Olivia Spencer Bower

England / Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1905, d.1982

Sea and Cliff, Punakaiki

  • c. 1935
  • Watercolour
  • Purchased with assistance from the Friends of Robert McDougall Art Gallery, 1999
  • 524 x 697mm
  • 99/14
  • View on google maps

More than any of her contemporaries Olivia Spencer Bower embraced watercolour paints. Having lived and worked for most of her life in the South Island, Spencer Bower relished the portability and immediacy of watercolours which enabled her to work with freedom out of doors, directly in the landscape. But it was also the very fluid nature of the medium, the challenge of laying a wash of colour down on to wet paper and the seeming serendipity of the outcome. Spencer Bower was a maestro with this notoriously difficult medium. Here, the very looseness of the sea meeting the land, the violent collision between water and rock, is rendered beautifully in Sea and Cliff, Punakaiki.

(March 2018)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • Punakaiki, on the West Coast of the South Island, attracts many visitors these days for the drama of its seascape and native bush. Olivia Spencer Bower was drawn to it as early as 1934 and returned there regularly throughout her career. The subdued tones she used in this watercolour effectively convey the stormy conditions, with the dark, menacing clouds. The white of the paper, with very few touches of the brush, captures the surge of the surf against the coastal rock formations. Born in England, Spencer Bower was the twin daughter of the New Zealand artist Rosa Spencer Bower (née Dixon). The family came to New Zealand in 1920. Spencer Bower studied at the Canterbury College School of Art before going to the Slade School of Art in London in 1929. She returned to New Zealand in 1931. She devoted her life to painting and, late in her life, established a Foundation which finances an annual scholarship enabling an artist to work full time for one year.