A Forgotten Contribution: re-establishing the production and significance of New Zealand's official First World War artists
Thesis DisciplineArt History
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis examines the history of New Zealand’s National Collection of First World War Art. It explores the reasons behind the establishment and collapse of New Zealand’s official war art programme and the unfulfilled intention to create a National War Museum. The analysis focuses on the two main contributors to this programme, the civilian artist George Edmund Butler (1872–1936) and the soldier-artist Nugent Welch (1881–1970). Both trained under James Nairn in New Zealand but their disparate careers and war experiences affected the manner in which each approached their official duties, particularly their choice of subject matter and themes. While Butler and Welch completed many field sketches documenting the activities of the New Zealand Division on the Western Front they were never given the opportunity to complete the larger commemorative museum project. Without a proper home their works were neglected and the collection quickly lost its relevance and was forgotten. This thesis explains why this occurred. It reassesses the collection and repositions Butler’s and Welch’s works within a contemporary context, comparing their production with those of their fellow New Zealand artists, including Horace Moore-Jones, Walter Armiger Bowring, Frances Hodgkins, Edith Collier, Archibald Nicoll and Francis McCracken, who each responded to the war from outside the official war art programme. Their works are also analysed against examples of official and unofficial art made by international artists, with a particular focus on British artists and those from the Dominions of Australia and Canada such as Paul Nash, C.R.W. Nevinson, William Orpen, Arthur Streeton, William Dyson, A.Y. Jackson and F.H. Varley. The thesis also explores the impact of photography on the programme, the effects of censorship, the role of propaganda and the challenges the artists faced on the battlefields. It concludes that New Zealand’s official war art has been unjustly neglected and argues that it should form part of a more complete understanding of twentieth-century New Zealand art.