Friday, 31 August 2018

Store re-design for New Zealand Fine Prints

Last day for our old storefront design
After two years of customer research, user testing, design & development the fifth generation of New Zealand Fine Prints' online store went live on Thursday August 30.  So many new ways to find art - searching by shape and size were two of our most asked for features and we are delighted to be rolling these filters out alongside hundreds of other changes.

The design of some of our store elements go back to 1999, nearly twenty years which is an eternity in online shopping and user experience terms.  Prints.co.nz has evolved through 5 major re-designs and this was one of the biggest.

Aside from so many new paths to discover art we have re-built the store from the ground up on a responsive platform which will improve customers shopping experience on mobile and tablet devices.  Behind the scenes there are extra layers of security to protect our customers privacy too. 

The launch has gone relatively smoothly apart from some broken image links for recently added products which took a few hours to fix.  We are now in the post launch QA (Quality Assurance) design testing phase, over one hundred outstanding issues with styling yet to be addressed. 

With orders coming through and shipping out we know we haven't broken the site though and it's so exciting to be looking forward to rolling out all the new features over the next few months.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Early Artists of the Colony


This article is transcribed from New Zealand’s heritage: the making of a nation. Sydney: Hamlyn House, 1971. v4 pp466-471.  We are pretty sure that our close family friend Anthony Murray-Oliver was the author because of the writing style and the fact that he was regarded as the “expert” on New Zealand colonial era art in the 1960s and 70s.  The writer also makes frequent mention of the Turnbull Library (where Tony worked) and its publications, and the references to Avon Fine Prints and to the book Early Prints of New Zealand written by my parents prior to its publication (it didn’t come out till 1978 and he would have been one of the very few people who would have known about the project back in 1971).

I haven't edited the original text so apologies in advance for some some grating turns of phrase to modern ears (the casual sexism, Maori with an s when there is more than one person etc).  However we are bringing this commentary to light as it's not a bad primer on early NZ artists and as an historical snapshot captures what a small space New Zealand art history was occupying back then.  Us publishing and distributing prints of NZ scenes or by NZ artists appears fifty years later to be as pioneering as the first dealer galleries opening their doors around the same time.   It may even be possible to draw a line line between this nascent interest in local artists and the mainstream adoption of what was then called Kiwiana three decades on...


Visiting draughtsmen, botanists and others who were soldiers, surveyors and politicians were among the men who first portrayed the land and its people.

The first European artist to visit New Zealand, Isaac Gilsemans acted as draughtsman to Tasman on his voyage of discovery. Although he did not set foot ashore, Gilsemans drew the first picture of Maoris, at Murderers Bay (now known as Golden Bay, Nelson) in December 1642. His crude representation in Tasman’s journal was first published in 1692, redrawn by the engraver. The original was not reproduced until a facsimile of the journal appeared in 1898.

NZ Warrior by Sydney Parkinson
One hundred and twenty-seven years passed before Europeans came to this country again. Sydney Parkinson (1745?-71), employed by Banks on Cook’s first voyage, made thousands of sketches, many being fine watercolours. Some hundreds are of New Zealand landscapes, plants, the Maoris and their way of life. Apart from their beauty, these are of immense historical interest. Parkinson was among many of Cook’s men who died on the voyage home, from fever and dysentery contracted at Batavia. The engravings in his journal, published by his brother, vary from those after Parkinson which illustrated Hawkesworth’s official account of the voyage.

Official artist on the second voyage was William Hodges, R.A. (1744-97), who was employed by the Admiralty for two years afterwards, making oil paintings from his sketches. These hang in Admiralty House and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Of the four New Zealand oils - all of Dusky Sound - one showing a Maori figure was acquired by the Auckland Art Gallery in 1965. There are fine washes and chalk drawings, some of Maoris, in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Portrait of Captain Cook by Webber
Oils were also made after the third voyage by John Webber, R.A., (1750?-93). As with Hodges, his sketches made as official artist are of greatest interest. Again, few are of New Zealand. The Suter Gallery, Nelson, owns Webber’s oil of Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, long incorrectly titled Cook’s Cove; the National Art Gallery has one of his three portraits of Cook; the Hocken Library, Dunedin, holds two watercolours, of Tahiti and Hawaii. For some years Webber was engaged in making aquatints from his drawings - the only local scene being that of Ship Cove - which were published posthumously as Views in the South Seas by James [sic] Webber.

There are other New Zealand pictures, by Herman Diedrich Sporing (ca1730-71), Banks’s Swedish naturalist - and Cook made a few simple pen-and-ink copies of some of Parkinson’s views. In 1773-74 Johann George Adam Forster (1754-94) made noteworthy watercolours of New Zealand birds; his sketchbook of New Zealand plants is in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. William W. Ellis (d.1785), surgeon’s mate on the second voyage, painted very beautiful watercolours, notably one of the entrance to Dusky Sound, now in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Until recent years the work of these artists has been known only at second-hand, through redrawn engravings, but many were reproduced in black and white in J.C. Beaglehole’s edition of Cook’s Journals. A large number were reproduced in colour for the Cook Bicentenary, in The Voyages of Captain Cook by Rex and Thea Rienits and Captain Cook’s Artists in the Pacific by Anthony Murray-Oliver. There are also modern colour prints of some engravings.

French visitors
Astrolabe in French Pass by de Sainson
Apart from Augustus Earle in 1827-28 the only other trained artists to come here before colonisation were those accompanying several French explorers. Two are outstanding: both were with Dumont D’Urville and engravings after their pictures illustrate accounts of his voyages. Louis-Auguste de Sainson (b.1801) was here in 1826-27 and made good views of Kororareka. Louis le Breton (1790-1866), a surgeon, in 1840 also made Maori studies as well as landscapes. Few originals are available but the Hocken Library holds le Breton’s excellent watercolour of Port Otago.

Of early transients Conrad Martens (1801-78) was most fleeting. Distinguished among Australia’s earlier artists, Martens replaced Earle as FitzRoy’s artist on H.M.S Beagle but from South America moved on to Sydney via Tahiti, and Kororareka - for five days, in 1835. Several of his views of the settlement are in Australia but the only one in New Zealand is in the Alexander Turnbull Library.

While much of our more important colonial art was executed in the course of the artists’ employment in other professions, some tuition in art was usual for most educated persons. Many sketched for their own pleasure or for the benefit of relatives and friends in England. New Zealand inherited the tradition of the English watercolour school, well suited to the topographical paintings that record the early landscape. The country has pictures by hundreds of amateurs painting in New Zealand last century. Though they varied in quality, many were highly skilled. Only a very small proportion can be mentioned here.

Most of our early artists are little known and since they seldom signed their work, identification is difficult except to those who have studied their styles. Many pictures are preserved in England and Australia but the Alexander Turnbull Library, the Hocken Library, the Auckland City Art Gallery and other New Zealand institutions hold thousands of paintings and drawings and a small number are available in published form.

Mt Egmont [Taranaki], painting by Charles Heaphy
First and best known of our colonial artists, Charles Heaphy, V.C., arrived in 1839 with Colonel William Wakefield, as artist and draughtsman to the New Zealand Company. In 1840 in the Company’s second ship, the Cuba, came their first Surveyor-General, Captain William Mein Smith (1798-1869). At the expiration of his contract he took up land in the Wairarapa. As an artist Mein Smith is surprisingly unknown, considering the quality of his watercolours and drawings, of which 105 are in the Turnbull collections. Important artistically and historically, they include views in Canada and Gibraltar where he had seen service.

Amateurs such as Joseph Jenner Merrett (1816-54) are invaluable in our early pictorial records. Merrett, arriving in Auckland in 1840, was employed as a surveyor and Maori interpreter; as an artist he later enjoyed the patronage of Sir George Grey. In style he was almost a primitive The features of his Maoris are quite European, yet his figures have a unique “Maoriness” captured by few others. There are two lithographs after Merrett, one including Hone Heke and another of a Maori feast at Remuera, 1844, of which a modern reproduction has been published. Several of his watercolours are in the Turnbull Library and others may be seen in the Gallery and Public Library in Auckland and in the Hocken Library.

Lithograph of John Gilfillan's "Interior of a Native Village"
John Alexander Gilfillan (1793-1863) was an established artist in Scotland before emigrating to Wellington in 1841, taking up farming near Wanganui the next year. After the death of his wife and four children at the hands of Maoris in 1847, Gilfillan left for Australia. His rare lithograph of Putiki Pa, recently republished, is well known but his skill can be discovered only in his sketchbooks in the Hocken collection, together with a superb oil of a Maori meeting; and the Turnbull’s watercolour of Kapiti and the 1842 sketch of Te Rauparaha purchased by the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust in 1970.

Swainson the Naturalist
Not to be confused with his namesake who came to New Zealand as Attorney-General in 1841, in the same year William Swainson, F.R.S., F.L.S. (1789-1855) came to the Hutt. A distinguished naturalist whose Birds of Brazil is a classic, Swainson took up farming despite Maori harassment. In the 1850s he was engaged by State Governments in Australia as a botanist, but then returned to the Hutt. He made many hundreds of brilliant pencil drawings, mostly in Wellington province. The largest collection, of 200 - including beautiful wash drawings of Sicily - is in the Turnbull Library, with several hundred natural history drawings as well. Other collections are in the Auckland Institute and Museum library, the National Art Gallery, the Dominion Museum, the Hocken Library and the possession of the artist’s descendants.

Early Wellington view (Hawkestone St) by Brees
An important arrival in 1842 was Samuel Charles Brees (1810-65), successor to Mein Smith. He carried out useful surveys for the Company, including the route to the Wairarapa across the Rimutakas. Ironically, he is noted for the black and white engravings made by Melville from his watercolours for the artist’s Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand (1847) published in London in several editions. There are modern colour reproductions of four plates and in 1968 Avon Fine Prints Ltd published a facsimile edition from the Turnbull’s rare hand-coloured copy. This library holds 32 Brees watercolours, a few are in private hands and the Hocken has a major watercolour of an 1843 Maori meeting in the Wairarapa.

Several cadet surveyors accompanied Brees, one being Edmund Norman (1820-75), who later lived in Canterbury for 20 years A few of his finely detailed pen-and-pencil sketches are found in the Turnbull and Hocken collections, and excellent lithographs of Wellington, the Canterbury Plains and Lyttelton - the latter two being reissued in 1970.

A great French etcher, Charles Meryon (1821-68), served in the corvette Le Rhin at Akaroa, 1843-46. In 1848 Meryon exhibited at the Paris Salon a huge drawing reconstructing the death of Marion du Fresne at the Bay of Islands in 1772. Despite inaccuracies of presentation, it is a major work. Part of the Rex Nan Kivell Collection in the National Library of Australia, the picture was presented to New Zealand in 1967 on the visit of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt and placed in the Turnbull Library. Meryon published a volume of Pacific etchings in 1868, four showing Akaroa in 1845.

Since Cook’s Voyages appeared, most New Zealand engravings in England and Europe derived from plates in that publication, until the advent of missionaries in 1814 and colonisation in 1840 stimulated interest in this country. Far more illustrations of New Zealand appeared than is generally realised. An invaluable forthcoming publication from Avon Fine Prints Ltd.,  Early Prints of New Zealand, by E.M. and D.G. Ellis, provides an annotated checklist of all those issued between 1642 and 1875. Many early pictures were re-engraved again and again, often becoming quite misleading. Original artists were rarely acknowledged.

The Illustrated London News commenced in 1842 and for over 20 years published numerous New Zealand scenes. Some early views have often been used in modern books. The best collection, in black and white, is the outstanding pictorial history, Making New Zealand, published by the Department of Internal Affairs for the 1940 Centennial and matched only by New Zealand’s Heritage. Increasing interest in our early art has been encouraged by the annual colour print series published by the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust Board since 1963. The Hocken Library and commercial firms have since entered the field.

Edward Jerningham Wakefield accompanied his uncle in the Tory and in 1845 his Adventure in New Zealand, published in London, was accompanied by a separate folio of 20 black-and-white plates - again there is a hand-coloured Turnbull copy. The Illustrations were after such artists as Heaphy, Mein Smith, Brees and Fox, employed by the Company. A.H. and A.W. Reed issued a facsimile in 1968.

The New Zealand Company supplied some of our best artists, among them Sir William Fox,
Canterbury Plains from the Port Hills by William Fox
K.C.M.G. (1812-93), until latterly known chiefly as a politician. Several times Premier for brief periods, he was knighted in 1879. As an artist he is now considered, at his rare best, to rival Heaphy.
Fox arrived at Wellington in 1842. For some years he worked for the Company before entering politics, carrying out explorations in the Wairarapa (1843); and the Nelson back country (1846-47) with Heaphy and Brunner, where he did some of his most brilliant watercolours. Although lacking the easy technical skill of Heaphy, Fox could respond superbly to the New Zealand scene, capturing it without any intrusive anglicisation - a fault in so many of his successors.

The hundred watercolours Dr T.M. Hocken received from the artist include some of Fox’s best work - notably views of Auckland and Wanganui in the 1850s - as do the 20 purchased by Mr Alexander Turnbull in 1915. The latter, with Heaphy’s and Mein Smith’s, came from the New Zealand Company’s archives. Nine paintings by Fox have been reproduced as colour prints by the Turnbull Library, four being selected from the 250 in the Wilkie Loan Collection.

Angas portrays Maori life
A lesser but more widely known artist than Fox - or Earle, though like him he spent only six months here - George French Angas, F.L.S., F.Z.S. (1822-86), came from South Australia in 1844. Most of his visit was spent in the Taupo and Wellington areas. A facile and competent artist, Angas specialised in native studies and his records of the Maori are important though the features are too European. Most of his watercolours are in the South Australian Museum but the Turnbull purchased two in 1969 - one a portrait of Tamati Waka Nene - and already held an album of preliminary sketches for New Zealand watercolours.

Angas is famous for his large volumes of colour plates, The New Zealanders Illustrated (1846-47), South Australia Illustrated (1847) - both reproduced by Reed in 1966 and 1967 - The Kaffirs Illustrated (1849) and Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand (1847), illustrated in black and white. His New Zealand watercolours have also been reproduced by Reed.

Typical of many young men of good family who came to New Zealand to attain considerable success is Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld, G.C.M.G. (1823-91). Arriving in 1844 he left in 1867, being Premier 1864-65. He was knighted in 1880, having held several colonial governorships elsewhere in the Empire. Virtually undiscovered as an artist, Weld was a most accomplished watercolourist. A few of his paintings are in the Canterbury Museum.

Throughout the British Empire soldiers and surveyors were prominent as early artists. New Zealand was unusual in that here surveyors preceded the soldiers. The first Maori-European wars broke out in 1845 and several soldier-artists made useful records of he campaign and its milieu. Officers received some sketching tuition as part of military training and many were proficient in watercolours. Two of particular interest are Colonel Cyprian Bridge (1808-ca.83) and Lance-Sergeant John Williams, both of the 58th Regiment. Bridge, then a major, kept a most unusually candid journal of the Northland campaign against Hone Heke: a transcript is in the Turnbull Library, with some 50 pictures by the two artists, some being alternative versions. Supplying excellent illustrations of the war, some were used in James Cowan’s The New Zealand Wars and two have been published as Turnbull prints. Williams was the better colourist but most of his watercolours, including four in the Hocken, are copies of Bridge’s.

Another soldier-artist of merit was Lieutenant-General George Hyde Page (1823-1908) who, as lieutenant in the 58th, also came here with reinforcements in 1845. The Turnbull has five of his paintings, one in oils. Lieutenant-General Charles Emilius Gold (1803-71) was colonel of the 65th Regiment, stationed in Wellington from 1846 to 1858. The Turnbull’s Gold collection, recently augmented by purchases in London, contains 37 watercolours, some of much historical interest. Gold was an amateur artist but his work has marked appeal.

Although some of Cook’s New Zealand charts remained in use for two centuries, more detailed charting of our coasts was an early necessity. Admiral Richard Aldworth Oliver, R.N. (1811-89) as captain was in command of H.M.S. Fly surveying New Zealand and Pacific waters. He was a sensitive, accomplished amateur who painted many landscapes and Maori studies. A large collection, held by his grandson in England, was exhibited here between 1948 and 1952. In 1852 eight coloured lithographs by Oliver were published in London as Sketches in New Zealand,  now a collector’s item. Three watercolours are in the Turnbull collections, with photographs of those in England and photocopies of Oliver’s New Zealand journals.

One of PJ Hogan's paintings of Auckland (1852)
The year 1849 saw three important arrivals. Patrick Joseph Hogan (1805-78) came to New Zealand as a soldier but took up art and surveying until leaving for Sydney nine years later. Frequently used as illustrations are four very fine lithographs of Auckland in 1852 after Hogan. A hand-coloured set in Government House, Auckland, was recently reproduced, as was a fifth lithograph, the original watercolour of the latter being in the Auckland Institute and Museum Library. John Buchanan (1819-98) reached Dunedin in 1849 and was first a surveyor, laying out Dunedin, then botanist and draughtsman to the geological survey service. His book on New Zealand grasses was published in 1880. In the Hocken Library are eight watercolours, that of Milford Sound being unexcelled among New Zealand paintings. There are 36 Buchanan pencil sketches and wash drawings in the Turnbull collections.

The Work of Barraud
In 1849 Charles Decimus Barraud (1822-97) arrived at Wellington. Although he came from a family of artists he set up as a chemist, but for the rest of his life painted watercolours prolifically throughout the country. In this century he has tended to be discounted as another Victorian colleague of John
Print of CD Barraud's "Port Chalmers" painting
Gully, but his reputation is rising again as he becomes better appraised from the 250 Turnbull watercolours, most of which were made in the field. Five have been issued as Turnbull prints. Barraud was inclined to overfinish work intended for exhibition. He achieved great success with his volume of chromolithographs, New Zealand: Graphic and Descriptive, published in 1877; a few of the plates have been reissued lately.

Barraud was the first president of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, which he was instrumental in founding in 1889. He was among the first wave of New Zealand artists, those who were consciously (even self-consciously) artists, whose work began to attract public attention. This marked the change in social attitudes which enabled the next generation to accept the possibility of art being a profession in New Zealand.


Monday, 25 June 2018

New Zealand Illustrated by E. Wakefield

Cover of New Zealand Illustrated
This book of sixteen chromolithographic views is more commonly known as "Potts and Willis", to distinguish it from the E . J . Wakefield work,  Illustrations to Adventure in New Zealand [The two Edward Wakefields were cousins.]

New Zealand Illustrated was issued in 1890, though the title page is dated 1889, and was thus the second major chromolithographic book to be printed in New Zealand (the first was Featon's Art Album of New Zealand Flora, 1889). The edition size is not known, though the book was sold at only one guinea a copy, which would seem to indicate a large printing: the book is today very scarce in its complete form. It was published by the well-known and important firm of A . D. Willis, Wanganui, which had been established by a printer who later extended his business by buying out the bookselling and stationery business of W. Hutchison.

Archibald Duddington Willis was born in England in 1842 and arrived in New Zealand in 1857. Trained as a commercial printer, his first business venture in New Zealand was the founding of the Hawkes Bay Herald immediately after his arrival. After the discovery of gold, he left to try his luck on the diggings, but had little success. He moved to Wanganui in 1867, where, in partnership with the Hon.  J. Ballance he managed the Wanganui Herald.

In public life, A. D. Willis became a member of the Borough Council, some-time Chairman of the Harbour Board, and was Member for Wanganui in the House of Representatives from 1893-1896.

Potts, William, 1859-1947. Potts, William 1859-1947 : City of Wellington, N.Z. 1885.
W. Potts, del. Wanganui; A.D. Willis [1885].. Ref: C-060-005.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23224811

The firm of A. D. Willis specialised in chromolithographic printing, particularly Christmas cards, booklets, and programmes, though it also had the distinction of being the only manufacturer of playing cards in the Southern Hemisphere. At the 1885 Wellington Industrial Exhibition A. D. Willis received the first prize and Silver Medal for chromolithographic printing. Dr T. M. Hocken, visiting Wanganui in April 1889 in connection with the organising of the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, made a point of calling to see the printery, and "expressed himself both surprised and pleased . . . at the perfection of Mr Willis' plant and apparatus for lithographic printing." This may have been at the time New Zealand Illustrated was in production.

The man whose name is always associated with Willis, William Potts, was an English lithographer whom Willis brought to New Zealand about 1881, and who remained in his employ for almost twenty years. Known to his fellow workers as "Billy" Potts, he was a quiet and reserved bachelor who lived in a succession of lodgings, and took no part in community affairs. Some of the lithographic stones on which Potts worked for New Zealand Illustrated eventually became paving stones in his employer's garden. Potts lithographed one painting and the photographs of several artists for the views in New Zealand Illustrated, and brief biographical notes on these artists are given below.

The large folding plate of the Tarawera Eruption was taken from a painting by Charles Blomfield, who was a friend of A. D . Willis. Blomfield (1848-1926) had arrived in New Zealand in 1863. A self-taught artist, he painted directly from nature, but frequently made copies of his own work, and maintained himself as a professional painter by selling his works to tourists as souvenirs. Blomfield exhibited frequently throughout New Zealand, and also overseas: at the 1887 Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London he had the distinction of having every picture he entered sold.
Potts, William, 1859-1947. Willis, Archibald Duddington (Firm) :White Terrace, Rotomahana, N.Z.
W. Potts lith; C. Spencer, photo. Wanganui; A.D. Willis [1889].
Ref: B-080-015-a. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23197732

Samuel Carnell
, b.1832, trained as a mechanic in a lace factory, but turned his attention to photography. He came to Auckland in 1862, and worked for Crombie and Webster, photographers. Tempted by the goldfields, he set up small photographic businesses in Hokitika and in Nelson, where he remained only six months before returning to Auckland, which he left for Napier in 1869. His business there prospered, and he settled and became active in community affairs until his retirement in 1905. He was the Member for Napier in the House of Representatives from 1893-1896, and was Mayor of Napier in 1904.

Wrigglesworth and Binns was begun in 1863 by J. D. Wrigglesworth, who took in F. C. Binns as partner in 1874. Their photographic business specialised in portraiture, and they patented their own method of photo finishing. Two First Awards for Photography were won by the firm in 1879 at the Sydney Exhibition and 1881 in Melbourne, and at the 1885 New Zealand Exhibition in Wellington they won the only award made for portraiture.

William Andrews Collis was born in Suva in 1853, and was brought as an infant to Auckland. Educated at the Wesley College, he moved with his family to New Plymouth in 1872, and three years later set up in business as a photographer. Within seven years he had built his own studios, which specialised in portraiture and landscape photography.

William Tyree was also a photographer, who established his business in Nelson in 1878. His photographic collection which is a most valuable record of the development of Nelson city and province, is now in the Alexander Turnbull Library.

James Ring, a Londoner, had trained as an artist and had spent some time in Boston before coming to New Zealand in 1879. He had hoped to settle in Wellington, but ill-health drove him to Greymouth, where he established a successful photographic business in 1880.

John Robert Hanna was an Irish photographer who arrived in New Zealand in 1867. He began in the employ of R. H. Bartlett of Auckland, but soon established the firm of Hemus and Hanna, of which he was manager. This partnership was dissolved in 1885, and Hanna took over the business of Crombie. He won several prizes for photography in Wellington and London.

New Zealand Illustrated was reproduced in facsimile in an edition of 1000 copies by the Salem Publishing Company, Wellington, in 1967 and several plates were also reproduced by Avon Fine Prints during the 1970s so it can sometimes be hard to tell if a second hand print at auction is a genuine antique print from 1890 or a later reproduction.

Monday, 28 May 2018

The New Zealand Association Lithographs

1837 NZ Association Advert selling
"Prints of NZ scenes, landscapes & portraits"
On page 79 of Early Prints of New Zealand this advertisement for "A series of Landscapes, Scenes and Portraits, Illustrative of the Islands of New Zealand and their Native Inhabitants" is reproduced.

From 1837 this is easily one of the very earliest advertisements for prints of New Zealand.

We spend a lot of time figuring out the different reasons people choose to buy prints and what themes or subjects would interest groups of buyers.  It is hard to figure out why prints from the New Zealand Association folio would have been purchased, and a list of subscribers would be interesting if one still exists (please leave a comment if you know its whereabouts!).  Were they decorative, illustrative or aspirational?  Or commercial propaganda of the New Zealand Association?

The plates in the folio are from paintings and drawings by Augustus Earle, the "Wandering Artist" who accompanied Charles Darwin on his famous voyage on the Beagle.

The New Zealand sketches and paintings of Augustus Earle are among the most important pre-1840 impressions, and the prints made from them to illustrate his book on New Zealand, and the later album produced for the New Zealand Association, are both dramatic and delightful.

Earle was the first trained artist to spend any time among the Maori (it was another twenty years before a comparable study, Angas' The New Zealanders Illustrated, would be published).

Earle was the son of an American artist who settled in London after the American War of Independence.  After studying at the Royal Academy,  Augustus exhibited there from 1806 to 1817, and later from 1837 to 1838. He first went to sea in 1815, and over the next twenty years earned the nickname "The Wandering Artist".  He lived in America for almost two years from 1817, and from there visited Brazil, Chile, and Peru. 

Earle arrived in Australia in 1825, and during the three years spent there not only drew and painted but also set up in business as a lithographer.  From Australia he went back to England, via India.  In 1831 he was appointed draughtsman to theBeagle, with Charles Darwin. Illness forced Earle to leave the ship at Montevideo. He stayed there several months before returning to England, where he died in December 1838.
"War Speech" - Early NZ Print by Augustus Earle

A Narrative of a Nine Months' Residence in New Zealand was published in 1832: it contains six aquatint views which, though small, are good examples of a process used for few New Zealand prints.

Better known, though still rare, are the ten lithographs in the New Zealand Association album. A longer series was proposed, and it is regrettable that it was never published — probably because the Association could not afford it.

Among the plates is the particularly charming Native Village and Cowdie Forest (since re-published by Avon Fine Prints), which, Earle noted, "is literally buried in the forest, and is a country residence of Patuoni, the chief of the district; here he plants his potatoes, cumera, [kumara] and maize . . . The mighty forest by which the village is surrounded consists chiefly of cowdie [kauri], the largest and most valuable of the New Zealand trees. We halted at this village on our way to the Bay of Islands..."

Monday, 9 April 2018

Gallery Prints Closure

Last week saw the unexpected demise of Gallery Prints' in gallery kiosks and their online store.  They closed for the Xmas/New Year holiday at the end of 2017 but the update "Sorry, orders are now closed for the Christmas period" remained in place well into the new year.

Co-owner Reuben Price recently told me that the business will not  in fact be re-opening at all and the ordering functionality had been removed from their website.  The official closure date was 31 March 2018.

Gallery Prints promised to stock "Fine Art Prints from New Zealand's finest Museums and Art Galleries" and they had partnerships in place with Te Papa, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland War Memorial Museum  and the National Library of New Zealand where prints could be ordered in store via a kiosk or online via a shopping link from the gallery/museum website.

They had a good selection of prints from some great NZ artists such as Robin White and Rita Angus, together with Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon and Gordon Walters images that were available due to the gallery having purchased the copyright to reproduce images along with the original paintings. Gallery Prints also had a rather eclectic range of botanical and historical material from their partners which might not have been hot sellers but it was good to see a distribution channel for less mainstream images.

It was an impressive effort to co-ordinate a business model like this and here at NZ Fine Prints we were excited to see an example of our nationally or locally owned galleries working with the private sector to promote the artistic heritage of Aoteaora to people interested in buying prints. 

Shame to see it didn't work out, hopefully some lessons can be learned as it seems to make sense to marry the possibilities of short run digital printing with the wealth of our shared cultural resources held in NZ's museums and galleries in some form of public/private partnership.


Saturday, 31 March 2018

Island series a breath of fresh air

A decade ago artist Barry Ross Smith created a series of artworks that were hailed by critics as "hymns to rural New Zealand",  there followed a collection of top selling prints that sold to city and country folk alike.  His finely realised portraits of NZ farming life were informed by his deep personal roots in the country, at the time he lived and had his studio on a farm - this was authentic rural NZ art that stood up to the scrutiny of those with an expert eye for farming matters.

It is always hard for an artist to move on to a new phase of work.  Not just the difficulty of finding a new theme to explore at a professional level, but also the buyers of their work want them to keep ploughing the same field long after the artist themselves may have moved on in their work (Bill Hammond and his bird paintings for instance, he's over birds but these are the ones that collectors demand).

Barry has successfully and cleverly moved to a new and innovative series of paintings that we really like.  The New Zealand landscape imagined as a series of islands.
Waterfront Villas -"Islands" series print by Barry Ross Smith

The story of Aotearoa/NZ is the story of island isolation, of huddling together on rocky outcrops in the Pacific Ocean.  There is an element of the slightly surreal about Barry Ross Smith's island series which lifts them out of being just another photo realistic painting that is essentially just a reproduction of the NZ countryside, an honest and competent depiction of a scene but lacking the mystery of the very best kiwi landscape artists such as Grahame Sydney (who as an aside recently gave us the glorious phrase in response to the work of another artist, "Well, x is a good amateur, but a poor professional"! ).

These prints are refreshingly different and look great on the wall hung as a series (coherent but not to matchy matchy).  They are also well-priced, at just under $60 per print.  These new prints are saying something more than just what you see, raising interesting questions about the evolving kiwi identity as the 21st century advances.  And although this series is a significant advance on what has become very tired nostalgic white bread kiwiana, it's similar in spirit to that which energised the popularity of kiwiana art for NZ homes over the last 20 years,  a low key but deeply felt appreciation of our unique NZness, with a light touch, almost but not quite an in-joke (perhaps the wry smile) that only Aotearovians fully appreciate.

And as the person who catalogues for sale every new NZ art print I would like to add that our unique identity does not have to just revolve around endemic birds!   Of the last 20 new prints that have come out from NZ publishers and artists 16 of them featured birds, there are fast becoming as cliche as the nikau palm and cabbage tree of the mid 90s.   We have predicted the next trend will be fish. And then insects.  Even if we are wrong it must be time to move on from things avian...

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Inventory management system at NZ Fine Prints

We've had our share of business misfortune over the years.

Our office in the late 1960s was abandoned after a fire in the National Party offices below it, there was another fire which destroyed our picture moulding factory, Avon Picture Mouldings in 1979 and then there was the earthquakes of 2010/2011 - after which we had the most dramatic gallery opening ever!

But we have never had a computer disaster until last week.

This is me inspecting the Avon Picture Mouldings fire aged 6
Like most businesses NZ Fine Prints' have backups, and backups and then a backup in the cloud.  But when a key computer's hard drive slowly gave up over a few weeks without us realising it was happening we discovered that a disaster recovery plan did not mean instant recovery and business as usual.  The problem was that the backup that should just have been able to be loaded back on to another hard drive was also affected by failure of the hard drive to organise the data properly over several weeks.

This computer takes care of our inventory, tracking the thousands of product lines at prints.co.nz.  As soon as we couldn't process inward goods the parcels of prints from artists and publishers began piling up. I couldn't believe how many packages we got as they stacked up across the stockroom floor.  We stopped shipping orders for a couple of days, expecting to be back up and running.  But in the end it took a week to get all the files off the hard-drive and installed onto a brand new iMac.  We shipped out on a paper based system and then had to process a week's orders all at once.

It was a complete nightmare and we have changed our systems to make sure that this never happens again.

The moral really is not to become complacent, we have apparently been super lucky with our Apple computers over the years - we keep them for five years before upgrading and have never had a hard drive fail before.  Apparently most people have had this experience so we were lulled into a false sense of security...

We don't yet do all our processing in the cloud so are looking to move more of our processes off the desktop computers, but what if the internet connection goes down.  We haven't had that yet.  Sun flares anyone?

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Fine Art Print vs Fine Art Printing

Can a print of fine art not be a fine art print?

I've never really liked the fine print part of our businesses name because it's meaning can be lost in a different context, ie the agreement sounds promising but have you checked the fine print?  But the fact that prints is also a homonym (prints/prince) also bugs me a bit so I think it is my inner language pedant that is at fault here rather than a branding issue that we need to change.

So we stuck with the Fine Prints part of our company's moniker when we broadened the business name from Avon Fine Prints (which was actually a sub brand of ours that specialised in limited edition reproductions of antique NZ prints in the 1960s and 70s) as we felt that this was now limiting the scope of what we did as we began stocking many more prints by contemporary artists.

This week I was surprised to find that another meaning for fine art print was in use that seems obvious now but had not resonated with me previously.

Northland Panels by Colin McCahon (Fine Art Print?)
We are calling a reproduction of Colin McCahon's painting "Northland Panels" a fine art print, why asked Glenn of Artrite - when it was not fine art printing at all but a photolithograph?  Ah, we said, that is because Colin McCahon is a "fine art" New Zealand artist.  Meaning that he has studied fine art, produced fine art (rather than design or decorative art) and the artist's work appears in collections at prestigious NZ art galleries such as Te Papa or Auckland Art Gallery.

But Glenn had had a call from a gallery concerned that we were selling a "fine art print" of a well-known artist's work for $60, which a customer had pointed out to them looked like the same image they were selling that was printed by Artrite for $600 - in this case a limited edition screenprint (which we also stocked).  From a screenprinters' point of view fine art print meant a fine art production process, rather than a reproduction photo-lithograph like the $60 print.  This had not occurred to me, and it had not occurred to Glenn that a photo-lithograph could be a fine art print as it was a print of fine art!

We do not want to sow seeds of confusion, we are not trying to convey that the $60 print in question is of the same quality as a limited edition screenprint - but we also need to use the words that are in common usage for what we sell in order for customers to find what they wish to buy.  The case I remember from the early days of online marketing was the luxury car brand that insisted that second hand cars were "pre-owned" rather than "used", but had to change this when they realised that nobody ever looked for "pre-owned cars".

Occasionally we are taken to task over whether a print is actually a "reproduction", or if a reproduction print should actually be called a "poster".  I refer back to the car example above, to some extent we have to use the words that customers use even if there is a narrower meaning to an expert in their field, in this case a fine art printer like Glenn from Artrite.

We are making some big changes to prints.co.nz in the next few weeks, one job I will do during this process is to check every one of our thousands of product listings to make sure we are describing prints as accurately as we can - some listings are now just on 20 years old and in the light of this interesting discussion I will make sure that descriptions are as clear to as many of our visitors as possible as they are to us when we are writing them.