Picco Arreio by Nicholas Chevelier
Nicholas Chevalier was born in Russia, the son of a Swiss father and a Russian mother. The family returned to Switzerland in 1845 and the young Chevalier began his studies by attending art classes in Lausanne, and later, studying architecture in Munich. He then went to London and learnt lithography from VV.H.L. Gruner. It was this that changed the direction of Chevalier's career.
A visit to the 1851 Great Exhibition where he saw examples of the work of English water colourists directed Chevalier's interests towards watercolour painting; and in 1852 he exhibited two landscapes in the Royal Academy. His father, perceiving his son's talents, sent him to Rome for intensive studies. For most of the years 1853 and 1854 he was studying watercolour painting in Rome.
Rather abruptly, Chevalier left for Australia. According to his wife Caroline, the move was prompted by his receiving an offer to work on the Melbourne Punch. Another source suggests that Chevalier's father required his son to go to Australia to oversee the family investments there. For whatever reason, he arrived in Melbourne on 25 December 1854.
Chevalier began work as a cartoonist for the Melbourne Punch soon after arrival and his talents were fully employed in commenting on the lively and vigorous political life in the young state. His caricatures show that he was well versed in literature, and very aware of the classical tradition in art: but the early cartoons were rather awkward in composition; and the drawing, especially of the figure, was rather weak. The ideas, by contrast, were inventive: there was a sophistication about them that was rather surprising in Melbourne in the 1850s.
At the same time, Chevalier continued his interest in landscape painting, now using both oils and watercolours. In 1864 he won a competition organised by the state government for 'the best picture by an artist in Australia', for which he received £200. The winning work, The Buffalo Ranges of Victoria, is an oil painting and in style reminds one of Dutch landscapes of the seventeenth century.2 It is rather laboured, and although the colour is rich, it is a somewhat gloomy work, relying for effect on the great contrast between strongly-lit areas and dark shadows. To be fair, it has features which make it a painting that is distinctly colonial: though many of them are comparatively superficial. Lt can best be regarded as a transitional work and one in which Chevalier's personality has yet to emerge more clearly.
In 1865 Chevalier decided to visit New Zealand. The reasons for his doing so are not clear: but Caroline later wrote that he had resolved to visit 'the Switzerland of the Southern Hemisphere'. In addition, there might have been more practical reasons for wanting to visit the South Island. Dunedin at that time was one of the most progressive and wealthy cities in Australasia and it is possible that Chevalier considered that he could combine his interest in travel with his need for money in making this trip. Upon his arrival in Dunedin he set to work immediately, His reputation was such that the Otago Provincial Council awarded him a grant of £200 to produce paintings for exhibition which would help publicize the colony and province.3
Chevalier's work in Otago is confined to drawings or watercolours and they are rather remarkable on two points. In the first place, one is amazed to see the amount of work he produced under the most trying conditions. In style, the landscapes made at the outset of his journey are closely connected to the work he had been doing in Australia. The compositions are rather tight and there is little to distinguish the New Zealand landscape from the Victorian. That, however, did not last very long. It was the result of Chevalier's intent to produce works of topographical exactness and reconcile this with his love of nature. As he moved through Otago his sensitivity towards the essential features of the landscape developed markedly. In this respect he was working in a manner similar to those French landscape artists of the nineteenth century who elevated studies of nature into an art form in their own right.
Chevalier's attention to detail is quite extraordinary: doubtless it reflects his earlier training in detail whilst studying architecture. H is work is precise. and his draughtsmanship fairly sure and firm. He often annotated his drawings with clear instructions as to the precise colours of certain areas, the time of day when he was working on the scene, details of human activities, and the prevailing weather conditions. These drawings, apparently made under pressure of time, were obviously meant to be working drawings to be developed when he returned to the studio. In some cases it is obvious which works were produced in this way; and the saccharine colours show that he needed to be before the motif to establish the correct colour values.
It is quite apparent that Chevalier found the Southern Alps very different from the Swiss alpine scenery. The foothills and the broad river beds were something new to his eyes. To portray these features with any great conviction he needed to analyse the forms and find ways of reproducing them without losing the aesthetic content of the subject matter. In some areas, such as the gorge of the Waimakariri, Chevalier carefully noted the main planes of the land masses, and built these up into very simple geometric forms so that the architectonic nature of the area is stressed. Thus, while many of his contemporaries were still overwhelmed by the sublime beauty of the land forms, Chevalier in many instances imposed a fairly rigorous analysis on the underlying structure so that an arrangement of geometric shapes evolved. This approach sets him apart from his contemporaries and gives his work a logic which is surprising for the time.
As he grew acquainted with both the landscape and lighting Chevalier was able to seize upon the essential features more easily. His drawings, it must be stressed, were working drawings and not works in their own right. In 1866 a critic writing in The Australasian said: 'The chief fault that we have heard objected to both [Chevalier and Von Guerard] in different degrees, is that of stiffness, of not being easy and flowing enough in their outline and contour'. This is, perhaps; a criticism one would still accept today. But in Chevalier's defence one can say that his drawings of the landscape are economic, perhaps the result of his preparing drawings for wood-engravings when he worked for the Melbourne Punch.
In Modern Painters Ruskin wrote: 'The landscape painter must always have two great and distinct ends: the first, to induce in the spectator's mind the faithful conception of any natural objects whatsoever; the second, to guide the spectator's mind to those objects most worthy of its contemplation, and to inform him of the thoughts and feelings with which these were regarded by the artist himself'.5 It seems, on the evidence of his work, that Chevalier subscribed to ideas like these. It is not known whether he read Ruskin at the time he was in Australasia: but if not he might well have been influenced by the work of those who had.
During the main span of Chevalier's artistic career, the development of landscape painting was being challenged by Barbizon, and later, Impressionist painters: but Chevalier remained comparatively untouched by this revolution. Although he received his art education in Europe, Chevalier was drawn to the tradition of the English water colourists and appeared little influenced by the invigorating brush-work of Constable and Turner. In fact, during the 'fifties and 'sixties he tended to remain within the style indicated by the Dutch/ English landscape artists (as seen in The Buffalo Ranges of Victoria), and only gradually, as the years passed, did his work reflect a degree of influence derived from the Romantic painters.
Chevalier was not a profound draughtsman or, for that matter, a revolutionary landscape artist: but it seems reasonable to infer that he was aware of some of the contemporary attitudes towards painting both in England and France. He was one of those artists who delighted in, and often excelled at, drawing a particular scene: however, he showed little interest in producing a classical landscape. He was, to some extent, imbued with Romantic tendencies. This may be seen when Chevalier translates some of his studies into more highly finished works.
He emerged as a painter of landscapes at a time when the basis of landscape art was being questioned and subsequently modified. He, and many others of his generation, were caught in the cross-fire between the adherents of the classical tradition and the promoters of the validity of the etude as a work of art in its own right. Chevalier chose to work in the more acceptable style: which was not classical but free to the extent that topographical exactitude would permit.
On balance it seems fairly clear that Chevalier developed a style of landscape painting and drawing which was rooted in a long tradition. His is an anecdotal type of drawing: it conveys the view precisely; it does not take too many liberties with detail; and the whole is presented in an agreeable format. His contribution to painting in both Australia and New Zealand is considerable in so far as he brought to both countries a well-rounded professionalism which was greatly needed. His eye was perceptive and he was able to convey the impressions of these alien landscapes as seen through the eyes of a well-educated European, His contribution to art in New Zealand has not been fully appreciated but the 'displaying of his work must go a long way to establishing him as one of the distinguished pioneer landscape artists to have worked in the country.
Luxembourg Garden, Paris by Peter McIntyre
Peter McIntyre was born in Dunedin on 4 July 1910, the son of Peter McIntyre and his wife, Isabella Edith Cubitt. Peter McIntyre was educated at Otago Boys’ High School, and also received art lessons from the Dunedin artist Alfred O’Keefe.
McIntyre attended the University of Otago in 1930, studying for a BA with the intention of becoming a journalist. However in 1931 he left his studies to travel to England, where from 1931 he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. McIntyre graduated in 1934 with prizes in composition and figure drawing.
From 1935 until 1939 he worked as a freelance commercial artist in Britain, while also exhibiting contemporary art works, influenced by the English avant-garde and French cubism.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, McIntyre enlisted with the 34th Anti-tank Battery, a New Zealand unit formed in London, and was sent as a gunner to Egypt. In Egypt he provided illustrations for the war magazine Parade as well as doing advertisements he sketched members of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF).
In January 1941, McIntyre was appointed New Zealand’s official war artist and promoted to the rank of captain by Major General Bernard Freyberg. His work in this role covered the campaigns in Greece, Crete, the Western Desert, Tripolitani, Tunisia and Italy. He was promoted to the rank of Major at Cassino in Italy.
Exhibitions of McIntyre’s artworks toured New Zealand both during and after the Second World War. Immediately following the war he worked as an artist in Dunedin, producing portraits and landscapes. In the decades following the war McIntyre won a number of art awards, and published eight books. He was awarded an OBE in 1970, and died in Wellington on 11 September 1995.
Kiri Te Kanawa by Raymond Ching (Watercolour)
Born in Wellington in 1939, Raymond Ching is widely considered the greatest contemporary bird painter, and he enjoys considerable standing for his depiction of other subjects.
Ching dropped out of high school early on and started an apprenticeship in advertising, eventually becoming an art director, but being wholly dissatisfied, he turned to painting. As a young schoolboy, a class visit to a museum saw him chance upon a collection of stuffed hummingbirds, which him with their beauty and inspired a lifelong love and fascination with birds, feathers and flight.
In the 1960s Ching began to exhibit and sell paintings of birds. His first exhibition, Thirty Birds at John Leech Galleries in 1966 was of highly detailed watercolours using drybrush technique, and was an immediate sell-out. He was discovered internationally by Sir William Collins of Collins publishing. A keen ornithologist, Sir William was scouring the world for bird painters to produce a prestigious series of book. Sir William visited Ching in New Zealand and on returning to the UK took some of Ching's work to his friend, Sir Peter Scott, who then telegraphed Ching inviting him to call on him at Slimbridge.
Within a short time, Ching moved to London. Before Collins had a chance to produce the book discussed with Sir William, Ray was introduced to The Reader's Digest who, with Collins, had been planning a major book on the birds of Britain. Almost every bird artist in the British isles had been assessed and rejected as not having what was required to produce a breakthrough in field guides. The book, in addition to containing all the accurate information on the birds of Britain, should have the style and drama to appeal to those who had never picked up a field guide in their lives. The publishers had begun to despair of ever finding anyone with the graphic excitement they believed necessary, and the project had been almost abandoned when Ray appeared on the scene.
Deeply impressed with the originality and uniqueness of his work, the publishers quickly realised that here was the artist for the book. They asked him how long he would need to paint the 230 full-colour portraits required. The publishers believed the project entailed as much as six years' work, and had earlier thought to spread the commission among six artists, each to take a year. Although he had arrived in England with the intention of getting on with his own book, the offer struck a nerve in the young colonial wanting to make his mark. "I can do them all myself and in under a year!" he rashly declared. It was a huge effort and by the end of the year he was ill, exhausted and penniless.
Published in 1969, The Reader's Digest Book of British Birds has become the world's most successful and biggest selling bird book, translated into over ten European languages and countless editions in hardback and paperback. It remains in print and has had an enormous influence on both bird lovers and artists, the images often being copied and illegally reproduced as the original work of other artists.
Before the book was published Ray had moved to Rye, East Sussex. There he continued to paint, primarily birds and other animals. He works in oils and watercolours, usually on a gessoed masonite panel or canvas which assists with the high detail. The style of his art might be described as conservative realism, most images having an almost photographic quality, although he is often comfortable leaving out detail in the backgrounds.
Ching's work is primarily of birds, but has included other wildlife landscapes and portraits.
Irises by T.A. McCormack
Thomas Arthur McCormack (1883 - 1973)
T A McCormack was one of New Zealand's first full time painters and one whose career matured almost solely in this country. Except for the 8 months he spent in Australia in 1928 he never left New Zealand.
His earlier years were spent in Napier but by the end of 1921 he had set up a studio in Wellington working as a watercolourist. Residing in Wellington for over 40 years McCormack occupied the Hill Street studio formerly occupied by D K Richmond and this became a focal point for other artists.
His landscapes were similar to those of Nugent Welch although by the second half of the 1930s he had begun to display the simplicity, spontaneous brushwork and inventive colour that characterised his mature work. At the beginning of 1937 a major Chinese art exhibition had been displayed at the National Museum in Wellington, and without a doubt his work from this time shows the precise rhythms and brushwork of Chinese landscape painting.
This was the period McCormack's reputation was at its highest. In 1940 his work was declared by E H McCormick in Letters and Art in New Zealand (p.190) " ... the greatest individual achievement of recent New Zealand art." His imagery appealed to the connoisseur rather than to the layman and in 1945 the Arts Year Book (p. 80) succintly stated the position " ... McCormack, like an old, dry sherry, is an acquired taste and to be relished as such. His colour is sophisticated and its range is restricted by a kind of patrician reticence. In the still lifes there are browns and a red moving towards muted purple, flicks of yellow. His seas are dark and chilly. All of which is to say McCormack gives great pleasure to the educated eye and is not to be confused with any artists south (or north) of the line."
In 1956 he was honoured with an OBE and his work has been shown in Australia, Canada and the United States. Retrospective exhibitions were held in Wellington in 1959 and 1971 and in Hastings in 1978.
T A McCormack's importance for New Zealand painting is that he achieved an independent way of perceiving the world outside normal conventions or aspirations and in the country of his birth.