern for things of the spirit set against a very Australian background. The New Zealand section was to me extremely disappointing. The only representational and indeed perhaps one of the most lovely in the whole avid show was John Holmwood's "Near Mange re"—a pleasant, subtlely conceived piece of work, distinctive yet with a very New Zealand sense of place about It.
Speaking generally, I would not, for the rest of the New Zealand section and most of the other sections, give the proverbial tin of sardines. Whomsoever was responsible for their selection must have a distorted idea of what is beauty and what is pretentious trash: especially is this seen in the U.S.A. section.
Lord Cobham's Paintings
It is with considerable delight that one can review one of the finest small collections of old masters to be seen in Wellington for some time, the Exhibition of paintings lent to the National Art Gallery by the Viscount Cobham.
Comprising eight canvases in all and valued at over £10,000, the maturity and mastery of the various painters stands in sharp contrast to the juvenile dabblings and shallow sophistry of many of the Pacific painters. The most exquisite work to my mind is The Young Christ by the 17th century artist Louis De Boullonge. Radiant and innocent, the Young Christ is pictured in red and blue tunic, his fine brown hair falling over his shoulders. But the skin texture! Very seldom does one see such magic and beauty as this. Exactly the same mastery is found in Van Dyck's "Descent from the Cross" which is a smaller version of the great Antwerp Gallery picture. How very different the Renaissance-like beauty of these canvases is to "the poisoned fruit of one of the worst of spiritual decays", as the great contemporary Annigoni puts it "of the works of the avant-garde fashionable today".
"Lady in Blue" another of Van Dyck's works is masterly handled. There is a lovely still life by Rachel Ruysch entitled "Flower Piece"; two wholly delightful landscapes, one by Italian Francesco Zuccarelli in which great competence is shown with the handling of the foreground; the other "Villa Madama Rome" by Richard Wilson is very reminiscent of Corot. Sir Joshua Reynolds is represented by a portrait of "William Henry Lord Lyttelton" and a 15th century Dutch painter Michael Miereveldt is represented by a portrait.
The skill and loving care and attention to form and detail lavished by all these artists on their works is something New Zealand painters could well strive to emulate. After seeing the recent National Council of Adult Education collection opening the Centre Gallery's 1962 session which was far more representative of contemporary New Zealand Art than the Pacific showing, one is even more convinced of that Evelyn Page's still life, Jack Laird's "Adolescence"; Helen Stewart's "Saturday" and Roy Cowan's "Fishing Village" were all of some merit.
Wellington's S. B. Maclennan—the Director of The National Art Gallery—recently won two water-colour competitions. First, the B.N.Z. Mural competition with "Wellington Suburban Garden," a lovely piece of work and second the 1962 Hays Art Contest (remember the outcry last year?). Both were £100 prizes. Mr. Maclennan's winning entry, highly praised, was "Shaken and Deserted", which, together with the first work mentioned—the latter being acquired for the National Gallery's permanent collection—we may reproduce in a later issue.
Mr Maclennan is, as I pointed out in reviewing the 1961 Kelliher Exhibition, a painter of unsurpassing sincerity and a very fine water-colourist indeed. Those who saw the 1961 Kelliher could not but be impressed with his "Akatarawa" which won an award of merit. It is, incidentally, possible that we may see the Hay's collection in Wellington soon.
Exhibitions to Look Forward to
May—Autumn Academy showing.
August—"Recent British sculpture"—a British Council exhibition at the National Art Gallery with such names as Henry Moore, Hepworth, Chadwick Butler and Armitage. The charming study "Little Girl," by the way, is by a young English sculptor, Sydney Harpley and belongs to the National Gallery.