Wellington Harbour was a favourite subject for artist James M Nairn, one that he explored repeatedly from 1891 after he settled in Wellington. One of his primary interests was in the effects of light on the surface of the water. To capture this, he used unmixed colours applied with the loose, flicking brushstrokes characteristic of Impressionist painters.
ImpressionismNairn brought his particular form of Impressionist painting with him from Scotland where his style and ideas had been formed by a progressive Glasgow school of painters known as the Glasgow Boys. Like the French Impressionists, the Glasgow Boys painted ordinary subjects, including rural and urban scenes – all showing people in situations to do with modern life. To capture the colour and movement of these scenes, they painted outdoors, en plein air, which enabled them to work quickly and directly onto the canvas.
Shockingly radicalFor a New Zealand audience, Nairn’s simple everyday subjects and his Impressionistic treatment of them were shockingly radical, and he was accused by one critic of ‘chromatic lunacy’. But Nairn’s assured style and belief in his own abilities left him unfazed by such criticism, as indicated by his comment ‘I shall always make the point of trying to outrage the taste of the ordinary public, as I do not want them to like my work.’