Leo Bensemann

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1912, d.1986

Canterbury Spring

  • 1961
  • Oil on board
  • Purchased 1961
  • 511 x 547mm
  • 69/138

In 1930s New Zealand there was wide discussion about what was unique about the New Zealand situation; what it was that made us different from the rest of the world. Artists and writers began exploring ways to identify our national identity. A number of artists began painting the Canterbury High Country, most famously Rita Angus and her landscape painting of the railway station at Cass. One reviewer in 1936 observed that there was a new quality in the landscapes exhibited in Christchurch that seemed ‘to consist in a removal of the romantic mists which used to obscure mountains and the Canterbury countryside generally. The light now is clear and hard, the colours are in flat planes, and the effect is of seeing the country through a gem-like atmosphere. There is also a new romantic standpoint – an insistence on the isolation and brooding loneliness of the hills.’ It’s a statement that certainly rings true with the Canterbury paintings of Rita Angus, Leo Bensemann, Louise Henderson, Rata Lovell-Smith and Bill Sutton.

(March 2018)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • 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.