Colin McCahon’s works became some of the most recognisable and celebrated paintings ever to be produced in New Zealand.
Born in Dunedin in 1919, McCahon regularly visited the Dunedin Public Art Gallery with his family during his childhood. In July and August 1936 he made several visits to an exhibition by Toss Woollaston, whose landscapes gave direction to his desire to become a painter.
Len Lye is a controversial figure in New Zealand art, an internationally renowned and influential artist who is seen by some as an outsider whose art has little relevance to the local tradition.
Lye was born in Christchurch in 1901. His father died three years later and Len was raised by his mother and various relatives. In 1908 the family moved to the Cape Campbell lighthouse, after his mother remarried. Although only there for a year, the experience was formative, with references often reappearing in his later art.
Wellington Harbour, James Nairn
The last decade of the 19th century was highly significant for the development of the visual arts in New Zealand. The main reason was the arrival of several professional painters from Europe – Petrus van der Velden (1837–1913), James Nairn (1859–1904) and Girolamo Nerli (1860–1926) – who contributed fresh ideas through their teaching and practice, invigorating the local art scene. All three men arrived quite coincidentally from 1889 to 1890.
Early European painting in New Zealand was dominated by landscapes and images of exotic Māori. From the 1890s the local art scene was boosted by the arrival of professional painters from Europe. But it wasn't until the 1930s and 40s that a distinct style of painting began to emerge here.