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Artists in Wonderland

New Zealand’s ‘eighth wonder of the world’, the Pink and White Terraces, was buried 130 years ago in the eruption of Mt Tarawera. Rebecca Rice highlights paintings and photographs from Te Papa’s collection that feature this magical ‘wonderland’ and inspire a sense of awe in viewers to this day.


<P data-associrn="42254"></P> <P data-associrn="440445"></P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P>And then the wonders of the pink and white terraces, with their boiling cauldrons and their crystal and coral cups, bowls and basins set in stalactic filigree worked by Mother Nature in the vanished ages have no counterparts elsewhere.<SUP><FONT size=2>1</FONT></SUP></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>In the 19th century, New Zealand was home to the ‘Eighth wonder of the world’, the Pink and White Terraces at Lake Rotomahana near Rotorua. They quickly became the country’s most popular tourist attraction, though most people experienced them through pictures, not in person. When the terraces were buried in the eruption of Mt Tarawera on 10 June 1886, these pictures were all that remained.</P> <P>Many photographers made this natural ‘wonderland’ a subject of their work, including Daniel Louis Mundy, Josiah Martin, Charles Spencer, and George Valentine, to name but a few. The terraces offered a dramatic variety of views. There was the magical beauty of the terraces themselves, with their stepped basins, brimming with semi-opaque turquoise water. There was also a more curious, almost grotesque side to the landscape, with the sometimes uncanny shapes of its silica structures, and the gurgling and bubbling of its sulphurous pools of mud. </P> <P data-associrn="1413127"></P> <P>Charles Spencer, based in Tauranga, was one of the more prolific photographers of the terraces and made regular visits to the region. In 1885, he also published <EM>Spencer’s illustrated guide to the hot springs of Rotorua and Taupo</EM>, the remarkable opening line of which was, ‘The wish for mine enemy to write a book not having eventuated, I have written one myself’.<SUP><FONT size=2>2</FONT></SUP> This both advertised his photography and included, for the benefit of tourists and invalids, a report on the medicinal properties of the hot springs by James Hector, director of the Colonial Museum, now Te Papa. </P> <P>Otukapuarangi (The Pink Terraces) and Te Tarata (The White Terraces) were 800 metres apart on the shores of Lake Rotomahana. The White Terraces were north-facing and bleached by the sun, while the more sheltered Pink Terraces retained their pinkish hue. Photographers, however, had a problem. Colour photography had not yet been invented, so while they could portray the remarkable form of the terraces, they were unable to capture their colours. Some, like Spencer in the panoramic view of the Pink Terraces, attempted to convey the beauty of the site by hand-colouring their photographs.</P> <P>This was not a problem faced by painters, yet the terraces were less frequented by them, with two notable exceptions: John Barr Clarke Hoyte and Charles Blomfield. Both artists had prolific careers and, in the mode of the 19th-century landscape artist, travelled extensively around New Zealand seeking picturesque subjects for their art. Hoyte arrived in New Zealand in 1860 and was a key player in the embryonic New Zealand art scene until his departure for Sydney in 1879. In June and December 1874 Hoyte exhibited watercolour views as part of art unions in Messrs Upton and Co’s shop window in Auckland. On both occasions they included a suite of paintings made in the Rotorua region. A newspaper reviewer commented in relation to the artist’s views of the terraces:</P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P>Some persons, unacquainted with the actual scenes which Mr Hoyte impressed upon his glowing canvas, imagine that his representations are too highly coloured, but persons who have witnessed the living scenes pronounce them to be faithful depictions from nature.<SUP><FONT size=2>3</FONT></SUP> </P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P data-associrn="1502227"></P> <P data-associrn="1502226"></P> <P>For Blomfield, this magical ‘wonderland’ ultimately defined his career and provided a subject he would return to time and again. He first visited the terraces in 1876, and his response to the beauty of the site is recorded in letters to his wife: </P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P>We made for the pink terrace first … With the morning sun shining brightly on it is almost white, but when the sun gets round and you get more shadow the lovely salmon colour is very marked, varied with grey and white.… You ascend by the marble steps … you stand before what really seems to be the work of some cunning artist … The whole place is enveloped in steam and the air is rank with sulphur.<SUP><FONT size=2>4</FONT></SUP> </P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P data-associrn="38858"></P> <P>It was following his second trip to the terraces in the summer of 1884–85 that a local newspaper critic warned ‘“Blomfield in Wonderland” should not become a proverb’.<SUP><FONT size=2>5</FONT></SUP> On this occasion Blomfield had set up camp for an extended period of time, making a sustained series of studies of the remarkable landscape. He accounted for the general lack of painted images of the terraces by noting that ‘any sketch had to be taken surreptitiously, and if the culprit was caught he had either to pay their [local Maori] exorbitant price, or the sketches would be taken away from them’.<SUP><FONT size=2>6</FONT></SUP> Guides from the local Tuhourangi iwi ‘charged £2 to ferry each visitor across Lake Tarawera to the Terraces, and £5 for the privilege of making a sketch or taking a photograph’.<SUP><FONT size=2>7</FONT></SUP> Perhaps photography may have had a financial advantage here, as its capacity for mass reproduction may not have been adequately understood by Maori. Blomfield, however, reached an arrangement with the local iwi by paying a lump sum in advance allowing him to camp by the lake, use his own boat, and stay as long as he pleased.</P> <P>During this second trip, Blomfield also tapped into the tourist market, executing views which were distributed around the globe, ‘thus making the peculiar characteristics of New Zealand scenery known among an ever widening circle’.<SUP><FONT size=2>8</FONT></SUP> He wrote home requesting several of his cards, as well as a piece of transferring paper, presumably to begin the process of making copies of his paintings for sale.<SUP><FONT size=2>9</FONT></SUP> On his return to Auckland, he exhibited his twelve views of the ‘Terraces made from Nature’, which received high praise in the local papers:<SUP><FONT size=2>10</FONT></SUP></P> <P data-associrn="1413132"></P> <P data-associrn="1431672"></P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P>Mr. Charles Blomfield … has just completed a fine series of oil paintings of the Pink and White Terraces, Rotomahana, and of the most picturesque views in their neighbourhood. Mr. Blomfield spent three weeks on each of the terraces, and painted direct from nature, with the result being that he has produced perhaps the most faithful representations of the locality, together with the varied tints of blue, pink, and yellow, which are so peculiar to these now famous Rotomahana springs.<SUP><FONT size=2>11</FONT></SUP> </P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>Other artists had less direct, more imaginative, encounters with the terraces and may have worked from photographs to create their views. Take, for example, Joseph Gaut’s painting <EM>Nature’s adornment</EM> which shows a Maori woman in a Venus-style pose bathing under the Umbrella Buttress of the Pink Terraces. The painting is clearly based on the Burton Brothers photograph, <EM>Umbrella Buttress, Pink Terrace</EM>, about 1880, while the pose is directly drawn from 19th-century neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ <EM>Venus Anadyomene</EM>, 1808–1848. Alfred Burton complained about artists using his photographs as the basis for their paintings, asking ‘Is the photographer entitled to any portion of the credit?’<SUP><FONT size=2>12</FONT></SUP> This painting is a unique example of the fantastical visions Europeans projected on Maori and the New Zealand landscape. It also explicitly raises the issue of copyright and artistic credit in the 19th century and the complicated relationship between photography and painting.</P> <P><STRONG>The destruction of ‘Wonderland’</STRONG></P> <P>On 10 June 1886, Mount Tarawera erupted, burying the Terraces and causing the deaths of approximately 105 people. This coincided with New Zealand’s presence at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London and potentially had a negative effect on the promotional ambitions of the young colony. Organisers were quick to realise the necessity of reassuring both tourists and emigrants that the extent of the damage was localised and contained, ‘directly affecting the rest of the colony no more than England is affected by an eruption of Vesuvius’.<SUP><FONT size=2>13</FONT></SUP> </P> <P>However, the burial of the terraces provided an unexpected boost to Blomfield’s career. Overnight, pictures of the terraces produced by artists and photographers jumped in value. The <EM>Illustrated London News</EM> gave Blomfield’s further advertisement, advising that:</P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P>Visitors to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition should not omit to look at … a series of small oil paintings by Mr Charles Blomfield, of Auckland, in the upper gallery of the Royal Albert Hall. These finished pictures of famous scenes that will never again be beheld in reality ought to be valuable in future years; and the prices modestly asked by colonial artists seem to us extremely low.<SUP><FONT size=2>14</FONT></SUP></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>Throughout the rest of his career, Blomfield reproduced paintings of the terraces based on the twelve paintings made during his trip in 1884–85. So too did photographers, who could make prints from glass plate negatives made prior to the eruption in 1886. In both instances, they captured in print or on canvas the natural wonder that could no longer be visited and viewed in person. The power of these images made by artists and photographers to convey a sense of this magical ‘wonderland’, to inspire a sense of awe in viewers, continues to this day.</P> <P>&nbsp;</P> <P><FONT size=2>Endnotes</P> <OL> <LI>‘The New Zealand Tourist’, <EM>New Zealand Mail</EM>, 8 November 1879, p 7 <LI>Charles Spencer, <EM>Spencer's illustrated guide to the hot springs of Rotorua and Taupo, and other places of interest in the lake district, in the county of Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand</EM>, Auckland: Murray and Spencer, 1885 <LI><EM>Auckland Star</EM>, 14 November 1874, p 2 <LI>Charles Blomfield to his wife, 1 January 1876, cited in Muriel Williams, <EM>Charles Blomfield: his life and times</EM>, Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979, pp 51-53 <LI>‘Calamo Currente’, <EM>New Zealand Herald</EM>, 2 May 1885, p 1 <LI>See Muriel Williams, <EM>Charles Blomfield: his life and times</EM>, Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979, p 74 for Blomfield’s account of the necessary negotiations <LI>‘Mt Tarawera’, <A href="http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/whats-on/exhibitions/volcanoes/volcanic-forces/whats-good-about-volcanoes/mt-tarawera">http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/whats-on/exhibitions/volcanoes/volcanic-forces/whats-good-about-volcanoes/mt-tarawera</A> <LI><EM>New Zealand Herald</EM>, 21 September 1885, p 2 <LI>Roger Blackley, ‘Blomfield’s Terraces’, <EM>Turnbull Library Record</EM>, May 1987, vol. 20, no. 1, p 11 <LI>Quoted in Williams, <EM>Charles Blomfield</EM>, p 73 <LI><EM>New Zealand Herald</EM>, 14 March 1885, p 17 <LI>Alfred Burton, ‘Wintering on Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri: A photographer’s diary’, <EM>Otago Daily Times</EM>, 28 September 1889, p 1 <LI><EM>New Zealand Mail</EM>, 18 June 1886, p 22 <LI>‘Volcanic eruption in New Zealand’, <EM>Illustrated London News</EM>, 2 October 1886, p 347</LI></OL> <P></FONT>&nbsp;</P> <P>&nbsp;</P>
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Charles Blomfield, White Terraces, 1882, oil on canvas,
Gift of Sir Guy Berry, South Africa, 1960.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Daniel Louis Mundy, Pink Terrace, 1870s, black and white photograph, albumen silver print,
Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Charles S. Spencer, Pink Terrace, circa 1900, black and white photograph, hand coloured print,
Purchased 2013.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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John B. Hoyte, The White Terraces, circa 1875, watercolour,
Gift of the Family of Patrick and Davina Foot, 2016.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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John B. Hoyte, The Pink Terraces, circa 1875, watercolour on paper,
Gift of the Family of Patrick and Davina Foot, 2016.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Charles Blomfield, Pink Terraces, 1886, oil on canvas,
Acquisition history unknown, 1943.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Joseph Gaut, Nature’s Adornment, Umbrella Buttress, Pink Terrace, Rotorua, 1884, Oil on canvas,
Purchased 2013.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Burton Brothers studio, Umbrella Buttress, Pink Terrace, circa 1880s, black and white photograph, albumen silver print,
Purchased 2013.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz