Leo Bensemann: an art venture

Leo Bensemann Pass in Winter 1971. Oil on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu. Harry Courtney Archer estate, 2002. Reproduced with permission

Leo Bensemann Pass in Winter 1971. Oil on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu. Harry Courtney Archer estate, 2002. Reproduced with permission

Leo Bensemann (1912–1986) was a pivotal figure bridging the worlds of literature and visual arts – a go-between like no other. Peter Simpson is an authority on this distinctive artist.

One of the most accomplished and versatile New Zealanders in the arts of his generation, Leo Bensemann was hugely admired for the technical expertise and aesthetic refinement he brought to a wide range of activities, encompassing painting, drawing, wood engraving, music, calligraphy, illustration and design, as well as editing and publishing.

'Intolerant of anything second-rate in attitude or achievement,' according to composer Douglas Lilburn, Bensemann was 'essentially, intuitively, artist and craftsman'. Fellow Group artist John Coley wrote: 'He could be called a latter-day Renaissance man ... an influential figure in arts and letters far beyond the boundaries of Christchurch.' And Bill Sutton once said of him, 'Leo has always been at the top, as far as I'm concerned ... he set the highest standards in everything he did.' Such testimonials are not difficult to find.

Born in Takaka, from mixed German and Irish ancestry, Bensemann was educated at Nelson College, moving in 1931 to Christchurch – the city in which he spent the remainder of his life. Out of work in the depression and self-trained apart from night classes at the Canterbury College School of Art, Bensemann applied himself first to the graphic arts of drawing and book illustration. The like of his ink drawings in particular had never been seen in New Zealand, before or since. Witty, mysterious, highly literate and allusive, fantastical in style and subject, they contrasted dramatically with the then current fashion for realism and regional landscape, establishing Bensemann as a challenging outsider within New Zealand art. The publication of his Fantastica: Thirteen Drawings in 1937 led directly to a forty-year partnership at the fledgling but historically important Caxton Press in Christchurch, publisher of Landfall and most important writers of the day (Curnow, Glover, Sargeson, Mason, Fairburn, Brasch, Hyde, Frame, Baxter).

In the same year Bensemann joined Caxton he became, at the invitation of Rita Angus, a member of the key artistic organisation The Group (1927–77), for which he designed and printed brilliant annual catalogues throughout its glory years as the leading showplace for New Zealand art. The Group became the main outlet for his creative work – at first mostly strikingly idiosyncratic portraits and graphic pieces, but later increasingly strong and utterly distinctive landscapes of scenes in Canterbury, Central Otago, the West Coast and Takaka/Golden Bay.

Interior page from Fantastica: Thirteen Drawings by Leo Bensemann, 1937. Reproduced with permission

Interior page from Fantastica: Thirteen Drawings by Leo Bensemann, 1937. Reproduced with permission

Bensemann had begun experimenting with portraiture around 1935, and by the time he joined The Group it was his primary genre, making him one of the few New Zealand artists of the time to give priority to portraiture over landscape painting. An important stimulus to his portraiture was his friendship with Angus, also a gifted portrait painter, with whom he and Lawrence Baigent shared lodgings at 97 Cambridge Terrace in 1938. Close proximity led to several portraits of each artist by the other, paintings which share characteristics of sound drawing, crisp lines, bright clear colour, complex interplay of foreground and background, awareness of art history, psychological insight into character and engagement in role-playing and imaginative play – qualities well illustrated in Bensemann's Portrait of Rita Angus and his many portraits of Baigent. The priority Bensemann gave to portraiture is illustrated by the fact that at Group shows between 1938 and 1960 he exhibited thirty-three portraits and only eight landscapes. Although after 1960 landscape increasingly dominated his output, he always retained the capacity for strong and idiosyncratic portraits such as his studies of fellow Group artists Doris Lusk (1960) and G.T. Moffitt (1975). On the strength of his portraits alone Bensemann could claim a key role in the art history of his era.

Apart from an early period of experimentation with watercolour landscapes in the mid-1930s, Bensemann turned late to landscape painting and it was 1945 before he exhibited his first landscape in oils. This set him firmly apart from his Group contemporaries – Toss Woollaston, Olivia Spencer Bower, Colin McCahon, Doris Lusk, Bill Sutton and others – all of whom were primarily devoted to landscape. However, from 1961 Bensemann decisively changed direction and for the remaining twenty-five years of his life landscape became his predominant mode. His turn towards landscape in his fifties is somewhat surprising, since it occurred at a time when landscape was becoming less important in New Zealand art, especially among younger painters who were turning towards abstraction – to take up landscape painting in the 1960s could be seen as a conservative option. However, Bensemann was a non-conformist who paid little attention to the ebb and flow of artistic fashion. He pursued his own road with determination and independence, and the best of his landscapes transcend the conventions of the genre, often opening a vein of surrealism and striking the viewer with the pure originality of their conception and execution.

After retiring in 1978, Bensemann at last became a full-time artist, and in three outstanding solo shows in 1979, 1981 and 1983 did the finest work of his long career. Awarded an OBE in 1985 for his services to art and literature, he died in 1986. Always something of an odd man out, Bensemann has proved hard to integrate into the accepted narrative of New Zealand art history, and is much less well known than he deserves. However, the sheer quality of his output over more than fifty years is steadily extending his reputation as one of New Zealand's most distinctive artists.

Leo Bensemann: An Art Venture is in Touring Gallery C and the Borg Henry Gallery from 11 February until 15 May. Coinciding with the opening of the exhibition, Auckland University Press will publish Fantastica: The World of Leo Bensemann by Peter Simpson. This copiously illustrated hardback book includes all the works in the exhibition plus many more; it is the first comprehensive survey of Leo Bensemann as artist and printer.

Appeared in
B.163
B.163

1 December 2010

Peter Simpson

Writer, curator and editor

Peter Simpson is an Auckland writer, curator and editor. Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-53 was published this year by Auckland University Press and the first of his two-volume edition of Charles Brasch's post-war journals will appear next year from University of Otago Press.


Related

Exhibition
Leo Bensemann: A Fantastic Art Venture

Leo Bensemann: A Fantastic Art Venture

A comprehensive retrospective of the influential Canterbury artist and designer Leo Bensemann, who was at the centre of a dynamic revival in New Zealand art in the mid-twentieth century.

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Tomorrow, Book, Caxton Press, Landfall

Tomorrow, Book, Caxton Press, Landfall

In the decades before and after the Second World War, Christchurch experienced a remarkable artistic efflorescence that encompassed the visual arts, literature, music, theatre and the publishing of books and journals. And the phenomenon was noticed beyond these islands. For instance, in his 1955 autobiography, English publisher and editor of Penguin New Writing and London Magazine, John Lehmann, wrote (with a measure of exaggeration, perhaps) that of all the world’s cities only Christchurch at that time acted ‘as a focus of creative literature of more than local significance’.

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Exquisite Treasure Revealed

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. 

 

Exhibition
In the Vast Emptiness

In the Vast Emptiness

The Canterbury landscape as captured by twentieth century 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.

Notes
Mountains, Cass by Rita Angus

Mountains, Cass by Rita Angus

This article first appeared as 'The wonders of waterolours' in The Press on 11 August 2015.

Collection
Canterbury Landscape
Colin McCahon Canterbury Landscape

'Pākihi is a word for a place that is bare or without trees. The Pākehā surveyors called these cleared areas parkee from the Māori word for no trees, pākihi. Kā Pākihi-Whakatekateka-A-Waitaha: the treeless place, the joyous strutting march through the treeless land of south Canterbury, Waitaha – that’s the old name for the Canterbury Plains.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Notes
100 years of the Cass field station

100 years of the Cass field station

Last weekend the University of Canterbury Biology Department celebrated the 100th anniversary of the field station at Cass with a symposium on Cass followed up with a field trip to the station.

Notes
Wainui - to the west of the long harbour

Wainui - to the west of the long harbour

"I like Wainui, quaint, charming, rather like a Pieter Bruegel subject with the haymaking in progress." Rita Angus to Douglas Lilburn, 1943

Collection
Okains Bay, Banks Peninsula
Doris Lusk Okains Bay, Banks Peninsula

'Now, the original name of Okains Bay is Kā Awatea. It’s an old settlement area, the old kāika [village] on the peninsula – and of course a place of mahika kai [food gathering], a zone receiving or exploiting the treasure left around the peninsula by Marokura who endowed the place with all things growing in the sea: fish, seaweeds, shellfish and so on.

'The region was all part of the work of Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa, the atua [demi-god] who shaped the land, the engineer, the repairer of the wrecked waka [canoe] that came to be known as Te Waipounamu [the South Island]. When Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa finished on the east coast, he went west to the Paparoa. There he created his first valley, Ka Māwheranui o Ka Kuha o Tu Te Rakiwhanoa, which means the river that runs to its sea, at Greymouth. His last big challenge was to become Fiordland. There he was assisted by Hine-Nui-Te-Pō – this was before she became the Mother who gathers in the dead. Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa was the re-shaper, the salvager; Hine-Nui-Te-Pō was like an adorner, she worked with him as an assistant.

'When the Pākehā arrived, much of the peninsula was heavily forested with Podocarp. You can still see old fossilised tōtara stumps lying all around the tops of the hills. As I understand it, Christchurch was built 
off those forests.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Haycocks, Wainui
Rita Angus Haycocks, Wainui

'What makes Wainui significant, apart from its status as a mahika kai [food gathering area] for mussels and karengo [an edible seaweed], is that it sits beneath Tuhiraki [a mountain on Banks Peninsula, across the harbour from Akaroa]. It’s the beginning of the South Island’s traditional history. The metaphor is used that the atua [demi-god] Rākaihautū is striking his kō [digging stick] named Tuhiraki into the ground, creating, making, discovering the lakes. The furthest one south he creates is Lake Whakatipu Waitai, also known as Lake McKerrow, at the top end of Fiordland. Rākaihautū comes inland again and journeys up the eastern side of the island where he meets up with his son Rokohuia – I think around Waihao in south Canterbury at Wainono Lagoon, one of the historic hāpua [lagoons] of Kāi Tahu. Father and son are then joyously reunited to the settlement of Akaroa, which they developed. When they get there, Rākaihautū places his kō across the ridge of the hill above Wainui and changes the name to Tuhiraki – and it’s been a treasured name ever since. The French came and called it Mount Bossu, the hunchback; the hunch is the foot of the kō. The renaming has been attended to now.

'This is the base below Tuhiraki [also known as Mount Bossu]. It’s a mahika kai [food gathering area]. What’s important is the narrative in the hill. From Akaroa, you look across to Wainui, all the way along the peninsula and out over the heads. This is traditionally the centre of the evolution of Waitaha occupation [the Waitaha were an early people who occupied the South Island prior to the Kāti Māmoe and then Kāi Tahu people]. The march of Rākaihautū [the first ancestor of the Waitaha people] and his son Rokohuia gives the ancient name of Canterbury: Kā Pākihi-Whakatekateka-A-Waitaha, the strutting joyous march of Waitaha.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Kaikoura Country
Olivia Spencer Bower Kaikoura Country

'The Māori name for Kaikōura is Te Ahi Kaikōura o Tama Ki Te Raki, the place where Tama Ki Te Raki [a mythical exploring ancestor] cooked his crayfish. What’s significant is the Kaikōura Ranges. The south Seaward Kaikōuras were named The Lookers On Mountains by Captain James Cook, so called because when Cook was coming down the coast some twelve miles offshore he encountered several double canoes out fishing. He kept trying to induce them to come alongside the ship, but every time the ship came towards them they paddled away and just sat watching – so he called the mountains behind them The Lookers On.

'Another interesting thing about the mountains of the Kaikōura territory: you’ve got Te Parinui o Whiti [the White Bluffs], one of Kāi Tahu’s marker boundaries, and the highest peak, Tapuae o Uenuku. Tapuae means footsteps, the sacred footsteps of Uenuku [a prominent Māori ancestor]. Uenuku is said to have been put ashore from the Uruao or Uruaokapuarangi canoe [said to have come from Hawaiki, led by Rākaihautū], and he climbed the mountain and named it Te Tapuae o Uenuku. The mountains behind have many different names; most of the Seaward Kaikōuras have Māori names. Behind them is the Awatere valley, inland; Tapuae o Uenuku is at the head of those valleys.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
A Canterbury landscape
Archibald Nicoll A Canterbury landscape

Having lost his leg while fighting on the Somme during World War I, Archibald Nicoll was confined to painting landscapes in close proximity to where he was able to drive. This is why so many of his landscapes have roads as a central motif. Rather than a hindrance, however, Nicoll put his car to good use and revelled in the freedom it offered, driving all over Canterbury to paint. He would often combine painting excursions with family holidays. The scene in this work is thought to be Balcairn Downs inland from the town of Amberley in North Canterbury.

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

Notes
CASS

CASS

This week 77 years ago Rita Angus visited Cass on a sketching holiday with Louise Henderson and Julia Scarvell that resulted in several paintings including the Christchurch Art Gallery's Cass.

Notes
CASS

CASS

André Hemer's exhibition CASS is well worth a visit if you are near the Christchurch Art Gallery's space above NG on Madras street.

Notes
Another nor’wester descends on Canterbury

Another nor’wester descends on Canterbury

Some people fear them, others revel in the unforgiving dry heat – love them or hate them the legendary Canterbury nor'wester is one of the defining features of this region in the summer months and there is a real doozy blowing outside at the moment.

Notes
Heart in the high country: Austen Deans (1915 - 2011)

Heart in the high country: Austen Deans (1915 - 2011)

For Austen Deans, OBE, painting was an expression of his love of the outdoors and, in particular, the Canterbury high country.

Collection
Hills from Annat
Douglas MacDiarmid Hills from Annat

After a stint at the Wigram Air Force Base in Christchurch with the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War II, Douglas MacDiarmid found the need to get away to the country for a well-earned sketching holiday. It was here that Hills from Annat was completed. He said of this time:

'I had been able to lay my hands on the last covered wagon in the South Island, also to hire a fine white mare. Off we drove in a flourish then for a month, Blanche, Buddy, me. We were headed for the rolling country where the Canterbury Plains are not yet hills finishing as Alps. At no more than a clip-clop pace it is possible to approach with peaceful observation, meditation merging as no motor vehicle will allow.'

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

Notes
Sutton high-fives McCahon

Sutton high-fives McCahon

Nothing made it into a W.A. Sutton painting by accident, and the white line that rises diagonally through the sky in Plantation Series II is no exception.

Collection
Wainui, Akaroa
Rita Angus Wainui, Akaroa

'What makes Wainui significant, apart from its status as a mahika kai [food gathering area] for mussels and karengo [an edible seaweed], is that it sits beneath Tuhiraki [a mountain on Banks Peninsula, across the harbour from Akaroa]. It’s the beginning of the South Island’s traditional history. The metaphor is used that the atua [demi-god] Rākaihautū is striking his kō [digging stick] named Tuhiraki into the ground, creating, making, discovering the lakes. The furthest one south he creates is Lake Whakatipu Waitai, also known as Lake McKerrow, at the top end of Fiordland. Rākaihautū comes inland again and journeys up the eastern side of the island where he meets up with his son Rokohuia – I think around Waihao in south Canterbury at Wainono Lagoon, one of the historic hāpua [lagoons] of Kāi Tahu. Father and son are then joyously reunited to the settlement of Akaroa, which they developed. When they get there, Rākaihautū places his kō across the ridge of the hill above Wainui and changes the name to Tuhiraki – and it’s been a treasured name ever since. The French came and called it Mount Bossu, the hunchback; the hunch is the foot of the kō. The renaming has been attended to now.

'This is the base below Tuhiraki [also known as Mount Bossu]. It’s a mahika kai [food gathering area]. What’s important is the narrative in the hill. From Akaroa, you look across to Wainui, all the way along the peninsula and out over the heads. This is traditionally the centre of the evolution of Waitaha occupation [the Waitaha were an early people who occupied the South Island prior to the Kāti Māmoe and then Kāi Tahu people]. The march of Rākaihautū [the first ancestor of the Waitaha people] and his son Rokohuia gives the ancient name of Canterbury: Kā Pākihi-Whakatekateka-A-Waitaha, the strutting joyous march of Waitaha.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Interview
Talking Bensemann

Talking Bensemann

Leo Bensemann was one of the most respected figures in the Christchurch arts scene, and played a pivotal role in influential arts collective The Group. Always something of an odd-man-out, he produced a large body of work across several different disciplines before his death in 1986. In an attempt to get a fuller picture of the man himself, Gallery director Jenny Harper spoke to two artists who knew him well, John Coley and Quentin MacFarlane.

Collection
Bridge, Mt Cook Road
Rata Lovell-Smith Bridge, Mt Cook Road

'This is the Mount Cook Road, and there are many bridges on that road. The people of Ngāi Tūāhuriri would go inland into the McKenzie [just below where this location is painted] for hunting high country weka [native woodhen] with dogs. They'd carry their empty packs of pōhā [kelp bags to hold preserved birds] with them to the hunting area, catch the weka and process the birds up there. They’d carry the pōhā out, and meet people coming from the south also going up to those high country plains. It was a summer exercise. Towards the end of summer the birds are fat. You preserve them like tītī [muttonbirds] in their own fat.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Rakaia Series No. 37
Trevor Moffitt Rakaia Series No. 37

Trevor Moffitt had a deep love for inland Canterbury that was in part fostered by his obsession with fishing. In the mid 1970s he purchased a bach at Lake Clearwater, inland from the Canterbury town of Ashburton. This became his favourite spot to retreat from city life and experience the outdoors. In 1982, after the death of his wife, Alison, Moffitt began the series that this work is from. He said in an interview:

'After Alison died I’d had enough of people, so I went out and painted the Rakaia River series. I had just been emotionally drained. […] The best thing I could do was go off on the weekend and paint the river. I poured all my grief and tears into depicting the waters of the Rakaia.'

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

Collection
Hills and Plains, Waikari
William Sutton Hills and Plains, Waikari

William (Bill) Sutton spent most of his life in Christchurch, apart from two years from 1947–49 studying and painting in Britain and Europe. This time away helped attune his eyes to the distinctive qualities of the local regional landscape. Teaching full-time at the Canterbury College School of Art from that time, Sutton lived in a rented studio flat overlooking Victoria Square and became the owner of a Matchless motorbike – upgraded to a 500cc BSA Golden Flash in 1956 – on which he’d leave the city on his weekends in pursuit of countryside to paint.

Human presence has reshaped this landscape, with its bending macrocarpa windbreaks, simple corrugated iron structures and undulating patchwork fields. A palette of subtle ochres, greys and gold presents a characteristically Canterbury scene and typifies the work for which Sutton became appreciated and known.

(Beneath the ranges 18 February – 23 October 2017)

Collection
Te Tihi o Kahukura and Sky, I
William Sutton Te Tihi o Kahukura and Sky, I

This painting by Bill Sutton expands our view of a familiar site on Christchurch’s Port Hills, encouraging the viewer to consider what mysteries may have been present before the arrival of Māori tangata whenua, the people of the land. Te Tihi o Kahukura, or the Citadel of Kahukura, is the first name of Castle Rock, the foregrounded point at the left of the painting. The extended Māori name translates as ‘the Citadel of the Rainbow God (and a) sky full of boiling clouds roaring around all over the place’. According to Kāi Tahu tradition, Kahukura is the atua, or god, who clothed the land; Kahukura later transformed to become the atua of rainbows. Here, Sutton’s interest in landscape, light and colour is applied to a location of significance for Māori. There is an intimacy in the site for Sutton, as he was able to see it “from my upstairs back-landing window”. Sutton’s house remains in what is now known as ‘the red zone’, an earthquake-battered place of an undetermined future.

(Te Tihi o Kahukura: The Citadel of Kahukura, 18 Februay 2017 - 18 May 2018)

Collection
A Goddess Of Mercy
Rita Angus A Goddess Of Mercy

The Canterbury landscape was violently shaken by the sequence of earthquakes that began in the dead of night on 4 September 2010. Parts of the vast Canterbury Plains, including the reclaimed swampland that Christchurch was built on, were literally ripped apart, while many of the volcanic outcrops and cliff faces on Banks Peninsula shattered and fell. Memories of those scenes provide a stark contrast to the serene, idealised Canterbury landscape watched over here by Rita Angus's A Goddess of Mercy, with its green and golden pastures, ploughed fields and foothills extending to the mountains beyond. Radiating peace, order and oneness with the landscape, it offers a reassuring vision after the uncertainty, stress and loss of living through the earthquakes.

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

Collection
Sunset, Craigieburn
Colin S. Lovell-Smith Sunset, Craigieburn

Colin Lovell-Smith often went on painting trips to this area with his wife Rata, who was also a landscape painter. Craigieburn is in the Southern Alps, about 100 kilometres northwest of Christchurch. Although set beside a small riverbed close to the main road, the painting focuses on the steep eroded slopes of the Craigieburn Range. Lovell-Smith has paid close attention to the landform details, capturing the distinctive qualities of the Canterbury mountain region. Shades of ochre are subtly orchestrated with the soft grey of the predominant greywacke rocks. Born in Christchurch, Lovell-Smith studied at the Canterbury College School of Art then worked for his father’s printing business. During World War I Lovell-Smith was with the Royal Engineers on the Balkan Front and was subsequently awarded the Serbian Gold Medal of Merit for his work. On his return to Christchurch in 1919 he taught, first at St Andrew’s College, then at the School of Art, of which he was Director from 1947 until his death.

Collection
Canterbury Plains From Cashmere Hills
Doris Lusk Canterbury Plains From Cashmere Hills

Bill Sutton once commented that “on the Canterbury Plains you don’t look up and down but from side to side”, which seems entirely appropriate for this vast landscape painting of the plains by his friend Doris Lusk.

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

Collection
Nor’west
Juliet Peter Nor’west

According to Kāi Tahu, within the story of the creation of Te Waipounamu (the South Island), Aoraki was an atua, or demi-god, who left the home of his father, Raki, in the heavens and voyaged with his brothers to visit Raki’s first wife Poharora o Te Po. They set out to return to his father, but there was a fault in the karakia (prayer) for their return. Aoraki’s canoe – Te Waka o Aoraki – was stranded, and Aoraki and his brothers turned to stone, becoming the mountains of Kā Tiritiri o Te Moana, the Southern Alps.

'This work is interesting because it offers an unusual perspective on Aoraki [Mount Cook] – but Aoraki is full of different perspectives in Kāi Tahu culture. The mountain is, above all, a symbol of our tribal and regional identity. That’s got nothing much to do with its location – although that obviously commands cultural attention – but mainly because of its centrality in the Te Waipounamu creation story. And it is a distinctive creation story, part of a creation myth which has survived here in the remote outskirts of Polynesia while it has been lost at the centre where it came from. Aoraki made us distinctive, and it makes all people distinctive that live under its span. Juliet Peter’s depiction of it is unusual, but every way you look at Aoraki you’ve got a different perspective.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Mackenzie Country
Esther Studholme Hope Mackenzie Country

The viewpoint Esther Hope chose for this work allowed her to show the vast expanse of the Mackenzie Country, which stretches out before the viewer towards the Southern Alps. This region was a favourite subject of Hope’s, one that she returned to throughout her career.

She said that “this land is a part of me … I have never regretted my choice of environment [and] have always felt a strong feeling of primitiveness [here].” Hope’s mature style is seen here, with broad wet washes of colour confidently used.

Hope was born near Geraldine, South Canterbury. She was first introduced to painting through her mother, Emily Studholme, an accomplished amateur artist. She also took lessons from Edwyn Temple and Margaret Stoddart. In 1912 Hope left New Zealand for England where she enrolled at the Slade School of Art, London. In 1919 she returned to New Zealand, married Henry Norman Hope and settled at the Grampians Station in the Mackenzie Country.

Collection
Dry September
William Sutton Dry September

'The Bruce is a route, it’s a river; it’s a place my grandfather, a West Coast MP, used to walk, east and west. If there was no coach, he’d go up the Bruce and down the whatever. His diary is always taking about up the Bruce or down the Bruce.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Canterbury Spring
Leo Bensemann Canterbury Spring

Exhibited at The Group show in 1961, this work by Leo Bensemann was part of a ‘Four Seasons’ suite which also included Autumn, Winter and Summer. It marked a change in his work in that landscapes came to dominate his paintings from this period on. Bensemann has given the landscape a structured composition, with objects outlined in a strong, clean and definite manner. This has similarities with work by other Canterbury landscape painters who shared a concern for painting the unique regional imagery of the Canterbury landscape in a formal simplified manner.

Born in Takaka, Bensemann shifted to Nelson with his family in 1920. He moved to Christchurch in 1929 and he worked for an advertising agency. He attended evening classes at the Canterbury College School of Art between 1932 and 1936. It was in 1934 that Bensemann met poet Denis Glover and became involved with the Caxton Press as a typographer, an association he maintained until his retirement in 1978. He was a regular exhibitor with The Group from 1938.

Collection
Camp in the Kowai
Austen A Deans Camp in the Kowai

'The Kowai would, in standard Māori, be pronounced Kōwhai – it's named after the kōwhai tree [native tree with yellow flowers].' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Mountains, Cass
Rita Angus Mountains, Cass

“I was glad to see this painting again for a few minutes. […] I was ‘knocked out’ by the clear admission of truth. I am amazed that at one time (years ago), and in about three to four hours, I had the power & courage to paint Cass.”

—Rita Angus

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

Collection
Plain and Hills
Louise Henderson Plain and Hills

Mystery still shrouds the exact location shown in this work by Louise Henderson, but the vista, as well as the work’s date, make a convincing argument for it being painted on the same inland venture with fellow artists Julia Scarvell and Rita Angus in 1936, when Angus painted Cass.

'Those passes and those routes – Noti Raureka [the Browning Pass], Tiori Pātea [Haast Pass] – they were 
all done and opened up with Māori guides, even though they’ve been named by Pākehā surveyors since.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
The Long Lookout
Ivy G Fife The Long Lookout

'Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa, the son of Aoraki, is the atua [demi-god] who shapes the wrecked waka to ready it for people. His first great task is to defeat the south-easterly winds roaring along the side of the wreck. He invents peninsulas. He rakes all the rubbish of the wreckage and piles it up like a gigantic break water. Thus you have the Canterbury Plains and a sheltered place for his next invention, Whakaraupō [Lyttelton Harbour] and Akaroa Harbour. He then depresses his heel and creates Waihora [Lake Ellesmere], later claimed by the exploring ancestor, Rākaihautū, as Te Kete ika o Te Rākaihautū [the fish basket of Rākaihautū].' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Cass
Rita Angus Cass

'The word for a pass or saddle in Māori is nonoti or noti; Noti Raureka is the Browning Pass, not that far from Cass, which is closer in proximity to Arthur’s Pass. There’s a story about a woman named Raureka of the Ngāti Wairaki tribe on the West Coast. Raureka travelled to the east coast carrying a piece of pounamu [greenstone], which is a traditional story of how the eastern migrants found out about pounamu. I often doubt that explanation. By the seventeenth century, when Kāi Tahu were coming here, they knew about pounamu but not of the routes required to reach it. Finding a route to the West Coast was important. The man who becomes significant in that story is Te Rakitāmau, who features in the traditional accounts of the routes across the Alps. In later years, the Noti Raureka route was reserved for war parties and for freighting pounamu back to Kaiapoi. The Lewis Pass was preferred because it’s an easier walk with freight, and Browning is quite stiff.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Evening
Colin S. Lovell-Smith Evening

'Well, this is Haumuri Point south of Kaikōura. Pākehā called it Amuri – you’ve got Amuri Motors, Amuri buildings, Amuri district or whatever. It is called Haumuri, and it was always explained to me that the name was given because the wind there is always behind you.

'In the Te Waipounamu creation story, Tu-Te-Raki-Whanoa had two assistant atua [demi-gods], Marokura and Kahukura. We could say that Kahukura was in charge of all parks and reserves, and Marokura was in charge of 
the Ministry of Fisheries. The whole coast is inhabited by the work of those atua. The land is clothed and beautified by Kahukura. Marokura goes off to make his own peninsula at Kaikōura. He was a fishing atua – he wasn’t much of a civil engineer – so it’s only a small peninsula. He puts the great riches of the sea into the coast, which was his skill. The coast is called Te Tai o Marokura; some people call it Te Koha o Marokura.' —Sir Tipene O’Regan

(He Rau Maharataka Whenua: A Memory of Land, 17 September 2016 – 18 February 2017)

Collection
Hawkins
Rata Lovell-Smith Hawkins

By the early 1930s Rata Lovell-Smith was highly regarded for her paintings of the Canterbury landscape. One Christchurch reviewer in 1933 glowingly commented on her work:

'Of the painters who direct their attention towards the essential characteristics of New Zealand scenery […] Mrs Lovell-Smith makes an extremely direct statement of her subject. She paints with a large full brush in a series of broad planes. There is nothing 'bitty' about her work. This, perhaps, is its greatest virtue, a virtue that cannot be too highly praised. She glories in the colour contrasts of the New Zealand landscape. […] There are no subtleties but a series of vivid and simplified impressions of her native country. Whereas many pictures by [other] exhibitors […] might have been painted in other countries, there can never be any doubt about the locality of Mrs Lovell- Smith's landscapes. It is as though she had never got over her first impression of violent tone and colour contrasts, and in a state of beatific astonishment had set herself to establish that impression at the expense of anything that tended to modify it.'

In the vast emptiness, 8 January - 21 August 2016

Collection
Summer Kowai, 1934
Cedric Savage Summer Kowai, 1934

Kowai Bush is a farming area in the foothills of Central Canterbury, where typically the summers are very hot and dry. Like other Canterbury landscape artists of the 1930s, Cedric Savage was interested in recording the unique features of the Canterbury region. He was essentially a plein air (outdoors) artist concerned with painting directly from nature but in Summer, Kowai he has worked in a careful manner, keeping control over the application of paint. Born in Christchurch, Savage studied at the Canterbury College School of Art. He later studied with Sydney Lough Thompson (1877-1973) and Archibald Nicoll (1886 - 1953). After travelling, he returned to New Zealand in 1933, settling in Christchurch where he became vice-president of the New Zealand Society of Artists. Savage’s eyes were injured during World War II and for the rest of his life he could only paint outdoors. Although he won the Kelliher Art Award in 1962, Savage felt unappreciated in New Zealand and spent many years living away from the country, finally settling in Greece.