SHARPE, Alfred

The Garden Front, Sir George Grey’s Mansion, Kawau

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1884
Watercolour
620 x 380mm

In 1862 Sir George Grey purchased Kawau Island, including what had originally been the Mine Superintendent’s house. He immediately set out to transform it, adding twenty rooms to the original ten using designs by the architect Frederick Thatcher, at the time Grey’s private secretary. The large garden, planned on an Italianate model, was gradually filled with exotic species as part of Grey’s experiments with the acclimatisation of plants.

Most painters who went to Sir George Grey’s estate on Kawau Island had themselves rowed out into the bay in order to make a painting of the picturesque view across the water looking back to the front elevation of what is today known as the Mansion House. However Alfred Sharpe’s main interest lay in the variety of foliage displayed in the garden of the house’s west front and the building’s architectural details. The result is a unique pictorial record. In June 1884 Alfred Sharpe included this painting in the second annual exhibition of the Fine Arts Association of New Zealand at Wellington. It was one of 78 exhibits sent from Auckland for a show comprising 344 works.

The work was exhibited again in the same year in the splendid “show window” of Phillips and Son’s paint, paperhanging and picture shop in Queen Street. In a review of the Wellington exhibition the Star’s critic observed that “… the view of Sir George Grey’s house, Kawau, is pretty, though there is a little too much of the architectural drawing about it.” Conservation architects involved in various later restorations of the house have had good reason to think otherwise about this meticulous watercolour.