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Oil on canvas on board
1218 x 764mm

cm000934 on the Colin McCahon Online Catalogue.


Painting (1958), with its large dark and light forms and the sense of gaps or spaces between, is generally regarded as a precursor of the Gates series begun in 1961. These are large and simple geometric shapes which emerged from McCahon’s landscape paintings of the 1950s. Gradually, as the works approached abstraction, landscape forms, even horizons, became unrecognisable. For McCahon they were identified with the notion of great obstructions, especially the fear of the Atomic bomb and the hope for a ‘way through’.

It is probable that Painting was begun in 1958 and then worked on again later for the Hay’s Prize submission. It was the joint winner of the Hay’s Art Prize in 1960 and was purchased by Hay’s Limited, Christchurch. The decision was the subject of a heated controversy in Christchurch newspapers occasioned by the generally held view that McCahon’s Painting was incomprehensible. The judges, Peter Tomory, director of the Auckland City Art Gallery and John Simpson and Russell Clark, lecturers at the Canterbury University School of Fine Arts, failed to agree and awarded the first prize jointly to McCahon, Francis Jones for Kanieri Gold Dredge and Julian Royd for Composition. The artists shared first, second and third prize money, each receiving 175 pounds.

In 1961, after heated debate, the Christchurch City Council declined the offer of all three works to the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. Notes on the back of the painting read: “Colin McCahon, C/o Art Gallery, Auckland Painting 1958 Oil” and “This is the property of Hay’s Ltd, Christchurch.” Ownership of the work was later transferred to Wright Stephenson & Co Limited, thence to Brierley Corporation, thence to Farmers’ Trading Company and finally to the Chase Corporation.

A Chase employee rescued the work from being used as packing material and entered it into the March 1987 International Art Centre auction where it was successfully bid for by the art dealer Denis Cohn under instruction from Lady Trotter. Exhibited: “When Art hits the Headlines” National Art Gallery, Wellington 11 December 1987–14 February 1988. Gates and Journeys. Auckland City Art Gallery touring centenary exhibition 1988–1990.

Exhibition History

A Place to Paint: Colin McCahon in Auckland, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Tāmaki Makaurau, 10 August 2019 to 27 March 2020

Representation and Reaction: Modernism and the New Zealand Landscape Tradition 1956–1977, Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua, Whanganui, 31 August to 27 October 2002 (toured)

Colin McCahon: Gates and Journeys, Auckland City Art Gallery (later Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki), Tāmaki Makaurau, 11 November 1988 to 26 February 1989

McCahon: A Singular Vision, Robert McDougall Art Gallery (later Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū), Ōtautahi, 16 February to 16 March 1983

Colin McCahon: A Survey Exhibition, Auckland City Art Gallery (later Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki), Tāmaki Makaurau, 7 March 1972 to 23 April 1972

A Retrospective Exhibition: M. T. Woollaston – Colin McCahon, Auckland City Art Gallery (later Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki), Tāmaki Makaurau, 20 May to 4 June 1963

Hay’s Art Prize, Canterbury Society of Arts Gallery, Ōtautahi, 30 August 17 September 1960

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