Things are not always what they seem. What looks like the result of an artistic foray into exotic lands is, in fact, an 1894 portrait of a Christchurch busker who posed in the studio of Petrus van der Velden.
On the surface, Petrus van der Velden's painting appears as an evocative 19th century image of the exotic east - a Moorish musician painted in some heat-drenched Moroccan souk or a street called straight from somewhere east of Suez. Filled with sun and tinged with mystery, the Dutch painter's proud musician symbolises a Victorian fascination with the Orient.
In art, all is not what it sometimes seems. In real life the "Arab" street artist was a Cathedral Square busker suitably costumed in scarves and bernous and posing in the colder light of a Durham Street artist's studio.
Van der Velden probably sketched similar musicians in Egypt and Aden during his voyage to New Zealand in 1890. When he painted this portrait in 1894 he employed the Christchurch street musician, suitably dressed in Arab costume, to complete his only known painting of an Oriental subject.
The year before he painted The Satara Player, Van der Velden had established two studios behind his Durham Street home where he held classes for students in one and painted in the second. By 1894, he was struggling financially. Unable to afford a suitable length of canvas for The Satara Player he had two spare lengths of canvas sewn together by a Lyttelton sailmaker. More than a century later, the uneven surface where the two sections were joined can still be seen towards the base of the work.
The Satara Player was first exhibited, with a price tag of £100 at the Canterbury Society of Arts Annual Exhibition in March 1894. Its exotic nature was immediately popular among visitors. The Lyttelton Times reviewer commented that it "would attract attention in any exhibition and is full of fine work which cannot be too highly praised", while The Press recommended the picture to young artists as a study of colour and figure painting with the details "most artistically painted".
Despite this critical acclaim, the Canterbury Society of Arts failed to raise the necessary funds to purchase the painting.
Two years later, disillusioned and in poverty, Van der Velden sold off his possessions intending to leave Christchurch.
His supporters rallied around him, organising an art union of his works to raise money for the struggling artist. The Satara Player was second prize in a pool of seven paintings. Van der Velden took 100 unsold tickets for himself - subsequently drawing out the first, second, third, fourth, and sixth prizes and creating immediate controversy. The notoriously prickly Dutchman then declined to present the paintings he won to the Society of Arts but did remain in Canterbury for two more years.
The Satara Player was eventually bought by one of his patrons and student, William Bassett.
In 1964 it was bequeathed to the former Robert McDougall Art Gallery by his daughter, Majorie Bassett.
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.
The model for this work was a busker who performed in Cathedral Square, Christchurch. Aware of the Victorian interest in Orientalism, Petrus van der Velden felt the man had a Near Eastern look to him. His costume and the use of sombre tones give him an appropriate air of exoticism. Van der Velden was struggling financially when this work was painted and the creases in the work are from where he had had a sail maker stitch two old canvases together. Born in Rotterdam, Van der Velden established himself as a painter, particularly of marine subjects, in Holland. In 1890 he and his wife emigrated to Christchurch and the following year he began the series of works based on the Otira Gorge region for which he is so well known. Van der Velden struggled to make a living in Christchurch, however, and went to Sydney in 1898. He returned to settle in Wellington in 1904 but died in Auckland.
New Zealand artist Laurence Aberhart is internationally regarded for his photographs of unpeopled landscapes and interiors. He photographs places redolent with the weight of time, which he captures with his century-old large-format camera and careful framing. But he’s always taken more spontaneous photographs of people too, particularly in the years he lived in Christchurch and Lyttelton (1975–83) when he photographed his young family, his friends and occasionally groups of strangers. ‘If I lived in a city again,’ he says, ‘I would photograph people. One of the issues is that I even find it difficult to ask people whether I can photograph a building, so to ask to photograph them – I’m very reticent. I also know that after a number of minutes of waiting for me to set cameras up and take exposure readings and so on, people can get rather annoyed. So it’s not a conscious thing, it’s more just an accident of the way I photograph.’
In early March we were lucky enough to have the incredibly talented Grayson Gilmour performing at the Gallery, supported by the equally talented Purple Pilgrims and New Dawn. I love these gigs, but there is a lot of work to be done behind the scenes to make sure that, by the time the public walk in the door, the foyer is gig ready. The process normally feels like a long, slow marathon with a sprint at the final corner. So here’s a guide to how you too can get the NZI Foyer gig-ready in five (or six) easy steps.
J.G. Thirlwell is man of many monikers and even more projects: from the epic avant-garde electro-rock of his thirty-five-year Foetus act to scoring orchestral work; creating sound installations to writing cartoon soundtracks. Fellow sonic artist, Jo Burzynska caught up with the Melbourne-born but long-time New York-resident composer/producer/performer at the Gallery before the opening performance of his first ever New Zealand tour.
Answer: No one cries when you chop up a piano.
Apparently that's only the third worst piano joke of all time...
November sees the 30th anniversary of my favourite record label, Flying Nun Records.
The 2011 Christchurch Arts Festival has been full of highlights, from theatre to dance to the visual arts. However, it's been the music that has made the biggest impression on me.
Finally, the chance to listen to some loud rock music!