John Gully

Aotearoa New Zealand / British, b.1819, d.1888

On the Baton

  • Christchurch Art Gallery Trust Collection
  • Watercolour
  • 810 x 1065 x 35mm
  • L86/91
  • 1881
  • View on google maps

John Gully arrived in Taranaki in 1852 and eventually settled in Nelson. He became one of New Zealand’s most popular artists and was often referred to as the ‘New Zealand Turner’ in comparison to the great English romantic painter William Turner. Gully’s standing as an artist in colonial New Zealand was summed up by his obituary in Christchurch’s Press. This colony has had no more worthy exponent of her beautiful scenery than Mr John Gully. He was the acknowledged head of landscape painters in the colony, his pictures being characterised by a great fidelity to nature as well as a thorough mastery of technique. He was particularly happy in reproducing the wonderful atmospheric effects so characteristic of New Zealand. He was, in short, thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the country and its scenery, and caused it to breathe through his pictures...

(March 2018)

earlier labels about this work
  • The Baton River flows from the Mt Arthur Range, in the Nelson district of the South Island, into the Motueka River. Following 19th century landscape convention, John Gully has stressed the vast distance across the mountain valley and the majesty of the distant mountain range. Gully was one of New Zealand’s foremost watercolour painters during the late 19th century Colonial period. He specialised in romantic and atmospheric scenes, earning himself the title of the ‘New Zealand Turner’. Gully traveled extensively, making sketches that he later used as studies for works painted in his studio. Born in Bath, England, Gully worked in the design department of an iron foundry but also took private lessons in painting. In 1852 he sailed for New Zealand, settling first in the North Island, but he moved to Nelson in 1860 to become Drawing Master at Nelson College. In 1863 Gully was appointed draughtsman at the Nelson Provincial Survey Office. He was a very prolific artist, completing at least 700 works. (2003)

    In 1878 John Gully retired from his position at the Lands and Survey Department in Nelson to devote his time entirely to painting. Over the following years he travelled within the Nelson Province, extensively through the South Island, and to the southern regions of the North Island.

    He also spent time reworking sketches and colour studies made years earlier, which is likely with this watercolour of the Batton River valley. The Batton River is a tributary of the Motueka River in Nelson. It was named after a runaway sailor boy Batton North who was employed to make a track through the bush nearby. Since John Gully's time the spelling of the name has changed from Batton to Baton.

    By the 1880s John Gully was exhibiting regularly and had become New Zealand's foremost watercolourist. He was often described as 'the New Zealand Turner'. This work was intially presented to the Canterbury Society of Arts in 1890 by Mrs Garcia, the wife of Captain Charles Garcia, the first secretary of the society. In 1996 it was purchased for the Gallery with the assistance of the Trust Bank Canterbury Community Trust.

    (Label date unknown)