Special Collections is thrilled to have Colin McCahon’s 1959 painting Landscape through a Victorian window on display in the Reading Room. The painting is ‘standing in’ for Don Binney’s In the lee of a looted island which is part of the current exhibition at Old Government House.
McCahon is considered one of New Zealand’s most prominent painters and one of the first adopters of Modernist principles: key qualities of his work include its large scale, the overlaying of text in white, and its depiction of the New Zealand landscape. McCahon also channelled his Christianity into his artworks, with many including religious figures and motifs.1
Born in Timaru in 1919, McCahon spent most of his younger years in Dunedin, attending Otago Boys’ High School and the Dunedin School of Art. He first exhibited his work at the Otago Art Society in 1939. In 1953 he moved to Auckland, working at the Auckland City Art Gallery, first as a custodian and then as the Deputy Director. McCahon resigned from the Gallery in 1964 to take up a teaching position at Elam School of Fine Arts.2
The painting is not the only material created by or relating to McCahon cared for by the Cultural Collections team. By chance, a bronze bust of McCahon by Anthony Stones, a long-standing feature of the Reading Room, sits directly opposite the painting and, to round things off, Special Collections has put out a selection of related ephemera in the room’s showcase. The bronze bust is also part of the University of Auckland Art collection while the ephemera comes from four envelopes of material relating to McCahon’s career which are part of the extensive art ephemera collection held in Special Collections.3
The Cultural Collections team also care for another 20 artworks by McCahon, a set of his designs for stained-glass windows, books illustrated by him, and seven poems written in homage to Rita Angus.4 Written not long after Angus’ death in 1970, the handwritten poems refer to their long friendship and provide insights into events in both of their lives.
Katherine Pawley, Special Collections
- View Landscape through a Victorian window and related display in the Special Collections Reading Room, Level G of the General Library | Te Herenga Mātauranga Whānui until 14 December 2023, Monday to Friday, 12-5pm.
- Request to view Colin McCahon’s artist files, books, or poems to Rita Angus in the Reading Room by emailing Special Collections.
- Learn more about the University of Auckland’s Art Collection.
Featured image: Gallery and exhibition ephemera from Colin McCahon’s artist files.
- Gordon H. Brown. ‘McCahon, Colin John‘, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
- Colin McCahon artist files, University of Auckland Library art ephemera collection, MSS & Archives FA 2017/02.
- Colin McCahon poems to Rita Angus. ca 1972. MSS & Archives 2008/3. Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.