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Object: The Angel of the Annunciation

This image is All rights reserved. Image © Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

Title The Angel of the Annunciation
Production McCahon, Colin (artist), 1947, Nelson
Medium summary oil on cardboard
Materials oil paint, cardboard
Classification paintings
Technique painting
Dimensions Support: 647mm (Height) x 521mm (Length)
Image: 638mm (Height) x 512mm (Width)
Overall: 758mm (Height) x 634mm (Width) x 24mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1980 with Special Projects in the Arts funds
Registration number 1980-0008-3

This painting belongs to a series of religious paintings that Colin McCahon produced during the late 1940s and early 1950s. In these works, the artist took on a formidable challenge: creating art with a strong social message through a style of painting that was bracingly modern by contemporary New Zealand standards.

Nativity in the Nelson hills
Although not directly involved in World War II, the conflict left McCahon with a keen social conscience and a sense of personal mission. He had a long-standing interest in religious art, and looked to painters of the past, especially to the Italian primitives, in an effort to bring biblical stories to life for New Zealanders. In this work and others of the period, McCahon boldly locates biblical events in the New Zealand landscape. Here, the annunciation takes place in Nelson, with the local golf club in the background and the monumental golden hills beyond.

A shocking message
The Angel of the Annunciation recalls the work of modern European artists such as Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, and Georges Rouault. But in New Zealand there had been no precedent for art like this, with its deliberately thick black outlines, crude forms, ungainly figures, and expressive colour. Audiences were shocked, even outraged, and McCahon was accused of vulgarity and incompetence.

Text and image
In The Angel of the Annunciation, the title becomes an integral part of the composition, anticipating other works in which McCahon would use the comic-book device of speech balloons to give voice to his characters.

Te Papa's substantial collection of works by McCahon includes five of his early religious paintings.

Related information

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