#20 Charles Frederick Goldie and his Maori Portraits

Ena Te Papatahi

Ena Te Papatahi – A Chieftainess of the Ngapuhi Tribe. Image courtesy of museumsyndicate.com

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)

Patara Te Tuhi – An Old Warrior. Image courtesy of http://www.museumsyndicate.com

Wharekauri Tahuna

Wharekauri Tahuna. Image courtesy of http://www.prints.co.nz

Patara Te Tuhi

Patara Te Tuhi. Image courtesy of http://www.prints.co.nz

Darby and Joan, Ina Te Papatahi, Nga Puhi. Image courtesy of Tai Awatea/Knowledge Net (click for 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.

Portrait of Te Aho-te-Rangi Wharepu, Ngati Mahuta. Also known as “A Good Joke” Image courtesy of arikiart.com (click for source)

“Hamiora” from The Suter Te Aratoi O Whakatü in New Zealand. Image courtesy of nzmuseums.co.nz (click for source)

A Hot Day

“A Hot Day” Image courtesy of http://www.museumsyndicate.com.


C.F. Goldie on Wikipedia

Profile on Ina Te Papatahi on Tai Awatea / Knowledge Net. She is pictured above and was one of Goldie’s favorite models.

Goldie’s Style and Technique on Museum of New Zealand’s website

Bio of Charles Frederick Goldie on nzterritory.com

Full gallery of Charles Frederick Goldie’s work on museumsyndicate.com




Filed under History

6 responses to “#20 Charles Frederick Goldie and his Maori Portraits

  1. Raewyn Pettigrew

    I have purchased a beaten copper copy in an oak frame of Goldies painting a Hot Day ( my purchase is entitled “A Warm Day” & its an exact image of this picture, beautifully executed in copper & imbedded in an oak frame fixed with copper nails , would luv to find out who the artisan was ? Can anyone enlighten me as its just beautiful & have polished= it & the outlines of his face are amazing….

  2. Mere Aupounamu

    Tena koe
    I have a pencil sketch of a Tuhoe rangatira Kitty Te Hemo. I am curious to find out more of her ancestral links and perhaps pass on this taonga to her descendants. Any enqiries would be much appreciared…

  3. warren larsen

    we have a book that was painted in and signed by goldie quite a few pages,it was done when he was we think in england and it was a fav book of his neighbors daughter and what he did was paint pictures for her to do with the story. he painted over the front cover and also painted a picture of the girl…

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  5. Evelyn Bertie

    I just adore his work and had the pleasure of seeing them on a visit to Auckland. I think the article does not do the artist justice and that sometimes young faces, although are handsome and pretty do not tell a story. I stood for ages just looking into the faces and wondered what they could tell.