Wellington Harbour by James Nairn

Wellington Harbour, 1894, by James McLauchlan Nairn.

James Nairn (1859–1904) was a Scottish painter who emigrated to New Zealand in 1890 for health reasons. Nairn was associated with the Glasgow School, a group of Scottish impressionists, and was committed to painting en plein air. As his friend and pupil M.E.R. Tripe explained, his paintings were executed ‘on the spot – not faked up in the studio from sketches.’

Critics labelled his work as ‘bilious’ and ‘chromatic lunacy’, but Nairn was resolute. ‘I shall always make a point of trying to outrage the taste of the ordinary public, as I do not want them to like my work.’

In 1892, frustrated by the state of management at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Nairn and a group of enthusiasts founded the rival Wellington Art Club. At weekends and holidays these friends joined Nairn at Pumpkin Cottage in Silverstream for sketching, ‘a few bottles of lunch’ and some bohemian cuisine.

Nairn’s choice of typical rather than spectacular subject matter, his plein air treatment and spontaneous application of paint were illuminating for New Zealand artists who still practised a very conservative style of painting.

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What do you know?

Dorothy Burt

Posted: 21 Nov 2017

Miriama Smith should look this up as her great great grandmother Isobel was his sister. See dna detectives onTuesday night