Quadrant: Four themes of Van der Velden

20 October 2006 – 25 March 2007

Petrus van der Velden's key themes – the Dutch funeral, the Otira Gorge, the rural worker and portraits – are explored through his dramatic and sensitive preparatory drawings, sketches, watercolours and paintings.

Petrus van der Velden’s key themes – the Dutch funeral, the Otira Gorge, the rural worker and portraits – are explored through his dramatic and sensitive preparatory drawings, sketches, watercolours and paintings.

Every man can learn to draw, therefore every man can learn to know. So wrote Petrus van der Velden in his studio notes for one of his Christchurch art students, Robert Procter. Drawing was central to Van der Velden’s art, as is witnessed by the large number of sketches and sketch books in public and private collections throughout New Zealand. A constant element throughout his career, Van der Velden’s drawings provide a wonderful insight into his art and life. Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū has a large collection of Van der Velden’s work, including several important sketch books from significant periods throughout his career that show work from his time in The Netherlands, Canterbury/New Zealand and Australia.

The exhibition Quadrant: Four themes of Van der Velden focuses on drawings associated with four prominent themes found in Van der Velden’s work: his renowned funeral cycle, portraits, labourers and the spectacular Otira Gorge. These works show his many different approaches to drawing – from spontaneous and freely drawn sketches to more contemplated, finished works in both pencil and charcoal. A small selection of tracing drawings, which Van der Velden used to scale up correct proportions in his oil paintings, are also included. Several paintings, both in oils and watercolours, have been selected to complement the drawings, and in some cases help to illustrate how his drawings were translated or progressed into finished paintings.

There is no question that Van der Velden was a painter first and foremost, and it is this branch of his art for which he so well known in New Zealand. However, equally impressive is his skill as a draughtsman as shown by the numerous drawings that have survived. When leafing through his sketch books, one is immediately struck by the assurance and confidence with which he drew his subjects and the instinctive spontaneity in his approach. Today, he is considered one of the major painters to have worked in New Zealand during the late nineteenth century. Quadrant focuses in particular on Van der Velden’s skill in drawing, highlighting his exceptional sensitivity and technical ability in this aspect of his oeuvre.

PETER VANGIONI

Peter Vangioni is Curator (Works on Paper) at the Gallery. Extract taken from Bulletin 146 September – November 2006.