This article first appeared as 'Otira colour captured in all its summer glory' in The Press on 28 February 2014.
Paintings of the Otira Gorge more often than not depict the region in its most tempestuous mood, dark brooding clouds enveloping rugged mountain ranges, incessant rainfall and torrents of rushing water sweeping down stream beds. Petrus van der Velden's Mount Rolleston and the Otira River (1893) or John Gibb's Flood in the Otira Gorge (1895), both in Christchurch Art Gallery's collection, come to mind. Paintings such as these present grand monumental views of the Otira in its darkest and most stormy moods of the winter months.
Margaret Stoddart's vibrant watercolour An Otira Stream however presents a far more peaceful moment in the seasonal cycle of the Otira during the height of the summer months. The most distinctive features in this work are the scarlet red blooms of the Mountain Rata (Metrosideros umbellata) which provide a striking contrast to the greens and greys of the forest and stream bed. During the summer months of late January and February Mountain Rata transform the forested slopes of the Gorge into patches of shimmering red. There's not a cloud in the sky and the stream bed lies bone dry with the hot summer sun shining on the mountain tops beyond. These are perfect conditions for Stoddart, a renowned plein air (out-door) painter whose primary interest was in conveying the effects of light on the landscape before her, something she has certainly achieved here.
Stoddart first visited the Arthur's Pass region in 1896 when she completed a camping tour in a wagon with a group of friends along the West Coast Road. She returned towards the end of her career around 1927 by which time she had developed a broad, fluid style of painting that is full of confidence and conviction. Stoddart is much admired for her still-life flower paintings and in An Otira Stream she blends her interest in flowers with the rugged mountainous landscape through the focus on the Mountain Rata blooms.
The Christchurch Art Gallery holds an impressive collection of 40 paintings by Stoddart with examples spanning her career of some forty years from the 1890s to the 1930s. Amongst these are stunning examples of her work as a still-life flower painter, plein air, impressionist influenced paintings completed during her extended stay in Europe from 1898 to 1906, as well as street scenes of Christchurch; but one of the highlights is An Otira Stream.
Mountain Rata are in bloom at Otira Gorge at the moment and would be well worth the effort to view if you happen to be heading up and over Arthur's Pass in the next week or so.
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)
Margaret Stoddart first made the trip along the West Coast Road over Arthur’s Pass and through the Otira Gorge in April 1896, travelling in a hired wagon with several companions. Around 1927 Stoddart completed several watercolours of the gorge including An Otira Stream (also known as Mountain rata). In this work the artist combines her interest in flower painting with landscape to complete a vibrant vision of southern rata in full bloom amongst the rugged Otira terrain. In the summer months of January and February the mountain slopes of the Otira Gorge come alive with the crimson flowers of southern rata.
Exquisite Treasure Revealed
Canterbury Museum holds two albums compiled by Diamond Harbour artist Margaret Stoddart. The older of the two, containing images featured in this Bulletin, and itself currently exhibited in the Gallery, covers the period 1886–96. The album is handsomely bound in maroon, and stamped M.O.S. in gold. It contains a sort of travelogue by way of black and white photographs set amongst decorative painting, mostly of native flora, with some locality and date information.
The dazzling watercolours of an adventurous and trailblazing Canterbury artist.
This article first appeared as 'Stoddart's summer' in The Press on 15 February 2013.
While the Gallery remains closed to the public the permanent collection continues to grow with several generous gifts and bequests being received recently.
The ruins of Diamond Harbour's Godley House may have finally been removed but the stunning sparkling views out across Lyttelton Harbour remain.
Margaret Stoddart was born on this day in 1865 at Diamond Harbour. Here she is in 1909:
The Press announced today that another iconic Banks Peninsula building is to be demolished, Godley House at Diamond Harbour.
Picturing the Peninsula
A selection of works by some of New Zealand’s most significant historical and contemporary artists responding to the unique landscapes of Banks Peninsula Te Pataka o Rakaihautu.
Margaret Stoddart worked exclusively as a watercolourist and painted plein-air landscapes from early in her career. Her work developed towards an impressionistic style while she was based in Europe between 1898 and 1906. At this time she began exploring the various atmosphericeffects experienced while painting plein-air, as seen in Camiers, France, where Stoddart uses very wet washes of colour to capture the hazy conditions of the scene.
On her return from Europe in 1907, Margaret Stoddart lived in Godley House with her mother and sister and remained there until the family’s Diamond Harbour estate was sold off in 1913. The family were keen gardeners, as can be seen by the charming cottage garden. This is one of a number of paintings Stoddart did in Diamond Harbour and shows the style she had developed during her time in Europe. The expressive opaque watercolour treatment is combined with fine fluid washes applied in a quick and direct manner, out of doors before the subject. Stoddart was born in Diamond Harbour, Christchurch, but in 1876 the family sailed for Britain and she received her early education in Edinburgh. The family returned to New Zealand in 1879 and in 1882 Stoddart enrolled at the Canterbury College School of Art. She was a founding member of the Palette Club whose members were concerned with painting out of doors. She travelled to Europe in 1898.
Margaret Stoddart painted many scenes of the Southern Alps, particularly in the Mount Cook National Park region in South Canterbury. Indeed, the lilies featured here are known as ‘Mount Cook’ lilies.
By the time she painted this work, Stoddart was widely recognised as the leading New Zealand flower painter of the time. The immediacy of the detail suggests that she did at least the preliminary work on site, rather than in the studio. The watercolour washes have the Impressionistic style that became Stoddart’s hallmark.
Stoddart was born in Diamond Harbour, on Banks Peninsula, but in 1876 the family sailed for Britain and she received her early education in Edinburgh. The family returned to New Zealand in 1879 and in 1882 Stoddart enrolled at the Canterbury College School of Art. She was a founding member of the Palette Club whose members were concerned with painting out of doors. After living in England for several years, Stoddart returned to New Zealand in 1907 and settled in Diamond Harbour.
For the exhibition I See Red (5 December 2007 - 23 November 2008) this work was displayed with the following label: ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ goes the old Scottish song. Red roses are a well-known symbol for true love. Thank Robbie Burns for the song, and Margaret Stoddart for this bowl of overflowing roses, where the red is the red of a living, beating heart, a red that unfolds into full bloom, promising love that will last.
It is thought this nuggetty watercolour painting was completed shortly after Margaret Stoddart’s return to New Zealand from an extended period studying and painting in Europe. Acrid smoke billows upwards as the dense native bush, presumably being cleared for agricultural purposes, is consumed by fire. This is a tough, poignant and unusual subject for Stoddart – far removed from the rather more subdued still-life subjects for which she became so highly regarded. Stoddart’s complete mastery with watercolour is seen in her beautiful handling and contrasting of washes of colour, from the dense darks of the bush to the white smoke. (March 2018)
For the exhibition Picturing the Peninsula (21 April - 22 July 2007), this work was displayed with this label:
Diamond Harbour lies on the South side of Lyttelton harbour across from the town of Lyttelton between Purau Bay and Charteris Bay. It was named by the artist’s father, Mark Stoddart, from “the glitter of the sun-track on the water, always very noticeable from that side of the harbour.” This view chosen by Margaret Stoddart looks out across Diamond Harbour from above the wharf and is in the artist’s mature style being completed soon after her return home in 1907 after studying art abroad.
Stoddart was born and grew up in Diamond Harbour where her father had settled in 1851. She regularly painted in the region and often incorporated flowers into the landscape such as the blossoms seen in this work.
Margaret Stoddart’s painting style altered dramatically during the period she spent in Britain between 1898 and 1906. She was based at St Ives, Cornwall, where there was a large contingent of artists whose interests lay primarily in impressionism and plein air painting.
Although the exact location of The Moors is not known for certain, the painting highlights Stoddart’s development at this time. Painted outdoors, loosely applied wet washes of subdued colour effectively convey the overcast atmospheric conditions, which are contrasted with several brightly coloured flowers in the foreground.
Stoddart was born in Diamond Harbour on Banks Peninsula, but in 1876 the family sailed for Britain and she received her early education in Edinburgh. The family returned to New Zealand in 1879, and in 1882 Stoddart enrolled at the Canterbury College School of Art. She was a founding member of the Palette Club, whose members were concerned with painting outdoors.
A popular flower in New Zealand at this time, roses were also a favourite subject of Margaret Stoddart’s throughout her career. The Impressionist approach she has used in this watercolour is typical of Stoddart’s mature style. Her use of broad washes and loose handling help to capture the atmospheric effects of light falling on the roses. On her return from Europe in 1906 Stoddart’s approach was considered too ‘modern’ by many critics, however she gradually developed a reputation for her sensitive landscapes and flower studies. Stoddart was born in Diamond Harbour, on Banks Peninsula, but in 1876 the family sailed for Britain. They returned to New Zealand in 1879 and in 1882 Stoddart enrolled at the Canterbury College School of Art. She was a founding member of the Palette Club whose members were concerned with painting out of doors. After living in England for several years, Stoddart returned to New Zealand and settled in Diamond Harbour.
Margaret Stoddart was living at St Ives, Cornwall, throughout much of 1902 when this work was painted. Popular subjects with her and many of her contemporaries were orchards and woodland scenes, particularly in spring when the trees were in blossom. Stoddart was interested in the Newlyn School’s naturalistic style of painting, working directly from nature. In this watercolour she has over-painted the work with an opaque body-colour to represent the blossom. She painted several works exploring the effects of light on the blossom at various times of the day. Stoddart was born in Diamond Harbour, Christchurch, but in 1876 the family sailed for Britain and she received her early education in Edinburgh. The family returned to New Zealand in 1879 and in 1882 Stoddart enrolled at the Canterbury College School of Art. She was a founding member of the Palette Club whose members were concerned with painting out of doors. After living in England for several years, Stoddart returned to New Zealand in 1907 and settled at Diamond Harbour.
Flower painting was a popular subject with Victorian colonial women artists. It was considered more appropriate than painting landscapes, which tended to be dominated by male artists. Early in her career and influenced by her studies at the Canterbury College School of Art, Margaret Stoddart painted Wallflowers in a careful manner. The School placed an emphasis on close observation and truth to nature. The Australian botanical artist Ellis Rowan encouraged Stoddart and wrote in the Australian Town and Country Journal that, ‘Her grouping, colouring, form and harmony were perfect.’ Stoddart was born in Diamond Harbour, on Banks Peninsula, but in 1876 the family sailed for Britain and she received her early education in Edinburgh. The family returned to New Zealand in 1879 and in 1882 Stoddart enrolled at the School of Art. She was a founding member of the Palette Club whose members were concerned with painting out of doors. After living in England for several years, Stoddart returned to New Zealand in 1907 and settled in Diamond Harbour.
‘Storm clouds, Blythburgh, Suffolk’ is typical of Margaret Stoddart’s growing interest in impressionism and painting outdoors while based in England between 1898 and 1906. The atmospheric conditions of the impending storm above Blythburgh have been rendered directly using wet washes of colour. Stoddart travelled widely, taking sketching trips to France, Italy and throughout Britain, often seeking out picturesque villages such as Blythburgh as her subjects. Stoddart enjoyed living at St Ives, Cornwall. The town’s reputation as a plein-air (open air) artists’ colony made it a magnet for New Zealand artists including Frances Hodgkins and Dorothy Richmond, who visited Stoddart there in 1902. (Brought to Light, November 2009)
The Gallery's Watercolour Collection had modest beginnings, but over the past 70 years it has grown steadily by gift and purchase and, of all the Collections, still maintains a largely traditional emphasis. When the Gallery opened in June 1932, just 28 of the 128 paintings on display were watercolours and, of these, 11 were by British artists and 17 by New Zealanders. Among the mostly nineteenth century British watercolours were those by Helen Allingham, Edgar Bundy, Matthew Hale, Laura Knight, William Lee Hankey and Ernest Waterlow. In contrast, the New Zealand watercolours were by mostly contemporary or early twentieth century artists and included works by James Cook, Olivia Spencer Bower, Margaret Stoddart, Maude Sherwood, Eleanor Hughes and Alfred Walsh. The foundation Watercolour Collection included two paintings of larger than usual dimensions. William Lee Hankey's We've been in the Meadows all day (1184 x 878mm) and Charles N. Worsley's Mount Sefton (996 x 1105mm) are still greater in scale than any other work in the Watercolour Collection.