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New Zealand Painting: The La Trobe Scheme. Christopher Perkins, Taranaki. 1931. . Learning Outcomes:. You will learn… What exactly the La Trobe Scheme was. The affect that the La Trobe Scheme had on New Zealand painting.

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new zealand painting the la trobe scheme

New Zealand Painting:The La Trobe Scheme

Christopher Perkins, Taranaki. 1931.

learning outcomes
Learning Outcomes:

You will learn…

  • What exactly the La Trobe Scheme was.
  • The affect that the La Trobe Scheme had on New Zealand painting.
  • Some of the techniques and principles brought to New Zealand painting by artists from the La Trobe Scheme.
  • The basic context of this art movement, including influences and an overview of New Zealand painting at the time.
  • About the work of Robert Field and Christopher Perkins – two of the key artists involved in the La Trobe Scheme.
recap expatriates
Recap: Expatriates
  • Who were the expats?
  • Why did they leave NZ?
  • Where did they work?
  • Who were they influenced by?

1900-1920 the Expatriates leave NZ.

Who?Frances Hodgkins, Grace Joel, Raymond McIntyre, Sydney Thompson.
  • Why did they leave?To further their opportunities in art, inspired by the arrivals. NZ too isolated from innovations in art that where happening in Europe.
  • Where did they work?Britain and Europe.
  • Influences?Van der Velden, Nairn, Nerli. Also leading French artists like Matisse, Picasso, Derain, cubism. (flattening of the picture plane, emphasis on formal aspects of painting, drawing attention to the painted surface, rather than the subject matter)
after the expats left
After the Expats Left
  • The painters that remained in New Zealand were completely isolated from what was going on in Europe, and only those who travelled there had the opportunity to see contemporary French art by painters such as Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, and Cezanne. (1910 Post Impressionist Exhibition in London – English painters saw this work for the first time).
  • Not much to provoke change in NZ, apart from the odd show by expats like Hodgkins.
What do you think the effect of this would have been on NZ painting?
  • Recession rather than progression.
  • Art societies and art schools became conservative, with a very slow and cautious response to movements after impressionism.
the la trobe scheme
The La Trobe Scheme
  • This lack was recognised by William Sanderson La Trobe, the first superintendent of technical education in New Zealand.
  • He came up with a scheme to introduce some new and innovative blood into the New Zealand Art scene.
  • What solutions can you think of for this problem?
  • Advertised staff vacancies for the art schools in New Zealand in Britain, with the aim of upgrading the teaching of art in NZ. He hoped that qualified staff from British institutions such as the Royal College of Art in London would establish professionalism in training in NZ art schools.
  • Several young artists responded to these advertisements:
  • Robert Nettleton Field (1899-1987)
  • Christopher Perkins (1891-1968)
  • William Henry Allen (1894-1988)
  • Francis Shurrock (1887-1977)
  • Led by example and introduced new enthusiasm and innovation into the art scene.
  • Field and Perkins made the greatest impact.

Christopher Perkins,

Self Portrait, 1954

robert nettleton field
Robert Nettleton Field
  • Arrived in Dunedin 1925.
  • Graduated from the Royal College in painting and sculpture when William Rothenstein was director. This was a particularly liberal period at the college.
  • Taught carving by Henry Moore.
  • Who or what do you think these young artists might have been influenced by?
  • Painting influenced by Post Impressionists (heightened colour, flattening, formal interest in construction).
  • Had a great impact in Dunedin, both as a teacher and an artist.
  • Taught with W.H. Allen who was also from the Royal College and shared his ideas and attitude to teaching.
  • Improved the reputation of the Dunedin Technical School and attracted more older students who became what H.V. Miller called “the first cell of modern art in Otago.”
  • Helped set up Six and Four Club, modelled on the Seven and Five Society in London.
  • Exhibited with the Otago Art Society, 6 and 4 Club, and the Christchurch Group – who presented lively, modernist exhibitions.
  • Didn’t emphasise copying from the model, but encouraged students to see the subject as a motif for a formal arrangement invented by the painter. (model used as a starting point or idea but should be altered for overall design purposes)
  • Believed that producing art was a process in which discovery played an important part Who do you think this idea was influenced by? (Moore).
  • Composition develops and changes over time (artist doesn’t know what its going to look like before painting).
Whilst looking at the following image: Landscape,Taieri Mouth, by Field, consider the following questions:
  • How is this work different to past NZ landscapes that we have studied?
  • What can we note about the composition of this work?
  • If you didn’t look at the title of the work do you think you could identify where it was painted? Is there anything distinctive about this place?
landscape taieri mouth 1930
Landscape, Taieri Mouth. 1930
  • How is this work different to past NZ landscapes that we have studied?
  • Brightly coloured patches laid side by side.
  • Mauve and violet patches reminiscent of Gauguin or the Fauves rather than the subdued tones of NZ landscape painters.
  • Decorative and colour emphasis from Gauguin and early Matisse, ignored faceting and fragmentation of form seen in Cezanne and Picasso.
  • What can we note about the composition of this work?
  • Paintings lack central focus, encouraging the eye to scan across the surface of the painting, drawing the viewer’s attention to the picture plane, and the nature of its construction.
  • Not concerned with producing an illusionistic view.
  • Emphasises formal elements of design, technique, colour, composition, balance, form etc. Primarily about the process of producing a painting, and the artists role as creator.
  • Subject treated as a tool used to produce an interesting composition, rather than being considered something grand in itself.
  • = Post Impressionist and mildly Modernist.
  • If you didn’t look at the title of the work do you think you could identify where it was painted? Is there anything distinctive about this place?
  • Not distinctly regional – only title identifies locality.
interior 1928
Interior. 1928.
  • Departs radically from the conventions of this genre in Dunedin (O’Keefe’s Flower Studies)
  • What do you notice about the colour used in this painting?
  • Colour modelling rather than tonal modelling.
  • Colour draws the viewer’s eye across the surface of the painting.
  • Fierce red shadow and blue reflection.
  • What about the composition? Think about how things are positioned. Do you think the is simply a ‘painted view.’
  • Emphasises the rectangular shapes of the window frames and fits the bust into their formal structure (highly constructed composition).
  • Cropping of flower pot and the reflection of the bust give the image a disturbing, disorienting feel (de Cherico).
  • Became friendly with Francis Shurrock, an older artist working at the Canterbury College School of Art.
  • Exchanged ideas.
  • Less experimental
  • Was primarily concerned with the role of art in the community. Strongly believed that art needed to be related to life, to make it useful and accessible, rather than a luxury that was out of touch with the community.
  • (Many of his ideas derived from English artist Eric Gill)
  • Field struggled to sustain his inventiveness.
  • Became a convert to the Oxford Group who believed in the pursuit of pure goodness.
  • Religious interests took precedence over his modernist ideas as an artist.
  • Supplied a valuable direction to Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston, two of NZ’s major painters in the pioneering of modernism.
christopher perkins
Christopher Perkins
  • Studied at the Slade School of Art in London.
  • Came to teach at the Technical College School of Art in Wellington in 1929.
  • Left in 1933 (only here for four years).
  • Best known for his work during this period.
  • Criticised British values in art, and the limitations they posed on local painters.
  • Influenced heavily by Post Impressionists especially Cezanne and Gauguin. Also art critic Roger Fry (advocate of developments in French painting, to which he gave the name Post-Impressionism. The first figure to raise public awareness of modern art in Britain).
  • Came to NZ intending on becoming a latter day Gauguin, fleeing the Old World of Europe in search of something exotic and novel (Gauguin, frustrated by lack of recognition at home and financially destitute, sailed to the tropics to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional." His works of that period are full of quasi-religious symbolism and an exoticized view of the inhabitants of Polynesia. In Polynesia he sided with the native peoples, often clashing with the colonial authorities and the Catholic Church).
  • Planned to paint Maori.
  • NZ was not quite what he anticipated – he reacted against it with criticism and resentment.
  • Drew contemporary subjects that were novel for a NZ painter such as Wellington St scenes, people shopping, and workers building modern structures.
  • Linework stressed rhythms and patterns.
  • Believed that artists should develop their own local school based on the local subject matter and the harsh clear light that he saw as characteristic of NZ.
  • Based his paintings on observation but emphasised formalist aspects like simplification, flattening and stylisation.
  • Sought to produce regionalist icons, which had a clear layering of symbolic meaning over and above their formalist concerns.
  • How is this different to Field?

(differs drastically from Field, who was much more universal in his approach).

taranaki 1931
Taranaki. 1931.
  • Tight, ordered scheme, based on pyramidal forms.
  • Geometry emphasised by strong tonal contrast and outlines.
  • Influenced by Japanese prints.
  • Simplified, geometric versions of dairy buildings.
  • Spatial illusion is toned down in favour of surface flatness and outlining.
  • Heightened contrast is created between foreground and background by eliminating middle ground, resulting in a deliberately contrived composition, easy to memorise.
  • Deliberately legible writing on building.
  • Icon of primary NZ industry – dairying.
  • Do you think Perkins is trying to convey any meaning is this work? If so what do you think it is?
  • Shows the relationship between the fertility of the land and the strength of the industry. (modernity and size illustrated in the dairy buildings)
  • Feeling of remoteness and sparseness, (Taranaki and NZ).
  • Only implied presence of people.
  • Mt Taranaki was the cloud gatherer who drew moisture to her slopes ensuring the prosperity of the region.
  • Model for regionalist realism – very influential.
  • Reproductions of this work appeared in art magazine Art New Zealand (founded in 1927) which allowed a large number of artists to see this work, and others by Perkins.
frozen flames 1931
Frozen Flames. 1931.
  • Motif associated with the clearing of the native forests to make farmland. Popular subject matter in painting.
  • Bare trunks acted as reminders of what had been.
  • Novel, destructive practice, unknown to Perkins.
  • Tree as regional symbol.
  • Flames in title.
  • Set against black smoke.
  • Formal emphasis given by curving linework. (metaphor for fire)
  • Green suggests new growth.
  • Influenced by the war paintings of Paul Nash.
  • What was the La Trobe Scheme?
  • Why was it employed?
  • Who were the artists involved?
  • What effect did it have on New Zealand painting?
  • Who were the artists influenced by?
  • Write down two principles employed by the two key artists, Field and Perkins.


  • Use the information you have learnt today to write down bullet points under www.strip.con
  • Dunn, Michael. A Concise History of New Zealand Painting, (Auckland: David Bateman), 1991.
  • McGahey, Kate. Concise Dictionary of New Zealand Artists, Painters, Printmakers, Sculptors, (Wellington: Gilt Edge), 2000.
  • Petersen, Anna K. C. Field, R.N. Field: the Dunedin Years, 1925-1945, (Palmerston North: Manawatu Art Gallery), 1989.

Some Useful Links:

  • Robert Nettleton Field: Art New Zealand
  • Christopher Perkins: Art New Zealand