Title / object name
Shipping, Wellington Harbour
|Maker ||Role ||Date |
|Thompson, Sydney Lough ||artist ||1936 |
oil on canvasMaterials
oil paint, canvas
|Image ||1198 (Height) x 1498 (Length) x mm|
|Frame ||1498 (Height) x 1797 (Length) x 84 (Width/Depth) mm|
Gift of the Wellington Harbour Board, 1936
Sydney Lough Thompson’s ambitious painting was one of three views commissioned by the Wellington Harbour Board for the opening of the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum in 1936. Thomson executed his work from the Harbour Board’s premises looking down on Queen’s Wharf, and presenting a close-up of the waterfront unlike the distant vistas chosen by Archibald Nicoll and Nugent Welch, his fellow participants in the project.
Although Wellington Harbour had been a popular subject for previous generations of artists, this large, colourful painting, created in the immediate aftermath of the Depression, suggests a growing sense of confidence and optimism. Sightseers and working men can be made out walking along the quayside, while the nearby tractor with loaded trolleys, as well as the cranes and large freighters in the distance, point to a return of activity in the harbour.
Thompson was working on a larger scale than usual, and in planning this work he made several small, preliminary sketches such as Wellington Harbour, 1936 (University of Auckland), exploring different aspects of his theme. The final composition is adeptly organised around bold diagonals that unify the foreground scene, which is contained by the surrounding hills and sweep of the bay. His elevated viewpoint and strong pictorial design recall French artist Albert Marquet, whose work he would have known. Thompson spent most of his professional life in France, and it was there that he developed an individual style based on broad and confident handling, attention to light effects, and an understanding of colour and tonal relationships.
During the early 1920s the picturesque and colourful harbour scenes that he had completed while at the artists’ colony of Concarneau, Brittany, counted among Thompson’s most successful works, establishing his reputation in New Zealand as one of the country’s most popular painters. Following the success of Shipping, Wellington Harbour, the Lyttelton Harbour Board commissioned Lyttelton from the Bridle Path (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu) in 1936, a work he completed the following year.
This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).