WATKINS, Kennett

Toetoe, Northland

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c.1875
Watercolour
270 x 220mm

Although the precise location of this painting is unknown, its recognizably New Zealand identity including a pohutukawa and a cabbage tree is clear. So too is the skill with which the artist has managed to delineate the foreground foliage from the background river landscape, using deftly applied sometimes tiny brushstrokes to provide a screen which brings the distance closer. Cleverly, too, he has left the sky relatively clear of incident in order to draw the viewers’ attention to the toetoe fronds.

Best known for his large, romantically sun-drenched oil paintings of New Zealand historical subjects, Kennett Watkins here shows himself to have been a miniaturist of some ability as well. Trained in England, then later in France, Switzerland and Florence, he arrived in New Zealand in 1873 with assured techniques in the use of oil and watercolour and also in the difficult and time-consuming art of ferrotype photography.

Watkins lived first in the North, where he taught at Russell and also made photographic images of Māori. After he had married in 1877, he moved to Auckland (where he also taught) then later, further afield, to Ruatoria, Tiniroto, Dannevirke and Mercury Bay.