SMITHER, Michael;

Hamilton Diggings, Central Otago

Oil on board
885 x 1215mm

In 1969, Michael Smither, his wife, Elizabeth, and their children, Thomas and Sarah, left their home in Ngāmotu New Plymouth and travelled to Patearoa on the Maniototo Plains in Central Otago. The works Smither produced there are of great psychological force, concentrating on the subjects of the natural environment and his young family. Justin Paton has noted the corporeal quality of the Otago works:

‘A mantle of gold seems to drape this landscape, but metaphors also rumble beneath it. Where so many New Zealand painters have raised symbols on the surface of the landscape, Smither’s seem to roll and slowly shift underneath the earth’s skin, like bodies under a blanket. You can’t describe these paintings without reaching
for bodily images—spine, brow, thigh, breast, brain.’[1]

It is interesting to compare Hamilton Diggings with Interior with Child, which features stone-like, draped fabrics. Paton draws a connection with another work, noting that ‘the sight of basalt crowns breaking through the earth recalls the baby teeth that cut through gums so violently in Smither’s 1977 Portrait of Thomas Showing His Teeth.’[2]

The signature and date on this work were added by the artist in 1985, following its acquisition by the Fletcher Trust Collection. A letter from the artist dated 5 May 1973 shows that the painting was then owned by a Mrs McKenzie of 19A Mount View Place, Spotswood, Ngāmotu New Plymouth.


[1] Michael Smither, Michael Smither, Painter (Tāmaki Makaurau: Ron Sang Publications, 2004), 123.

[2] Ibid.

Further Info Hide Info


MDS 69 [l.l.]

Exhibition History

Michael Smither: The Wonder Years, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Tāmaki Makaurau, 3 September 2005 to 30 January 2006 (toured)

Hills of Gold: Michael Smither’s Central Otago, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Ōtepoti, 4 November 2000 to 4 February 2001


Michael Smither, Michael Smither, Painter (Tāmaki Makaurau: Ron Sang Publications, 2004), 97.


Challenge Collection (later Fletcher Trust Collection), purchased from Webb’s, Tāmaki Makaurau, 24 July 1985

Collection of Mrs McKenzie, Ngāmotu New Plymouth