Pursuing John Douglas Perrett.

John Douglas Perrett, 'Headwaters, Lake Manapouri' (1899)

The Perrett is certainly large (see Considering John Douglas Perrett). Propped up on an easel it dominates one side of Dunbar Sloane’s auction rooms. It’s early in the viewing and there aren’t many people in the room and so I can look at it for a while uninterrupted. It’s a vast work, well framed and although the subject matter has a certain familiarity, the painting has a nice luminous quality and some appealing detail.  It will work nicely in the large studio.

I’ve done a little research and there’s a slender possibility that this work had a prior connection to Napier, where it many have been exhibited soon after it was completed in 1899, (not 1894 as printed in the catalogue). This is enough to make the connection  I was looking for. The provenance and life of the painting provides something additional that subject matter can’t – it’s a pity auction houses are so cagey about the history of paintings.  I’ve also figured out that J. D.Perrett is very much one of those neglected artists with which New Zealand is peppered. Big in his own day, there has been barely a word written about him since – except for this from a book on art investment:

 Perrett’s oils tend to be a little dark: if you can get one that is painted in purples and blues, with slashes of green, and still water, with perhaps snow on the mountains, tinged with pink and in pleasing form, then you have a good Perrett.

It’s a rather nice description written by someone who has at least taken the time to look at Perrett’s work.  It strikes me that John Douglas Perrett might be an artist worth taking a bit of an interest in, if only because we know so little about him, and that means there are lots to discover.

J Douglas Perrett, South Island Landscape,

Having checked out the Prout and the Barnes firsthand, we scoot downstairs to look at the affordable section of the sale. I like this aspect of  Dunbar’s Wellington sales, because the taste is so different to that of Auckland – more international.

This I put down to years of diplomatic postings and other international manoeuvering which have resulted in all manner of obscure artworks ending their days (foxed and dowdy in their framing) in Wellington. There are also two more Perrett’s and a George Baker I want to check out as a comparison to the one upstairs.

The larger of the two smaller downstairs Perretts, is a lovely work, darker and even more luminous than the one upstairs. It is of an unidentified South Island scene and benefits from a good frame. While looking at it, a middle-aged couple next to me – comment ‘its so gloomy nobody wants that stuff on their walls anymore.’ I can’t help but think the opposite – this one would look great in our red-walled library – where it could be gloomy to its heart’s content. Over hearing a conversation like this somehow ups Perrett’s standing in my mind.

J DOuglas Perrett, Mt Cook.

Then my eye catches the last and smallest Perrett, an oil sketch. If the others were luminous, this is absolute zinger – light reflecting off the side of Mt Cook (‘snow on the mountains, tinged with pink and in pleasing form) – it is painted with an immediacy that makes it much more in the modern taste, than is the highly polished and finished work upstairs. This one I’ll buy for sure and in strict violation of our agreed decor rule – ‘no more small paintings.’

The irony is that in my search for a large painting –  I’ve discovered Douglas Perrett, an artist that I’ve never paid even the slightest bit of attention too – but at heart I like the smaller works a lot more than I do the large work upstairs. Perhaps it’s that the big painting was, even it own day, painted to impress –whereas the little sketch is something a little closer to the heart of the artist himself.  I will however bid on the large work – oh who am I kidding, I’ll be bidding on all three.

The decision is made for me on the night of the auction when the big Perrett sells for twice my limit and more than three times the estimate.  This worries me not one bit, (I’m secretly pleased that Perrett has devoted fans out there) except that my sister has had to sit through the sale in order to bid for me. I place absentee bids on the other two Perrett’s and the George Baker – a painting that would once have been called ‘a conceit’ – but more on that another day.

In the end I come way with the Baker and the very smallest of the Perrett’s.

Lot 246A, my little Perrett, is no bigger than an A4 page. This whole expedition into colonial painting, undertaken in pursuit of a large painting has resulted, in yet another tiny art work, which in its own way presents a bigger decor dilema, than did the thought of rearranging the studio to fit an enormous work.


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5 Responses to Pursuing John Douglas Perrett.

  1. Tony says:

    What a lovely discussion about Mr Perrett. I have been an admirer of much of his work for sometime having inherited a large Mt Cook painting from my father. As you say there is little written about him and I have always thought his efforts are really not given the credit they deserve. We now have 5 including one done in pastels. I do find it strange that there seems little demand for Perretts but on the credit side, it is reflected in the price one pays.
    Perhapshe will ‘be discovered’ one day? Although there were many Colonial Artists of that era I do feel he was one of the best.
    I hope you managed to find an appropriate spot for your purchase and enjoy the ambience I am sure it will provide.

    • Editor says:


      Thanks for your kind comment. You might be interested in another piece I’ve written on J D Perrett inspired by the research undertaken when pursuing the larger painting. See my other blog napierathenaeum.com


  2. John Keene says:

    Thanks for the insight to JD Perrett. I have a picture gifted to me by my Grandfather of Lake Manapori in 1888 which Perritt gifted to them prior to him returning to England for services to the Church of England (My Grandfather has noted this on the back of the picture). I went to Dunbar & Sloane to ask about Perrett and they only valued it at $300 (sight unseen) which suggests he remains under valued as an artist.

  3. My mother has a lovely J D Perrett, but unfortunately we don’t know what it is of. It is an original which has been in her family for over 100 years. We had never heard of Perrett, so it was good to find some info. I wonder if I could send a picture of the painting and maybe you could help us identify it?

  4. Lesly Fitzgerald says:

    I have a very large J D Perritt which is obviously a scene from the South Island. I was told it is done in pastels but don’t know. It was apparently found in an old barn. The frame measures approximately 115cm x 88cm

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