17 Oct 2016

Looking at Lindauer

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 17 October 2016

Auckland Art Gallery opens a new exhibition this weekend focussing on Gottfried Lindauer’s paintings from a technical perspective.

Gottfried Lindauer, Rewi Manga Maniapoto, 1882, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mr H E Partridge, 1915.

A Gottfried Lindauer portrait. Rewi Manga Maniapoto, 1882, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mr H E Partridge, 1915. Photo: Supplied

Gottfried Lindauer: His Materials and Techniques is the name of the exhibition and includes a number of known works by Lindauer and compares them with forgeries by comparing the artists' techniques. Examples of work by the other famous painter of Maori Charles F. Goldie is also included. Displaying them side by side creates an opportunity for the public to understand some of the differences.

The exhibition has been curated by Sarah Hillary, who has intimate knowledge of that technique employed from her job as principal conservator at Auckland Art Gallery. Sarah specialises in the technical examination of paintings by other New Zealand artists as well, including Colin McCahon, Rita Angus and Frances Hodgkins. She has also curated other exhibitions about artist technique, and she is a practising artist herself.

Read an edited excerpt from the interview below:

Lindauer used photographs quite extensively when preparing his canvases. Can you tell me a little bit about the technique he employed?

It was very interesting, because as we went through this process of finding out more about Lindauer, we decided to do infra-red photography. That penetrates through some of the paint layer and can highlight the pencil under-drawing. Because Lindauer used a kind of painting where there were lots of transparent glazes painted over a white ground, it is reasonably easy to see the pencils even without the infra-red, but the infra-red showed us these pencil lines and they were drawn as if something had been projected on the surface and he had drawn a pencil outline. For example, the eyebrows you can just see the outline around the outside of the eyebrow, rather than drawing it out as you might with a sketch. Then as various researchers have been involved with this process, it was possible to find source photographs for just about every painting that he had done. So we could see there was definitely a correlation between the two.

Did he work with a specific photographer or did he take the photographs himself?

Both actually. He worked with various photographers and we’re talking about the early days for photography and they tended to be quite small, like cabinet card size. They were black and white. We were trying to work out how he would project the image onto the canvas, then it came to our attention that he had also been a photographer himself and we came across some of the glass plate negatives and glass plate positives that he had made to project.

How did you find those?

The family had a number of glass plate negatives and then they turned up in other collections as well, other public collections. So it was really fascinating to find them. Some of them were of other people’s photographs that he had pinned to the board and then he had taken a photograph and changed that to a positive from a negative to project it. The other discovery we found was very interesting. He also painted portraits of Pākehā of photographs that were on cardboard and in his notebook that is in the Turnbull Library, he was very open about this and he called them the Bromides. He would charge less for those. They didn’t take as long. He basically painted over the whole photograph, he did use a faint image. Often it was just the face, he invented the rest of it. We could see that he was very open about his use of photography, it was only really later that people got very worried about that, thinking it was cheating or something.

What’s your opinion? People often regard an artist who does use photographs for the initial work as being somehow not as valid artistically.

I disagree because you have to remember it was a new technology and he was taking advantage of that to make very lifelike portraits and making something lifesize. And the people were changed somewhat. At the time everyone was using photography. It was a new medium and people like Louis Jean Steele was using it, Charles Frederick Goldie was using it. They were referring to it. It was fantastic for the sitters, because it meant they didn’t have to have endless sittings, the photograph could be used and he could refer to that. It would still take him weeks to make the painting because he had to allow for all of the glazes to dry. I understand it took about four weeks to paint an individual work.