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Object: Te Reinga, Falls of the Wairoa. Hawke’s Bay

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Title Te Reinga, Falls of the Wairoa. Hawke’s Bay
Production Richmond, J C (artist), 1867, New Zealand
Medium summary watercolour
Materials watercolour, paper
Classification watercolours
Dimensions Image: 352mm (Height) x 252mm (Width)
Credit line Gift of EA Atkinson, 1935, on behalf of the artist's daughter, DK Richmond
Registration number 1935-0005-12
James Crowe Richmond received the highest praise of all the colonial artists exhibiting at the first New Zealand International Exhibition in Dunedin in 1865. His oil painting Lake Rotoroa of the same year (whereabouts unknown), was singled out by William Fox, fellow painter and politician, who regretted that the realities of colonial life rendered art little more than a leisure activity for Richmond, and that his ‘artistic activities should be smothered by the details of an official life’. (1)

Richmond’s ‘official life’ was varied. He had received the briefest artistic education in England and trained as a civil engineer, but after arriving in New Zealand in 1851 he was employed as a politician, a journalist and an administrator. As commissioner of Crown lands for the Nelson region from 1862 to 1865, and then as acting native minister from 1866 to 1869, Richmond travelled extensively around the North and the South Islands - on horse, by sea and by foot, from Marlborough to Westland and from Taranaki to the East Cape. This decade proved fruitful for Richmond, for his paintbox was always by his side. Duty and circumstance occasionally curtailed his penchant for painting, as was the case with his visit to Skippers Canyon in the Shotover Valley in 1867. Then he lamented, ‘All was frost and the sun so little on the valley that if time had allowed I could hardly have made a sketch for the cold. But of course, my business, which was to see and be seen, would not let me amuse myself.’(2)

It is the body of work Richmond produced in those stolen moments for which he is best remembered, not the large-scale works that Fox found so appealing. Richmond would have seen such paintings as preliminary sketches that could later be worked up into ‘exhibition pictures’, but their freshness and vibrancy has ensured their lasting appeal. Tim Walker has described the 1860s watercolours as ‘characterised by a sensitive handling of water colour, a distinctive "still" sense of atmosphere, an open - almost photographic - compositional style and a careful draughtsman-like concern for topographical correctness’.(3)

Richmond's work demonstrates an attention to the picturesque, and often avoids referencing the political reason for his presence. Te Reinga, falls of the Wairoa. Hawke’s Bay is the most widely reproduced of Richmond’s watercolours. With its bold, freely applied strokes of restrained colour, it demonstrates his skilful handling of the medium. It was made during a trip to the East Coast in 1867 to deal with Maori grievances. Richmond did not consider the ‘celebrated "face to face" policy’ to have been a ‘brilliant success’, and believed that the only ‘great thing done was the confiscation and carrying off of a beautiful carved house’.(26) This was Te Hau ki Turanga, carved by Raharuhi Rukupo, and now in the care of Te Papa. While this was an ambiguously memorable moment of Richmond’s political career, it possibly ensured that Te Hau ki Turanga remained in New Zealand, for both Sir George Grey and Melbourne Museum were also keen to acquire it.

The works from the 1860s are considered Richmond’s most successful. In the 1870s his output became increasingly conservative and he focused on producing large, highly finished watercolours in the academic tradition. The sixty-seven paintings and drawings that constitute the Richmond collection were selected by the artist’s daughter, Dorothy Kate Richmond, and were given to the National Art Gallery by Esmond A Atkinson following DK Richmond’s death in 1935.

Rebecca Rice

Adapted from an essayoriginally published in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).

1. ‘Rambler’, Wellington Independent, 16 March 1865, p. 3. Annotations in the Hocken Library copy of this paper identify ‘Rambler’ as William Fox.

2. JC Richmond, letter to CW Richmond, Dunedin, 13 June 1867, cited in Guy H Scholefield (ed.), The Richmond-Atkinson Papers, vol. 2, Government Printer, Wellington, p. 250.

3. Tim Walker, ‘James Crowe Richmond’s Artistic Career’, in James Crowe Richmond, exhibition catalogue, National Art Gallery, Wellington, 1991, p. 26.

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