Petrus van der Velden

Netherlands / Aotearoa New Zealand / Australia, b.1837, d.1913

Mount Rolleston and the Otira River

“For the first three days I did nothing at all but just looked, it took my breath away.” —Petrus van der Velden on his first visit to Ōtira.

Van der Velden sensed something about Ōtira that inspired him to avoid the picturesque in favour of something more powerful, and works like Mount Rolleston and the Otira River contain a great visual energy. The mountains seem to wedge into the landscape, their softness suggests a misty or rainy wind and emphasises the intense silvery light breaking the dauntingly overcast sky. A hint of blue is either a speck of hope or the last gasp of light before the storm completely envelops the land and raging river below.

(Endless Light, 29 June 2019 – 8 March 2020)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • McCahon / Van der Velden, 18 December 2015 – 7 August 2016

    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.'

  • Van der Velden: Otira, 10-22 February 2011

    An intense sense of loneliness and melancholy prevails throughout van der Velden’s Mount Rolleston series, and particularly this painting. The artist creates a powerful sense of drama that is accentuated by strong tonal contrasts. Mount Rolleston is silhouetted in front of a bank of heavy cloud through which sunlight can barely penetrate. Van der Velden conveys the raw and seemingly brutal power of nature and we, the viewers, are left in no doubt as to our insignificance before its force. We can sense the weight of the storm clouds as they hang threateningly up the valley and van der Velden successfully creates a landscape that imbues a sense of awe and commands respect.

    Quadrant: Four themes of Van der Velden, 20 October 2006 – 25 March 2007

    Van der Velden completed several versions of this scene in a variety of different weather conditions. In this work, the view looks across the Otira river towards Mount Rolleston and the ranges of the Southern Alps beyond. The dark, foreboding silhouette of the mountain dominates the composition and contrasts dramatically with the light penetrating through the storm clouds. In the foreground, the swollen Otira river flows in a torrent, crashing amongst boulders and rocks. Van der Velden’s expressive treatment is intended to reinforce the indomitable nature of the river as it surges down the valley.