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The art of Petrus van der Velden

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The Art of Petrus van der Velden is the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in 1963.

The art of Petrus van der Velden

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Exhibition
McCahon / Van der Velden

McCahon / Van der Velden

An exhibition of two of New Zealand's most respected painters.

Notes
Canterbury Landscape by Colin McCahon

Canterbury Landscape by Colin McCahon

In 2014 we purchased an important landscape work by Colin McCahon. Curator Peter Vangioni speaks about this new addition to Christchurch Art Gallery’s collection.

Collection
Nor'western Sky
Petrus van der Velden Nor'western Sky

“‘Colour is light’ and there is no darkness at all – there is light or less light. In each part, even the darkest, there is some light and the difficulty is to get the different kinds of light showing in even quite small parts. There are no hard lines in nature – the light shines in and round everything and breaks all the hardness by modifying and diffusing the apparently sharp edges.” —Petrus van der Velden

(McCahon / Van der Velden, 18 December 2015 – 7 August 2016)

Article
Gazumped

Gazumped

One of the exhibitions brought to a halt by the 22 February earthquake was De-Building, which critic Warren Feeney had described only days earlier as 'Christchurch Art Gallery's finest group show since it opened in 2003'. Seven months on, the show's curator, Justin Paton, reflects on random destruction, strange echoes, critical distance, and the 'gazumping of art by life'.

Interview
Otira: it's a state of mind

Otira: it's a state of mind

A short road trip to the Otira Gorge was the scene for a conversation between Gallery curator Peter Vangioni and two of the artists included in Van der Velden: Otira, Jason Greig and the Torlesse Supergroup's Roy Montgomery.

Article
Van der Velden: Otira

Van der Velden: Otira

A first encounter with a painting by Petrus van der Velden more than twenty years ago was the start of many years of research for Gallery curator Peter Vangioni. Peter is the lead author of the Gallery's new book on van der Velden, and talks here of his fascination with the artist's Otira works.

Exhibition
Van der Velden: Otira

Van der Velden: Otira

This exhibition brings together a comprehensive selection of Van der Velden's paintings portraying the wild, untouched natural beauty of the Otira region's mountainous landscape.

Exhibition
Coming Home in the Dark

Coming Home in the Dark

Fourteen artists with connections to the Mainland are represented in an exhibition that explores the dark underbelly of the region's genteel appearance.

Collection
Burial in the winter on the island of Marken [The Dutch Funeral]
Petrus van der Velden Burial in the winter on the island of Marken [The Dutch Funeral]

Research for the exhibition Closer (16 December 2017 – 19 August 2018) resulted in the restoration of this work's orginal title. In Dutch 'Begrafenis in den winter op het eiland Marken' and in English 'Burial in the winter on the island of Marken'.


One of Petrus van der Velden’s most significant paintings, Burial in the winter on the island of Marken arrived in Christchurch several years before the artist. It was brought to New Zealand by Gerritt van Asch, the pioneering educator for the hearing impaired, who had purchased it from van der Velden in Holland sometime before 1879. Van der Velden himself arrived in Christchurch, sponsored by van Asch, in mid 1890 and made an immediate impact on New Zealand art circles of the time. His genre paintings like this one were widely appreciated by the public and the press often described him in glowing terms as a “distinguished Dutch artist”. Holland’s loss was New Zealand’s gain and van der Velden went on to paint one of New Zealand’s most significant bodies of paintings, his famous Otira series, from the late nineteenth century.

(New Dawn Fades, November 2018)

Collection
As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land
Colin McCahon As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land

‘As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land.’ Colin McCahon quoted this text often on works between the mid-1960s and early 1970s: he took it from the writings of a twelfth-century Japanese Buddhist monk, Shinran, who was the founder of a tradition known as Pure Land Buddhism. McCahon had long been interested in light as a metaphor both for faith and enlightenment, and had begun a related series of dramatic semi-abstract waterfall paintings in 1964, in which a curve of white light cleaved through darkness. Here the landscape element has been reduced to a simple horizon, a dividing line between sky and sea, or sky and land, at the very edge of vision. (March 2018)

Collection
Light falling through a dark landscape (A)
Colin McCahon Light falling through a dark landscape (A)

For the exhibition Untitled #1050 (25 November 2017 – 14 October 2018) this work was displayed with the following label:

“As a painter I may often be more worried about you than you are about me and if I wasn’t concerned I’d not be doing my work properly as a painter. Painting can be a potent way of talking.

“Do you believe in the sunrise?

“My painting year happens first in late winter and early spring. I paint with the season and paint best during the long hot summers. I prefer to paint at night or more especially in the late summer afternoons when, as the light fades, tonal relationships become terrifyingly clear.

“At night I paint under a very large incandescent light bulb. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I am only now, and slowly, becoming able to paint in the morning. After a lifetime of working – farming, factories, gardening, teaching, the years at the Auckland City Art Gallery – I find it hard to paint in the world’s usual work-time. It can be difficult to accept that painting too is work.”

—Colin McCahon, 1972

Collection
Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is
Colin McCahon Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is

In April 1958 Colin McCahon travelled to the US, responding both to the expansiveness of the American landscape and to the modern American painting that he saw in museums. On his return, his works increased in scale while economising in gesture: the landscape elements of Tomorrow have been reduced to a horizon and lowering sky, with the land bisected by a grey river. He converted his Titirangi garage into a studio, and built an extra bedroom for his children underneath. The studio was gloomy – there was only one small side window for light when the garage door was closed – but it precipitated dozens of new works. Tomorrow was an unfortunate painting, said McCahon, ‘in that it wouldn’t go right, and I got madder and madder. I hurled a whole lovely quart tin of black Dulux at the board and reconstructed the painting out of the mess.’ The black paint (a commercial flooring paint, mixed with sand) dripped down the surface of the work and ran between wide cracks in the studio floorboards, ruining clothes and bed linen in his sons’ room below. He finally finished the painting in May 1959.

(March 2018)

Collection
Van Gogh: Poems by John Caselberg
Colin McCahon Van Gogh: Poems by John Caselberg

Vincent van Gogh was an artist with whom McCahon strongly identified. He produced this suite of lithographs based on several poems about the troubled Dutch artist written by his close friend John Caselberg.

As an aside, van Gogh had met van der Velden in Holland on several occasions, and in 1883 wrote to his brother Theo of his admiration for the artist:

I met Van der V. once, and he made a good impression on me at the time. I was reminded of the character of Felix Holt [the main character in George Eliot's novel Felix Holt, The Radical, who favoured a life of working class poverty over the comforts afforded through the wealth within his reach]. There’s something broad and rough in him that pleases me greatly – something like the roughness of torchon [a rough-surfaced paper]. A man who evidently doesn’t seek civilization in outward things but is much further inwardly, much, much further than most people. In short, he’s a true artist, and I’d like to get to know him for I would trust him and I’m sure I would learn from him.

(McCahon / Van der Velden, 18 December 2015 – 7 August 2016)

Collection
Windmill by Moonlight
Petrus van der Velden Windmill by Moonlight

“The greatest of all lessons is to learn to see. Many are ‘colour blind’ till they have their eyes opened to nature’s lessons, which she is always trying to teach us. But we must always tell what nature says to us, simply and directly without pretence or falsehood. Tell the Truth. Christ was the greatest artist. His words and pictures are a simple telling of nature's lessons – they are always the Truth. ‘We reason with colours. Colours are dead’, but by telling what nature teaches us the dead colours enable us to express the wonders and beauties of the Creator’s work.”

—Petrus van der Velden

(McCahon / Van der Velden, 18 December 2015 – 7 August 2016)

Collection
Atmospheric Study, Sumner
Petrus van der Velden Atmospheric Study, Sumner

Petrus van der Velden valued the medium of drawing as highly as painting and was an extremely talented draughtsman. Spontaneously drawn outdoors directly before the subject, this small study shows Van der Velden’s interest in depicting dramatic, stormy atmospheric conditions with strong contrasts of light and dark. In the early 1890s, van der Velden and his family settled in Sumner, Christchurch where they stayed with the Van Asch family. Van der Velden immediately went about sketching in the region, and by the end of the year he had completed several major paintings based on Sumner scenes. Born in Rotterdam, van der Velden established himself as a painter, particularly of marine subjects, before he and his wife emigrated from Holland in 1890. He struggled to make a living in Christchurch, however, and moved to Sydney in 1898. He returned to settle in Wellington in 1904 and died in Auckland.

Collection
Mount Rolleston and the Otira River
Petrus van der Velden Mount Rolleston and the Otira River

Van der Velden described his first visit to the Otira Gorge: 'For the first three days I did nothing at all but just looked, it took my breath away.'

The lines between religion and art were blurred for van der Velden, and he often drew similarities between the two: 'There is as much nonsense talked about art as Jesus and because it's the same business nothing is understood. Tell the people sometime that Rembrandt and Jesus have the same meaning; how they would laugh, and yet it is true – Rembrandt made a study of light during his life, and Jesus did nothing else.'

(McCahon / Van der Velden, 18 December 2015 – 7 August 2016)

Collection
Sumner
Petrus van der Velden Sumner

“Colour is light, light is love and love is God and therefore on Sundays instead of going to church I teach my children drawing after nature. I have come to the conclusion that painting or drawing after nature, instead of being a luxury is the most necessary for the education of man. […] The aim of our existence is nothing else than to study nature and with so doing to understand more and more how grand and pure nature is and gives evidence of so much love.”

—Petrus van der Velden

(McCahon / Van der Velden, 18 December 2015 – 7 August 2016)

Collection
Blind V
Colin McCahon Blind V

The word ‘blind’ refers to a screen that cuts out light, but Colin McCahon also uses it to refer to an absence of vision. Questions of faith were important to McCahon and he often used references to blindness to suggest the inability to see the real essence and value of things. McCahon’s style was highly personal and distinctive. Blind V is part of a series of five works painted onto window blinds. The abstract forms have the feel of a beach and sky and it has been suggested that the ‘blindness’ which McCahon refers to was the inability of New Zealanders to really see and appreciate their own unique environment.

McCahon is regarded by many as New Zealand’s greatest contemporary artist. Born in Timaru, he studied art in Dunedin. He lived in Christchurch for a time, became keeper and assistant director at Auckland Art Gallery, then lecturer in painting at the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, before taking up painting full time in 1970.

Collection
Northland drawings
Colin McCahon Northland drawings

“Once more it states my interest in landscape as a symbol of place and also of the human condition. It is not so much a portrait of a place as such but is a memory of a time and an experience of a particular place.” —Colin McCahon

(McCahon / Van der Velden, 18 December 2015 – 7 August 2016)

Collection
Nor’western Sky
Petrus van der Velden Nor’western Sky

The hot, dry nor'west winds of Canterbury produce dramatic cloud formations and an atmospheric light. Petrus van der Velden has captured these effects with what is probably Christchurch's River Avon in the foreground. He lived near the river between 1890 and 1893. The colonial woman bent over, occupied with her task of work, has echoes of his earlier Dutch paintings, which focused on Dutch peasants at work. Van der Velden painted in a realist manner, which was influenced by his association with the Dutch Hague School of painters who favoured dark sombre tones and a loose style of brushwork. The nor'west scene is created by using strong contrasts of light and shade (chiaroscuro). Born in Rotterdam, Van der Velden established himself as a painter, particularly of marine subjects, in Holland, from where he emigrated in 1890. However, he struggled to make a living in Christchurch and in 1898 went to Sydney. He returned to settle in Wellington in 1904 but died in Auckland.