Colin McCahon

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1919, d.1987

Van Gogh: Poems by John Caselberg

  • 1957
  • Lithographs
  • Gift of Christchurch City Libraries, 2005
  • Reproduced courtesy of Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust
  • 355 x 250mm
  • 2005/076.1-5

Colin McCahon produced his first lithograph in 1954, and in 1957 completed two suites of lithographs, including Van Gogh – poems by John Caselberg. He employed a commercial lithographer for these works with mixed results, likely due to the fact that he had little say in quality control with the printer. Nevertheless, it was ultimately a successful suite. Colin incorporated John Caselberg’s poem sequence, ‘Van Gogh’, into his drawings, writing the poem out across several sheets in his iconic handwriting, which he also usedin his paintings. Colin also worked with other print mediums, including a small potato print also in this exhibition, but it is his lithographs from the 1950s that were his most successful.

Ink on Paper: Aotearoa New Zealand Printmakers of the Modern Era, 11 February – 28 May 2023

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • Painters As Printmakers (19 October 2007 - 20 January 2008

    Colin McCahon’s Van Gogh suite of lithographs incorporates several poems by his close friend and poet John Caselberg. The poems are written in the first person, with Caselberg adopting the voice of Vincent van Gogh himself, and cover a range of moods experienced by the troubled Dutch painter. McCahon responded visually to the text, creatively incorporating his drawings with Caselberg’s words. As with many of McCahon’s paintings, these lithographs reflect a sense of pervading darkness. They are not merely literal translations of the poems, but are infused with his imagery and unique handwriting style which had such a large presence in his paintings.

    McCahon is widely acknowledged as New Zealand’s most respected painter. During the mid 1950s he produced several lithographs, including the Manukau and Van Gogh suites, which he produced with a commercial printer in Auckland. At this time there were no professional print workshops in New Zealand for McCahon to collaborate with; although he was a little dissatisfied working with commercial printers, his lithographs from this time remain an important component in the history of New Zealand printmaking.

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

    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.