Painting 1958

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Oil on canvas
1218 x 764mm

Painting 1958, with its large dark and light forms and the sense of gaps or spaces between, is generally regarded as a precursor of the Gates series begun in 1961. These are large and simple geometric shapes which emerged from McCahon’s landscape paintings of the 1950s. Gradually, as the works approached abstraction, landscape forms, even horizons, became unrecognisable. For McCahon they were identified with the notion of great obstructions, especially the fear of the Atomic bomb and the hope for a ‘way through’.

It is probable that Painting 1958 was begun in 1958 and then worked on again later for the Hay’s Prize submission. It was the joint winner of the Hay’s Art Prize in 1960 and was purchased by Hay’s Limited, Christchurch. The decision was the subject of a heated controversy in Christchurch newspapers occasioned by the generally held view that McCahon’s Painting was incomprehensible. The judges, Peter Tomory, director of the Auckland City Art Gallery and John Simpson and Russell Clark, lecturers at the Canterbury University School of Fine Arts, failed to agree and awarded the first prize jointly to McCahon, Francis Jones for Kanieri Gold Dredge and Julian Royd for Composition. The artists shared first, second and third prize money, each receiving 175 pounds.

In 1961, after heated debate, the Christchurch City Council declined the offer of all three works to the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. Notes on the back of the painting read: “Colin McCahon, C/o Art Gallery, Auckland Painting 1958 Oil” and “This is the property of Hay’s Ltd, Christchurch.” Ownership of the work was later transferred to Wright Stephenson & Co Limited, thence to Brierley Corporation, thence to Farmers’ Trading Company and finally to the Chase Corporation.

A Chase employee rescued the work from being used as packing material and entered it into the March 1987 International Art Centre auction where it was successfully bid for by the art dealer Denis Cohn under instruction from Lady Trotter. Exhibited: “When Art hits the Headlines” National Art Gallery, Wellington 11 December 1987–14 February 1988. Gates and Journeys. Auckland City Art Gallery touring centenary exhibition 1988–1990.