Wednesday, December 07, 2016
The Groove Book Report : Gottfried Lindauer's New Zealand The Maori Portraits - Edited by Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope
This book coincides with a major exhibition currently on at the Auckland Art Gallery. This is an opportunity to explore Aotearoa New Zealand’s rich history through more than 120 historical portraits of Māori and Pākehā by our most prolific professional colonial painter, Gottfried Lindauer.
Through this incredible collection (some privately owned, some in public hands such as the War Memorial Museum and Te Papa) you can experience for yourself the power of Māori chiefs and leaders whose images are forever recorded in oil, and see how artist Gottfried Lindauer captured the practice of tā moko (facial tattoo). Gottfried's attention to detail was almost photographic. He was obsessed with the accuracy, capturing not just the idea but almost the very soul of the skin's owners. The exhibition also includes photographs, taonga (treasures) and keepsakes, allowing you to discover Lindauer’s early art beginnings in Europe, as well as his life in New Zealand from his arrival in Wellington in 1874 until his death in Woodville in 1926. And through out we learn about about the artist’s early days in Bohemia, his artistic inventions in New Zealand, and the close relationships he built with patrons and those he photographed and painted. Discover how the artist contributed to the significance of portraiture in New Zealand and learn what his works mean for us today.
The first 50 pages concentrate on Lindauer's background and his biography. Emeritus Professor Patu Hohepa offers us a short introduction and prayer in Te Reo, a kind of blessing that anoints the reader and makes this journey extra special. Auckland Art Gallery Director Rhana Devenport provides, in a potted perspective in the introduction, of an incredible life. From the 1870s to the early twentieth century, the Bohemian immigrant artist Gottfried Lindauer travelled to marae and rural towns around New Zealand and – commissioned by Māori and Pākehā – captured in paint the images of key Māori figures. For Māori then and now, the faces of tūpuna are full of mana and life. Now this definitive book on Lindauer’s portraits of the ancestors collects that work for New Zealanders.
What is so fantastic about this book is the wonderful quality of the reproduction of the 67 major portraits and 8 genre paintings, accompanied by well researched and detailed accounts of each subject. I was on a Marae last month and was reminded that the photos displayed in the hare nui represent the ancestors - in fact while they are in the house, they are alive and part of the proceedings. Just imagine the absolute joy for Ngati Raukawa when they come face to face with a portrait of Karawira Kapu (1883), the niece of Hitiri e Parekawa. Kapu, herself was a major land holder in South Waikato and Taupo, she made claims to land in the Native Land Court, and had tried to influence the government land purchasers of the day. Plus, in Western society, she was a woman. Women of note were still far and few so the fact that Lindauer knew she was important and chose to paint her portrait speaks volumes about his own egalitarianism and tolerance for his sitters who came to his Queen Street studio in Auckland, where Māori visited to see their ancestors; and the afterlife of the paintings in marae and memory. For Māori, the faces that look out from Lindauer’s portraits are tribal leaders and family members. They are tohunga and politicians. They are ancestors and friends. Gottfried Lindauer met Maori tūpuna at the most basic level of human connection by capturing their likeness. This book returns the ancestors and the artist to the people.
At the end of the book there are a number of essays on the painter and his subjects. Auckland Art Gallery Conservator Ute Larson and Auckland University Art Historian Jane Davidson-Ladd take us on a fascinating and intimate journey through Lindauer's personal relationship with painting and photography. I was particularly taken with the accompanying painted photographs of Beatrix and Gertrude Anthony which still pop with energy. They have the same mystique and grace as the best handcrafted photographs but with the depth of a painting and the clinical accuracy of a photo.
Sarah Hillary (Principal Conservator Auckland Art Gallery) takes us deep into Lindauer's Paint box to find out about his techniques and inventions. Being so far from Europe he was free to paint as he wanted, without the inhibitions or the restraints of the salons of Paris or elsewhere. His approaches were not only innovative at time but also refreshing - even to the antipodeans that made up his patrons. With the aid of a special ultraviolet light we can see the cross sections from the cloak in his painting Tamati Waka Te Puhi, which shows multiple layers and the resinous glaze between the grey and black paints that has levels of protein to maintain the luster even a hundred years later. This is but one of the miracles revealed but there are plenty more.
Chanel Clarke (Maori Curator at Auckland Art Gallery) takes a look at the costuming in Lindauer's painting and asks why some of the subjects choose to wear Western clothing but others remain in the traditional or remain on the Pa as opposed to in the studio. What also strikes me is how Lindauer never stoops to exploit his subjects or make them into cheap postcard images, which were so popular at the time. He chooses to allow them to extol their mana through his oils. Of course, it's no secret that his paintings also reveal the crumbling of the old world, as Western society takes hold. This is the most evident in portraits like King Tawhiao ad his wife Hera who are photographed between 1880 and 1894 in a mix of top hats, jackets and cloaks. An almost comical Victorian cartoon of the 'natives' - had it not been for the fact that these people in their Sunday best really dressed like this and it was as normal to them as seeing a Kaumatua wearing a tracksuit and sneakers today.
Ngarino Ellis looks at personal adornment and how Lindauer captured the details and the spirit of moko, jewelry and hei tiki. An important thing to note was that these paintings reserve these pieces in a way keeping them and their special significance alive. A Hei Tiki, for instance, could have special mana for the wearer, so it was essential that this was preserved in the painting.
Kahutoi Te Kanawa and Ngahirataka Mason look at the Kakahu tradition, that of weaving. Lindauer again was obsessed by the details and fascinated by the new crafts of Maori. In the painting Heenai Hirini and Child (1878), for instance, he captures the cloak's white flax, red dots and black string strands with a very special touch. It's so delicately done, you can almost touch the fabric. This essay interweaves photos and comments about how the garment was made and how it was weaved, to give context and reference.
Finally, Jane Davidson-Ladd looks at the 'Speaking Likeness', as she notes that Lindauer's Pakeha portreaits have all but been overlooked in the modern age, compared t the Maori subjects. Ad it is unknown how many there actually are in existence. A contemporary Joseph Kofensky estimated that it was around 1000. Art historian Leonard Bell estimates that about 2/3 of his subjects over his career were pakeha. Davidson-Ladd looks at his appeal and why he was in so much demand, perhaps because of his photographic eye. His most awesome skill. "As viewers," she proffers, "we have the agency to make them (the portraits) once again a speaking likeness".