Charles Frederick Goldie has been called one of New Zealand’s greatest artists and one of the most controversial. He was born in Auckland in 1870. Rejecting the art movements of Impressionism and avant-garde, Goldie’s style was rooted in photographic detail. He later became famous for his portraits of Maori elders.
In one aspect, C.F. Goldie was a man who held racist beliefs about his subjects: drawn to the Maori subjects for their exoticism and fully believing that the Native peoples were inferior to Europeans. The poses he painted them in emphasized his notion of the “noble savage” and that they were a “dying race:”
Goldie’s presentation of his Maori art portraits with almost photographic attention to detail conveyed an impression of naturalism, but were also posed and artificial. His paintings rarely show young, vital Maori adapting to and embracing the future, but instead concentrate on elders often appearing worn-out, submissive and defeated. This was accentuated by the titles of Goldie’s works. Titles such as Tumai Tawhiti: The Last of the Cannibals, Patara Te Tuhi: an Old Warrior and The Last Sleep add to the impression that these Maori are the last survivors of a dying race. Right into the 1940s Goldie continued to portray elderly Maori in traditional costume and settings. In his work he failed to show the many challenges to their traditional lifestyle which Maori had encountered and overcome. (source)
The above painting Darby and Joan is another example of the Maori pictured as defeated and resigned to their fate, as explained by New Zealand website Tai Awatea / Knowledge Net:
Many titles of Goldie’s paintings also suggest a paternalistic, pitying attitude towards Maori: The Last of the Cannibals, A Noble Relic of a Noble Race, Weary With Years. This painting is no exception. Darby and Joan are characters from a sentimental eighteenth century English ballad and the term has come to represent any elderly couple or life-long partners. It is thought that Ina Te Papatahi is Joan in this painting and the carved ancestral figure, Darby.
At the same time, however, his portraits of the Maori elders served as academic studies of Maori facial tattooing, called ta moko. This form of tattooing was worn by the respected elders of the Maori people and created by chiseling into the skin, creating ridges in the skin along with the tattoo. At the time, European Christian missionaries had decried the practice as “the devil’s art,” and only the older generation of Maori wore them. Goldie’s work helped preserve the portraits of Maori ancestors that would have otherwise been lost. And, recently, the renewal of ta moko tattoos for Maori people today would not be possible without the source references provided by Goldie’s work.
Nevertheless, despite the attitude of the artist, today’s irony is that the Maori people are certainly not a “dying race.” As art historian Roger Blackley observes:
Charles F. Goldie may have assumed he was doing future generations a great service by recording “the Maori as he was”; by picturing, for posterity, the vanishing times of a noble race. He misjudged his sitters. He misjudged their descendants. He assumed too much. The world has moved on, indeed.
Profile on Ina Te Papatahi on Tai Awatea / Knowledge Net. She is pictured above and was one of Goldie’s favorite models.