Chief from Santa Christina

Recently I had to prepare a short talk on an object in Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand’s) collections. I chose two prints currently on display on level 5. These both relate to the second voyage of James Cook to the Pacific – this article on the Te Papa website is also about that voyage if you’d like more information.

“We might think armchair travel is relatively new, but it isn’t – it was also popular in the 18th century. If you couldn’t travel you could hopefully at least read about it and look at the pictures. All the images in this area relate to the voyages of James Cook – he made three voyages to the Pacific in the late 18th century, and was killed in Hawai’i on the third voyage. ‘The Chief at Santa Christina’ comes from his second voyage – the voyage artist was William Hodges, but this print was made back in England a few years later from a Hodges drawing or watercolour. Continue reading


Banishing boredom in Ferrara

I have just finished reading Ali Smith’s 2014 novel How to be Both (Penguin). It is in two parts – one is narrated by a Renaissance artist, Francesco del Cossa (although Smith spells it Francescho) and one part by a contemporary teenage girl living in Cambridge, England. I read in a review that half the books were published with the artist’s part first and half with the teenager’s first (George, for Georgia, is her name). The version I read began with the artist’s story, which is the most challenging stylistically (and, at times, I found it a bit boring). I found the teenager’s story much easier to read and more interesting – I think I’d have preferred to have read a version with her story first! Of course, I’ll never know now. The artist is in our times, but it’s unclear (to me, at least) if he’s meant to be a ghost/spirit or is actually imagined by the teenager and her friend for a school project. That’s about all I want to say about the book – there are plenty of online reviews for those who want to know more. Continue reading

‘Nature and culture in harmony’

“It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; – and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.” (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, first published 1813)

My title ‘nature and culture in harmony’ comes from the 1996 television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – Elizabeth Bennet’s uncle Mr Gardiner says it in the carriage as they are on their way to visit Pemberley House. However, I don’t think it appears in the book, but is likely to be an adaptation of the quote above. Continue reading

New Zealand Christmas stamp art

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Friends of Te Papa  Christmas event, which included an informative and entertaining talk by Dr Mark Stocker, Curator Historical International Art, about the art used on some of New Zealand’s Christmas stamps. Click this link to read Mark’s own post about it. Continue reading

Shakespeare and Millais

For the past ten weeks I have been doing a free online course (a MOOC, which I had to look up to find out what it stands for: ‘A massive open online course (MOOC /muːk/) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.)’ It is called ‘Shakespeare and his World’, taught by the University of Warwick and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Continue reading

French Picturesque Gardens of the 18th Century

rousseau tombFrench philosophe Jean Jacques Rousseau’s tomb in Rene de Girardin’s garden of Ermenonville. Rousseau’s body was removed during the French Revolution and reinterred in the Pantheon in Paris. (Image from Wikipedia)


I wrote this essay in 2006 for an art history Honours course on eighteenth-century French art. The images were photocopied from books, so the quality isn’t good, but at least should help when reading the essay.


Experiencing French Picturesque Gardens of the mid-later 18th Century: Gendered Spaces?

“There will never be pleasant gardens unless places already embellished by nature are chosen, delightful places where the eye will fall on a landscape adorned with a thousand rustic charms and where contemplation will give rise to those moments of sweet reverie which hold the soul in happy repose.”

Abbe Laugier, On Architecture, (1753)

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The ‘New Zealander’ contemplates the ruins of London

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859) was a British historian, writer and politician. In 1840 he wrote: “And she [meaning the Catholic Church – see below] may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Paul’s.”

Gustave Dore New ZealanderAnd 32 years later, the book, “London: A pilgrimage” (Blenchard Jerrold) illustrated by Gustave Dore, included as the last of its 180 images that of “the New Zealander” perched on Thames rock sketching the ruins of London. He is regarding the ruins of an earlier civilisation just as an English noble might have done on his ‘grand tour’.

The grand tour was a ‘rite of passage’ for young wealthy Englishmen, particularly in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, to tour parts of Europe to finish off their education. The ruins of Rome and Greece (and occasionally further afield in Asia) were often the target of the tour. This is exemplified in Johann Tischbein’s painting of ‘Goethe in the Roman Campagna’ (1786-7). (This painting was shown at Te Papa in Wellington a few years ago in European Masters: 19th-20th century art from the Städel Museum, and came to mind when I looked at Dore’s ‘New Zealander’.) Continue reading