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March 1958
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 to the Gate series begun in 1961. These are large and simple geometric shapes, which emerged from McCahon’s ‘landscape’ paintings of the 1950s, such as French Bay. 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’.

Painting was the joint winner of the Hay’s Art Prize in 1960 and was purchased by Hay’s Limited, Ōtautahi. (It is probable that it was begun in 1958, as it is dated, and worked on again later for submission.) The judges, Russell Clark and John Simpson, both lecturers at the University of Canterbury’s Ilam School of Fine Arts, and Peter Tomory, director of the Auckland City Art Gallery, failed to agree on a single winner and awarded the first prize jointly to McCahon, Francis Jones, for Kanieri Gold Dredge, and Julian Royd, for Composition. The artists shared the first, second, and third place prize money, each receiving 175 pounds.

The decision was a subject of controversy in Ōtautahi newspapers; the generally held view was that McCahon’s piece was incomprehensible. In 1961, after heated debate, the Christchurch City Council declined the offer of all three winning works to the Robert McDougall Art Gallery (later Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū).

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C. M. / March / '58. [l.l.] TOP / COLIN McCAHON / c/o ART GALLERY / AUCKLAND / PAINTING 1958 / OIL ; 150gns / THIS IS THE PROPERTY / of / Hay's Ltd. / Christchurch [verso]

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

When Art Hits the Headlines, National Art Gallery (later the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa), Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 11 December 1987 to 14 February 1988

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


Marja Bloem and Martin Browne, Colin McCahon: A Question of Faith (Whakatū Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing; Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 2002), 187.

Martin Edmond, Endless Yet Never (Tāmaki Makaurau: McCahon House Trust, 2020), 7.

Francis Pound, ‘Emerging Abstraction’, in New Zealand Home & Building Souvenir Edition: The Newstalk 1ZB 1950s Show (Tāmaki Makaurau: Associated Group Media/Auckland City Art Gallery), 39.

Francis Pound, Gordon Walters (Tāmaki Makaurau: Auckland University Press, 2023), 148.

Peter Simpson, Colin McCahon: There Is Only One Direction, Vol. 1 1919–1959 (Tāmaki Makaurau: Auckland University Press, 2019), 268.


Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from International Art Centre, Tāmaki Makaurau, March 1987 (by Denis Cohn, under instruction from Margaret, Lady Trotter)

Chase Corporation (a Chase employee purportedly rescued the work from being used as packing material and consigned it to International Art Centre in 1987)

Farmers Trading Company Limited

Brierley Investments

Wright Stephenson & Company Limited

Hay’s Limited