In this work James Nairn focuses on the busy wharves of Wellington harbour. The harbour's timeball tower, at the head of the Railway Wharf, can be seen in the distance. Wellington harbour was a favourite subject for Nairn, one that he explored repeatedly from 1891 when he settled there.
One of his primary interests was in the effects of light on the surface of the water. Here his rapid, loose technique effectively captures the vibrant sense of light playing on water.
Nairn was born in Scotland and studied at the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and at the Academie Julian, Paris. He was a part of the Glasgow School of painters ('The Glasgow Boys') who were influenced by the French Impressionists. Nairn emigrated to New Zealand in 1890 and taught at the Wellington Technical College. He exhibited with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Art but in 1892, dissatisfied with this institution, formed the Wellington Art Club. In 1894 Nairn rented Pumpkin Cottage, which became a favourite meeting place for artists interested in outdoor painting.