GILFILLAN, John Alexander;

Portrait of the Artist’s Son, John Gordon Gilfillan

Watercolour on paper
235 x 190mm (image); 555 x 475mm (frame)

In 1847, at age seven, John Gordon Gilfillan survived an attack on his family’s farm in the Matarawa Valley. His mother and three siblings were killed, and he moved with his father to Australia. He later returned to Aotearoa, drowning in a canoeing accident on Rotorua in 1875.

This unusual portrait shows John Gordon in a smock standing in a cleared hilly landscape beside a tree stump, holding an axe. It is a telling representation in that the child is imbued with all the attributes of the zealous adult colonial settler in determined pursuit of ‘civilisation’.

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J. A. Gilfillan / 1844 – [l.r.]

Exhibition History

Gathered Voices: Highlights from the Fletcher Trust Collection, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 15 September to 11 December 2022 (toured)


Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from Webb’s, Tāmaki Makaurau, 29 March 1995, lot 98