Probably the best-known and finest of Dorothy Kate Richmond’s watercolours, from any point in her career, Mount Egmont features one of the most frequently painted subjects in New Zealand landscape art. It is constructed through the simplest of means: the artist leaves much of the foreground untouched, creating a sense of space and using the white of the paper as one of the elements of her design. At the left, a bleached tree form points beyond the bush to the snow-covered mountain outlined against a clear blue sky. In this serene view, completed in the last years of her life, Richmond seems to express both an attachment to New Zealand landscape, and her delight and wonder in the natural world.
Richmond was the daughter of James Crowe Richmond, a prominent colonist and noted watercolourist who encouraged his daughter to take up painting. From 1878 to 1880 she attended the Slade School of Art in London, and in 1889 she travelled in Europe with her father. After his death in 1898 she again returned to England, where she worked at, among other places, Newlyn, an artists’ colony in Cornwall and base for painters committed to outdoor working and natural light effects. Richmond’s time at Newlyn and the teaching of one of its artists, Norman Garstin, had a strong influence on her clear and economical style.
In 1903 Richmond returned to New Zealand accompanied by Frances Hodgkins. Unlike Hodgkins, she remained in Wellington, becoming a central figure in the city’s artistic life. She was especially renowned for the transparency and delicacy of her watercolours, and acquired a reputation for flower painting and landscapes of the Wellington bays and countryside. After working around the Ruapehu region in 1920 with her friend and fellow artist Margaret Stoddart, she began to explore mountain scenery, painting in 1925 at Mount Egmont and in 1929 at Mount Cook. She had family ties to the Taranaki region, and over the following years she returned there regularly, completing numerous paintings of the mountain. These were almost certainly known to Christopher Perkins, who arrived in Wellington in 1929 and whose 1931 painting, Taranaki (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki), a symbolic and modern treatment of the theme, became one of the best-known works in New Zealand art.
This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).