Monday, February 11, 2013


Late last year we visited the very elegant Auckland Art Gallery during our visit to New Zealand.
Opened in 1888, it is wedding cake pretty, in French Renaissance style.

This room was beautiful...

with a gallery running around the upper level.

As is my habit, I sought out some interesting female artists and made their acquaintance.  On the right in the above photo, you can just see this painting:

'Characterisation in Colour' 1941 - May Smith [1906-1988].
I was immediately attracted to this portrait, by New Zealand artist May Smith.
It created controversy in conservative Auckland in 1941.
The sitter, Marie Conlan, wore trousers and a tight knit top, and was smoking as well!  But it became May Smith's best-known painting.

May Smith was born in India in 1906 under the British Raj.
Part of her childhood was spent being educated in England, then at the age of 15 came to New Zealand with her family.  Later she studied at the Royal College of Art in London, returning to New Zealand in 1939.  During the 30s she became involved in left-wing politics and was a member of the Communist party.

She told a story of how this portrait came about:

"We were driving back ... all singing the Internationale at the tops of our voices; I turned around in the car and saw those big eyes and bang - there it was.  The following weekend we went back .... to make the painting!"

Marie Conlan was a striking young woman.  She had already had an operation for cancer, which took her life two years later in 1943.
I think May Smith captured something of this in those big, haunting green eyes.

'Jubilation' 1948, Lois White [1903-1984]
New Zealand artist Lois White painted Jubilation as her response to festivities marking the end of World War II in August 1945.
I love the sense of joy and movement, like an uninhibited dance, in this work.
White was in her Auckland studio, and was disturbed by noise in the street outside.  She thought it was a street fight at first, then discovered that peace had been declared after six long years of war.

The collection and exhibitions of the Auckland City Gallery have become a matter of particular interest in Brisbane.  Their loss is our gain, as the new Director of the Queensland Art Gallery, commencing in April, is Mr Chris Saines, until recently director of the Auckland Gallery.
We look forward to an exciting future for our gallery.

Wishing you a very special week



  1. Hello Patricia:
    To liken Auckland Art Gallery to a wedding cake seems a perfect description. The white stucco is just like icing and the building must make an incredible impression against its surroundings.

    We found the May Smith painting particularly appealing.This is a particular period of Art which we are drawn to generally and we love the idea of the controversy which must have surrounded this work at the time.

    1. Hello Jane and Lance, the art of the early 20th century has great appeal for me too. I love the vibrancy of early Modernism and May Smith's painting captured my attention immediately I entered that room. Thank you for commenting.

  2. I often used to wonder why there were hardly any women paintings in previous centuries, and then I realised that painting was mainly the pursuit of middle and upperclass men. Women were expected to play the piano sweetly, sing and do needlework. If they painted it was just a leisure activity.
    I like the two examples you have shown, smoking was not considered to be the bad vice that it is today.
    May Smith's work just speaks of the 1930s - 1940s period.

    1. I love that period - Art Deco, great fashions, and interesting art.
      When I was studying art history I always looked for the women - there were so few of them, and they always had really fascinating life stories. I think the wearing of the trousers was probably considered more avant garde than the cigarette!
      That was my childhood you describe there: play piano sweetly, sing in choirs, embroider, and a little painting. Still love these things but it looks dreadfully old-fashioned now :)

  3. We have so many galleries here but I don't make enough effort to visit, hubs is a real museum/gallery/theatre type - all too often I roll my eyes and say "boring!"

    1. I do plenty of the eye-rolling too, Tabs! I never look at everything, just zero in on the ones that appeal to me and ignore the rest. Ruthless I am!

  4. That is a beautiful building, and I love the two pieces you've shown us. I could spend forever traipsing around art galleries. (I've just returned from Rome and that was heaven). I too, like the painting of Ms Conlan - the colours and the facial expression say it all.

    1. Wow, you went to Rome! Jealous .. I have never been there but so long to do so. Maybe next year. Glad you like that painting too, it speaks on so many levels.

  5. How lucky you are to have such a gorgeous art gallery, I'm not familiar with the two artists you mention, but their work is quite appealing. May Smith's painting is particularly appealing. That face!

    And what cute shoes you have. Love those two colors together. How appropriate are the two little red hearts. Earrings?

    1. Everybody likes the May Smith painting. It really speaks to women.
      Glad you like my new shoes - navy and fuchsia work well. My red hearts are old earrings from the 80s. I love them and they appear each year round Valentine's Day!

  6. The building is beautiful inside and out. I really like the May Smith painting and the bit of history you gave us to go with it.

    Your shoes look not only colorful but comfortable as well. I'm always looking for a pair of shoes that will work as I deal with my walking issues. These look like they would as long as the sole isn't slippery.


    1. When we drove around a corner to find it, the gallery was a lovely surprise, all white and pretty in the sunshine!
      I know what you mean about comfortable shoes, and when I saw these it was Love at First Sight - lowish heel, wide toes - and a bit of glamour too.

  7. That building is EXACTLY like a wedding cake, the walls look like they're covered in white icing. I've just bought a bag just like your shoes, and didn't we wear fun earrings in the 80's ....XXXX

  8. My shoes say Bonjour to your bag, SB! They would make great friends.
    Yes, 80s earrings - large like the shoulder pads I also wore...I have a few other pairs as well. Maybe they'll come back into fashion one day.. xxx

  9. What a gorgeous building. I could spend hours in galleries. Love your shoes!!! xxx

    1. I loved that white building, just beautiful. Glad you like my shoes - I could not pass them by! xxx