Considering John Douglas Perrett

Clement Burlison (1815-1889) Florence

I have, for a while now, wanted to buy a large scale Victorian/Edwardian painting. Something vast. The problem of course is that they’re few and far between. Anything good has long been snapped up by the public art galleries and indifferent painting, easy to disguise in small formats, is not something that should ever be upsized, even in the name of décor.

First, I fell for a beautiful portrait of a woman at a window – magnificent in scale and beautifully framed – only to be told that she was “not for sale.” A slightly annoying discovery, given that within seconds of our meeting I had replanned my entire (décor) life around her needs. I then toyed for a week with a large oil of Florence by the English artist Clement Burlison.

I have a network of friends willing to act as my eyes and view ‘out of town’ works. One of these is particularly dedicated to the detail of the task. Although she described the work in a lengthy missive as ‘the size of a Turkish carpet’ – which was good – the rest of the news was bad – including speculation that ‘it may have been through a fire.

Samuel Prout (1783-1852) Cathedral Steps with Figures.

Now I am considering the possibility of a large John Douglas Perrett, Headlands Lake Manapouri (1894).

Certainly enormous (at 1000 mm x 1700mm) it is a bravado colonial landscape, one that I found accidentally (always good) while considering a small Samuel Prout. Prout was an early Nineteenth century water colourist who specialized in architectural subject matter.

We have a Prout, of a church interior and this one seemed an ideal companion piece. My mistake was to send Peter to the view.

(This by the way parallels the story of how we found this house – Peter was sent to Napier to find a small cottage and came home with … well the outcome of that decision is quite apparent).

Peter reported back that the Prout was ‘pleasing subject matter, but continued

… in a crappy late Victorian frame, not a good one, which strikes me as unusual, though it may have bumped down in its life. The surface shows some sign of damage on the right hand side … slightly clouded and dark, as if maybe covering has congealed.

It was it was one of those damming with faint praise moments. However, let loose among the other paintings in the sale, he managed to drop in the line into his email – “the Perrett is vast and Studio sized – enormous.” I rechecked the catalogue. I’d not noticed the Perrett, either because it was reproduced above a lovely Frank Barnes that distracted me, or because I am largely immune to late colonial oils, particularly those depicting the clichéd favorites, Mitre Peak, Milford Sound, Lake Manapouri etc.

Why was it New Zealand painters were so keen to paint the same material again and again? Was it simply market demand? Why do we care? Monet painted haystacks over and over but no one holds it against him.

At the moment of writing this posting I have no idea whether I am going to bid on the Perrett, which at this point I haven’t seen firsthand (that’s tomorrow). I am in research phase while at the same time dealing with a lingering internal conflict ­– in that I just don’t quite see myself as the owner of large colonial oil paintings.

Why not?

Thinking about it, I suppose I need to find away to connect myself to the painting but also to the artist. That was easy when I found myself deeply fascinated with the modern movement but it’s a little harder to do when faced with the romantic landscapes of the late Victorians. Neither the Portrait of a Woman nor the Burlison were painted in New Zealand – is this simply a case of ye olde cultural cringe? Is it that large colonial oils smack of pre-crash (1980s crash that is) INVESTMENT art?

Why would I buy a view of Lake Manapouri?


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2 Responses to Considering John Douglas Perrett

  1. Ian MacNeill says:

    Douglas, where will you hang it?

    Obviously you would know better than I but why not go for an earlier sublime landscape? They seem to me ridiculously underpriced in New Zealand (cultural cringe?). At a viewing in Webb’s I saw several watercolours with estimates of $NS400. I thought they were worth ten times that much (and I reckon soon will be).

    In the meantime, no doubt they Webb’s people know their market.

    If I could have got it out of the country, I would have popped one under my arm.

    I loved them.

    On the other hand perhaps circa 1850s oils (your requirement is for an oil painting) are very, very pricey.

    Your approach may be different but the general advice is – you can’t go wrong if you love it.

    Maybe put your patience mittens on and wait for one you love.

    Good luck in your quest.

    I am eager to read your post viewing assessment.

    Ian MacNeill

  2. Ian MacNeill says:

    Are ‘Lake Manapouris’ such a cliché?

    Surely there are breathtaking ones amongst the flood?

    I M

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