North Otago Landscape 19

North Otago Landscape 19, 1967, synthetic polymer paint on hardboard, 564 x 826mm. Collection of Christchurch Girls' High School, courtesy McCahon Research and Publication Trust

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North Otago Landscape 19 is presented to the school, 12 November 1970. Left to right: Jan Hardie, president of the Young Old Girls at the time and Joan Prisk, Christchurch Girls High School principal. Image courtesy of The Star and Christchurch Public Library

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Letter from McCahon 

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Letter from Barry Lett Gallery 

Young Old Girls (Christchurch Girls’ High)

How the Young Old Girls made some money … and what they did with it 

It was 1969, our first year out of school and into the big wide world. All around the Western world, and even in some communist countries, young people were breaking out and challenging the status quo.  

The Swinging Sixties had led to the demise of the traditional ‘coming out’ debutante ball. These deb balls were a colonial copy of the formal English ‘coming out’ tradition. Typically, a young aristocratic or upper-class woman ‘came out’ into society when presented to the ruling monarch at a ‘debut’ formal ball. It was how parents showed their social status and displayed their daughters to ‘suitable’ marriageable young men. In New Zealand these balls were common up to the 1950s and early 60s. The debs dressed in virgin white formal gowns, with long white gloves, coiffured hair and full make up. Proud and nervous fathers presented their daughters to someone like the head of the board of governors, or, if it was a church school, to the bishop. Formal photos were taken to be displayed with pride on the family’s mantle-piece. 

By 1969 very few school leavers wanted to be debs at the Old Girls’ Association ball. Most of us just weren’t interested.  It didn’t help that it was a ‘dry’ alcohol-free zone. So, a small group of us decided to forget about the deb ball and run our own do. We called ourselves the Young Old Girls (YOG). We booked a large venue (the then Horticultural Hall on the corner of Gloucester Street and Cambridge Terrace) and the best dance band of the day (The Chapta), organised food and drinks and advertised madly. We counted on selling plenty of tickets to pay our bills. Some of our parents worried we’d end up in debt. 

We flooded places like the university and the Nurses’ Home with hand-drawn posters we and friends produced. You couldn’t go to a university lecture without seeing posters for our ‘wet’ ball. Tickets began to sell and we were away. We sold 700 tickets, quite a feat for those times, had our ball, with alcohol permitted, and it was a really good night.  

Against expectations we made a profit. This was never our intention so we decided to gift something to the school. One of our group, Susan Battye, had the idea to buy a painting and thought of getting one by a contemporary New Zealand painter. She talked to a friend keen on painting (Michael Hamblett) and with a good knowledge of New Zealand painters. He suggested buying a Colin McCahon painting, very likely to provide more of a challenge with the gift. Susan wrote to McCahon and got a very encouraging reply, saying he would tell his dealer, Barry Lett, to give us a good deal. The picture was chosen; the deal was worked through. And it was a good one! By October 1970 we had acquired a McCahon: North Otago landscape, 19, painted with synthetic polymer on hardboard.  

In his introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition of his North Otago landscapes at Auckland’s Barry Lett Gallery in October 1967, McCahon wrote:  

These landscapes are based on places I have seen and known ... Unlike many other parts of the country the landforms of North Otago suggest both age and permanence. They have been formed, not by violence, but by the slow processes of normal erosion on more gentle landscape faulting than has happened elsewhere. In painting this landscape I am not trying to show any simple likeness to a specific place. These paintings are most certainly about my long love affair with North Otago as a unique and lonely place, they are also about where I am now ... These paintings stand now as a part of a search begun in Dunedin, continued in Oamaru and developed by the processes of normal erosion since then. The real subject is buried in the works themselves and needs no intellectual striving to be revealed – perhaps they are just North Otago landscapes.1 

Later in 1970, two of the Young Old Girls – Susan Battye and Jan Hardie – went along to the school and presented the painting to a bemused assembly. Students even laughed. Fittingly, Val Heinz, the very supportive Head of Art, was there. As Jan said at the time, the Young Old Girls hoped the gift would stimulate discussion of both the painting and of art in general.

Through the years, McCahon’s paintings have attracted controversy, though he has always also had his supporters. During the 1960s he was “increasingly successful in having his work shown and recognised both in New Zealand and internationally”.2 Like his work or not, he is now widely acknowledged as New Zealand’s foremost painter and one of the few known internationally.  

The school’s painting has very good provenance as Susan presented the school with the letter from Colin McCahon, in his distinctive handwriting, along with the letter from dealer Barry Lett. Both are framed and hang alongside the painting. The story behind its purchase all adds to the painting’s interest.

In 2017 I contacted the school when a CCGHS school friend was staying and we went along to have a look at the painting again. When we realised the fiftieth anniversary of leaving school and then eventually running our YOG ball that led to the painting’s purchase, was coming up soon, we decided we should mark it in some way. I got in touch with as many of the ball organisers as I could recall and track down. They were keen.  

1 August 2019 was also the one hundredth anniversary of Colin McCahon’s birth; an appropriate time to relate the story behind the gift and appreciate the painting.  

On Friday, 2 August, six of the ball organisers went along to their old school. The McCahon painting was displayed in the Performing Arts Centre for the students, staff and caregivers to get a good look at it and hear more about the story and McCahon.

 

[1] https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/north-otago-landscape-no-2-colin-mccahon

[2] http://www.mccahon.co.nz/cmccahon

 

 -  Annette Hamblett (née Sprosen)

CONNECTING CULTURAL LEGACY WITH CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE

Index
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Artwork image/svg+xml Group Copy 2 Group Copy 2 Created with Sketch.
Bridget Riggir-Cuddy
The House Protects the Dreamer
Naomi McCleary
Kauri
Séraphine Pick
Northland Panels
Brian Sweeney
View from the top of the cliff
Rudi Fuchs
North Otago Landscape
Rex Butler
I Considered All the Acts of Oppression
Donna McDonald
The Fourteen Stations of the Cross
Harold Jones
Muriwai no.7
Ted Spring
On Building Bridges
Areez Katki
The Three Marys at the Tomb
Rosanna Raymond
Jet Out
Rufus Knight
Waterfall
Megan Tamati-Quennell
Black Landscape
Nick Mitzevich
Victory over Death 2
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
Victory over Death 2
The Governor-General, The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy
Gate III
Grant Banbury
I Paul
Sir Bob Harvey
Dark Landscape
Young Old Girls (Christchurch Girls’ High)
North Otago Landscape 19
Sophie Bannan
Van Gogh - poems by John Caselberg
Linda Tyler
Urewera Triptych
Emily Karaka
Tangi. Muriwai
Robert Gardiner
Are there not twelve hours of daylight
Thomas Crow
Are there not twelve hours of daylight
Jude Rae
Victory over death 2
Brent Harris
The Family
Cora-Allan Wickliffe
15 Drawings Dec '51 to May '52
Salome Tanuvasa
Landscape
Yona Lee
Landscape theme and variations (series B)
David Kirk
Kaipara
Priscilla Pitts
Fourteen Stations of the Cross
Ruth Watson
This day a man is
Tessa Laird
Keep New Zealand Green
Nell
East window
Nicola Farquhar
Kauri trees
Hon Grant Robertson
Otago Peninsula
Jane Macknight
Untitled (North Otago Landscape)
Karen Walker
Titirangi
Wystan Curnow
The Green Plain
Philip Clarke
Necessary Protection (IHS)
Mary Kisler
A candle in a dark room
Ayesha Green
I AM
Matthew O'Reilly
Muriwai
Bettina Bradbury and Kararaina Rangihau
A poster for the Urewera no. 2
Al Keating
A Grain of wheat
Cushla Dillon
Entombment (after Titian)
Hamish Coney
Here I give thanks to Mondrian
Stephen Wainwright
As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land
Sue Gardiner
Landscape theme and variations (series A)
Robert Leonard
Numerals
Judy Darragh
Clouds 1
John Coley
AS THERE IS A CONSTANT FLOW OF LIGHT WE ARE BORN INTO THE PURE LAND
Shannon Te Ao
Ka pōraruraru ahau. I am troubled.
Helen Beaglehole
GATE III
Ralph Paine
Jump E9
Judy Millar
Muriwai: Necessary Protection
Fiona Pardington
Waterfall
C.K. Stead
All mortals are like grass
Gretchen Albrecht
As there is a constant flow of light we are born into the pure land
Martin Edmond
Cross (1959)
Lisa Reihana
Urewera mural
Peter Simpson
Jet out to Te Reinga
Christina Barton
Gate III
Dame Jenny Gibbs
I Considered All the Acts of Oppression
Zoe Black
Ruby Bay
Jim Barr and Mary Barr
Oaia and clouds
Vivienne Stone
Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is
Kate Sylvester
Northland Panels