GULLY, John

The Bealey Valley

1879
600 x 1226mm

John Gully was born in Bath, England. He was apprenticed to an iron foundry, graduated to its design department and then spent a period as a clerk in a bank, during which time he took private lessons in painting. Having read Charles Hursthouse’s account of the settlement there, in 1852 he and his wife and children emigrated to New Plymouth where he at first farmed at Omata then worked as a clerk. By 1858 J.G. of Omata was advertising to paint views of properties for sending overseas. Gully took part as a volunteer in the Taranaki War but was invalided out of the army. In 1860 he moved to Nelson where he settled permanently, working as drawing master at Nelson College and later as a draughtsman in the Nelson Provincial Survey Office.

The turning point came when Sir Julius von Haast ( whose outlines of mountains in the book Notes on Mountains and Glaciers of New Zealand he coloured ) and the politician/painter J.C. Richmond encouraged him to devote himself to painting. Richmond went on painting trips with Gully and used his considerable influence to help make Gully’s work known. By 1870 Gully was probably New Zealand’s best known and popular painter. He exhibited at the Intercolonial Exhibitions in both Melbourne and Dunedin. It was not until 1878 that Gully retired in order to devote himself full-time to painting. Gully was a watercolourist whose interest lay not in the recording of detail but rather in capturing those atmospheric effects sought after by the English and continental painters of the romantic sublime. No topographical painter, Gully was more interested in a picturesque composition and it was this that made his work popular with the public.

Untouched by either Realism or Impressionism current in Europe at the time, Gully at times expressed dissatisfaction at the necessity to churn out potboilers. The Bealey Valley is a fine example of Gully’s large scale landscape watercolour style. The artist’s sources lie in the watercolours of J.M.W. Turner and the writings of Ruskin; like Turner he achieved dramatic effects by applying multiple washes then scraping or sponging back the colour. Gully’s compositions invariably fell back on the Claudian formula of a high foreground which then recedes into a misty distance. Foreground detail often consists of picturesquely placed battered trees or light-catching rocks and spectator figures. Landscapes are consistently poeticised by misty atmospheres or sunset glows.