The Representation of Māori in Nineteenth Century New Zealand Art

Exploring the relationship between visual representation of nineteenth century Māori and colonial ideology, Bell reflects on how pictures of Māori often depict more about the artists, their society, and beliefs than that of their subjects.

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Lindauer, Gottfried. Tawhiao Matutaera Potatau Te Wherowhero. 1882, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand, Auckland University Press, 2016, 101

The two works, Tawhiao Matutaera Potatau Te Wherowhero and The Time of Kai, display a clear move in thought from the idea of the ‘noble savage’ to the degenerate state of contemporary Māori.

In the portrait of King Tawhiao, Lindauer monumentalizes and romanticizes his subject. Cloaked in the prized kahu kiwi (kiwi feather cloak) and displaying his wahaika parāoa (whale bone patu) and tā moko, his countenance is commanding and appropriately shows his mana. He fills the frame demanding our attention and respect. The warm color scheme, however, evokes a sense of nostalgia and the idyll, placing this representation of Maori in the past.

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Lindauer, Gottfried. The Time of Kai. 1907, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand, Auckland University Press, 2016, 215

In contrast, The Time of Kai is more dissonant, the placement of figures sporadic and minutely unimposing throughout the landscape. Their dress is more vibrant and colorful, placing them in a ‘modern’ era and accentuating the breakdown of the ‘old order.’

The power of these images is such that their circulation and consumerism work to enforce dominant ideologies, the misrepresentation of actual attributes, conditions, and behaviors confirming the subordinate position of Māori in relation to European.

References:

Bell, Leonard. “The Representation of the Maori by European Artists in New Zealand, ca. 1890-1914.” Art Journal, Vol. 49, No. 2, Depictions of the Dispossessed (Summer, 1990), pp. 142-149

Bell, Leonard. “Late Nineteenth-/Early Twentieth-Century Historical Paintings.” Colonial Constructs: European Images of Maori 1840-1914, Auckland University Press, 1992, 147-194

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