Oil on canvas
495 x 570mm
The inclusion of two descriptions for this work reflects the Maori and Pakeha curatorial approaches taken for the exhibition Te Huringa/Turning Points.
The Swiss-born artist Chevalier first visited New Zealand in 1865, having obtained a travel grant from Otago Provincial Council to journey through the province drawing and painting the landscape. The intention was that his work would then be shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 and might attract settlers to the area. In 1866, Canterbury Province made him a similar grant. Accompanied by his wife, Chevalier visited the West Coast, traveling via Otira Gorge to Hokitika. Drawings from this trip were later shown in Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington. In 1866, they both returned to Melbourne but Chevalier came back to New Zealand in 1868, exploring the Hutt Valley, the Rimutakas and travelling to Wanganui.
There he found the town under siege and recorded the sights he witnessed in a series of vivid sketches. When he was living in London ten years later, Chevalier painted this oil from a portfolio of some 70 sketches he had made in the area between the rivers Mararoa and Waiau. The small but highly active group of Maori hunters is dominated by the surrounding landscape rendered in sombre but accurate tones likely to have been recorded by the artist in his original sketch.
An exceptionally beautiful scenic backdrop cannot distract us from the Maori group in the foreground. Their relatively indistinct figures seem somewhat at odds with the highly detailed mountains, lake, and plant life that surround them, yet their activity is clearly defined by the painting’s title. Chevalier’s sketchbooks recorded scenery more often than human activity. These Maori figures, therefore, quite possibly provided additional interest even though Chevalier may have been more focussed on the landscape. Indeed, his ‘adding in’ of this hunting scene would have easily fitted into the stereotyped impressions of Maori in the minds of viewers who may never have visited Aotearoa.
The Hunting Party nevertheless reminds us of the long-time presence of Maori people in the land. Their lifestyles (including diet) were most often based on seasonal change. While permanent, village-like settlements were established, groups often shifted location, following a harvesting routine gained through extensive knowledge of the natural environment and its resources. This was a vibrant culture that in adapting to climatic changes also acknowledged time-honoured traditions. Such a counter-argument to European imperialism may have escaped the early colonial audience. It should not escape us.