Charles Meryon

France, b.1821, d.1868

Nouvelle Zélande, Greniers indigènes et Habitations à Akaroa (Presqu’île de Banks, 1845

Described as the father of modern etching, French naval officer Charles Meryon was one of the most important artists to work in Waitaha / Canterbury during the colonial era. He served on the Rhin, stationed at Akaroa between 1843 and 1846, to look out for the French settlement there. Meryon made numerous pencil studies at Akaroa which he later used as the basis for this series of etchings completed back in Paris during the 1860s. He planned to publish these and other images of the Pacific in an album, which unfortunately he never completed. The story of the French attempt to settle Te Waipounamu / the South Island is a fascinating chapter in New Zealand’s history. A French whaling captain, Jean Langlois, purchased 30,000 acres from Kāi Tahu on Horomaka / Banks Peninsula in 1838 and returned to France to get government support to establish a French colony at Akaroa. It was from here that he hoped the French would be able to expand throughout the rest of the South Island. A company was formed and sixty- three French and German settlers set sail on the Comte de Paris. They arrived at Akaroa in August 1840 only to find a Union Jack flying at Takapūneke / Green’s Point signalling that British sovereignty had already been claimed. Today, Akaroa continues to retain something of a French flavour.

(Pickaxes and shovels, 17 February – 5 August 2018)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • Believing he had purchased Banks Peninsula from Ngāi Tahu in 1838, the French whaler Jean-François Langlois spearheaded an effort to annex the South Island to France. Operating with the Compagnie Nanto-Bordelaise, the first intended emigrants left France in March 1840 on the Compte de Paris under Captain Langlois’ command. A month earlier, however, the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed between Māori and the British Crown and the prospective French settlers found themselves arriving in Akaroa in August 1840 to a British colony.

    Langlois’ claim was not immediately dismissed; between 1843 and 1846 the French naval corvette Le Rhin was stationed at Akaroa to strengthen and protect French rights. Onboard was the youthful cadet Charles Meryon, who applied his early art training to sketching the area. Meryon pursued an art career on returning to France in 1846. Later he revisited his time in New Zealand through a series of idyllic scenic etchings. (Kā Honoka, 18 December 2015 – 28 August 2016)

  • The translation of the title of this work is ‘native storehouses and dwellings at Akaroa (Banks Peninsula)’. Charles Meryon was based in Akaroa with the French naval ship Le Rhin between 1843 and 1846. Back in France in 1860, Meryon began work on his album Souvenirs du Voyage du Rhin.

    Meryon etched several plates based directly on the drawings he had done in the Pacific. He had studied under the French printmaker Eugène Bléry (1805–1887) whose use of dramatic chiaroscuro (light and dark) effects in his landscapes was a major influence on Meryon’s earlier work. His Pacific subjects tended to be more picturesque.

    Born in Paris, Meryon trained as a naval cadet and Le Rhin had been posted to protect French interests at Akaroa. Meryon had studied watercolour painting and made many sketches, which he later developed into etchings. On his return to France, he decided to become a painter, however he suffered from colour blindness, which may have lead him to turn to printmaking. (Label date unknown)