Watercolour on paper
420 x 650mm (support); 775 x 985mm (frame)
Inscriptions: Alfd. Sharpe, N.Z. 1881 ; Coromandel
This watercolour is one of only two known dawn scenes painted by Alfred Sharpe. He usually favoured the deeper colours of sunset, as can be seen in his magnificent Sunset on the Puhoi River of the previous year. A Peep at Coromandel from the Whangapoua Bridle Track was offered for eight guineas as the third prize in Sharpe’s third ‘art union’, a kind of raffle, which was finally drawn on 22 February 1882 at John Leech’s framing shop in Shortland Street.
This skilful watercolour allows the viewer to appreciate Sharpe’s ability to work from light to dark washes, never overloading his colour, and letting the lightest and most subtle shades have their full value. Notice particularly the sunlit cliff in the middle ground, which leads the eye back into the pale greens and yellows of the fields behind the town at the centre of the composition.
Sharpe follows accepted practice in creating a highly detailed foreground of interlocking hill forms that drops away in the middle, fading into a haze at the horizon line. The curving tree in the upper left corner and the turning roadway in the lower left bind the composition neatly and contribute to the painting’s suggestion of a circular compositional frame.
Such devices can seem too rigidly planned in the hands of amateurs; in Sharpe’s they work beautifully. This is the essence of Romantic watercolour painting, of which Sharpe is one of the finest New Zealand practitioners.