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MacDiarmid, Douglas Kerr MacDiarmid


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Douglas Kerr MacDiarmid (born 14 November 1922) is one of New Zealand’s most accomplished expatriate painters, known for his diversity and exceptional use of colour. Involved with key movements in twentieth-century art, he currently lives in Paris, France.

Douglas MacDiarmid was born in Taihape, in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand, the younger son of Dr Gordon Napier MacDiarmid, country general medical practitioner and surgeon, and his wife Mary Frances (née Tolme), a school teacher before her marriage. He was educated

at Timaru Boys' High School, and studied literature, languages, music and philosophy at Canterbury College, University of New Zealand, Christchurch. His studies were interrupted by World War 2 military service in the Army and Air Force at home. Although he had no formal art training, he was mentored by older members of The Group, an avant-garde set redefining New Zealand art and culture that he was closely involved with during his Christchurch years from 1940 to 1946.

While his brother Ronald Diarmid MacDiarmid followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a doctor, Douglas left New Zealand after the war in 1946 to find his way as an artist, teaching and painting in London and France. After a year back in New Zealand in 1949-50, he returned to France and has been based there ever since – with homeland exhibitions and regular trips back to New Zealand until recent years.

MacDiarmid has been a full time artist in Paris since 1952 and has continued to paint into his 10th decade. He also writes poetry. Not confined to a style, he creates landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, figures, abstract and semi abstract forms, many inspired by his extensive travels, and has exhibited successfully in France, London, Athens, New York, and Casablanca.

In 1990, he was brought back to New Zealand for the country’s sesquicentennial celebrations, and declared a New Zealand living cultural treasure by the government of the day. His portrait was painted by Jacqueline Fahey at the time for the new New Zealand Portrait Gallery.[2]

His paintings are owned by French and New Zealand governments, the City of Paris, and public and private collections across the world, including New Zealand, Australia, the United States, France, England, Greece, Switzerland, Morocco, South Africa, China, South America, Korea, Tahiti, as well as the collection of the late Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Douglas is a cousin of the late New Zealand chemist Alan MacDiarmid, one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2000.

One of my favourite paintings in Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa is a small oil by Douglas MacDiarmid – Papa cliff pool with bathers, Taihape.

Whenever I see it, I’m struck by its clarity and intensity. Everything contributes to the sense of dream-like wonder: the emerald-green water, the sensuous curves of the cliffs, and the dusky golden glow of the hills. The naked figures – a New Zealand Adam and Eve? – are alone in this charmed spot, blissfully unselfconscious. This is a vision of the landscape as Arcadia: a place where the sun is always shining, nature is bountiful, and nothing ever really happens. What could have inspired it?

When I asked Douglas MacDiarmid this question, he replied, ‘Sheer nostalgia’. In 1947, when he painted it, he was just 25 years old. He had recently arrived in London – still devastated after the war – and was living in a dank room in St John’s Wood, enduring a bleak, fog-bound winter. ‘Night fell at about 3 pm,’ he recalled. ‘After the light of NZ it sometimes felt desperate, food was still rationed. Nearly everybody had cracked walls & the yellow fog seeped in. I found myself dreaming of holidays with friends in the wild country of my Taihape.’

Douglas had grown up in Taihape, where the rugged landscape made a lasting impression: ‘the density of silence among the North Island volcanic hills with their burnt out cemeteries of trees.’ The pool in the painting, a much-loved place, was on the property of a schoolfriend at Tiriraukawa, west of the township. Douglas and his cronies commandeered an old gate as a toboggan, and used it to slide down the cliff into the water. They spent hours riding their horses across the farmland: ‘I remembered galloping, racing, jumping our horses over the brilliant tussock country.’

Today, Douglas lives in Paris, his base for nearly 60 years. At 93, he is as witty and entertaining as ever, and the people and places of his early years in New Zealand still haunt his painting. He often speaks with gratitude of the encouragment he received as a young artist in Christchurch during the early 1940s. His friends included the leading painters of the time – Rita Angus, Evelyn Page and Leo Bensemann – as well as composers and musicians Douglas Lilburn and Frederick Page. The story of his love affair with Lilburn is told in Philip Norman’s marvellous biography, Douglas Lilburn: his life and music, published in 2006.

Another vital figure in MacDiarmid’s life was the Wellington art dealer, Helen Hitchings. They met when he visited New Zealand in 1949, and he exhibited at her gallery in the following year before returning to France. You can see Papa cliff pool with bathers, Taihape in the top right of the photograph below; later Hitchings herself acquired it.

In 1952 Hitchings included MacDiarmid’s work in Fifteen New Zealand painters, the exhibition she organised in London – a pioneering attempt to show New Zealand art overseas. By then MacDiarmid was living in Cannes with a painter friend, and she hitchhiked all the way across France to see him. He made a series of watercolour sketches based on her adventures: Helen, perhaps having second thoughts, squeezed between two tipsy Frenchmen; pushing the car uphill after a breakdown; and catching a ride in a delivery van.

Below, a stylish Helen peruses the offerings in an outdoor market. But what’s that attached to the waist of her skirt – could it be an ornamental dagger?

You can find out more about Helen Hitchings and you will be able to learn more about Douglas MacDiarmid when his niece, Anna Cahill, publishes her forthcoming biography. Anna recently visited Te Papa on a research trip, and we’re looking forward to the results of her work.

In the meantime, don’t miss Papa cliff pool with bathers, Taihape in the exhibition on the Gallery of Helen Hitchings in Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa.

The Gallery of Helen Hitchings is part of Nga Toi | Arts Te Papa, Level 5.
Nga Toi | Arts Te Papa On the Wall exhibition

Jill Trevelyan, Temporary curator, Te Papa Tongarewa

Acclaimed expatriate painter Douglas MacDiarmid holds a unique place in New Zealand’s creative core. Regarded as the one who got away, Douglas is a significant missing link in post-war New Zealand art culture. By choosing to pursue a global career rather than make a domestic living, he has largely flown under the radar until recently.

Born in Taihape in 1922, he boarded at Huntley Preparatory School, Marton, and Timaru Boys’ High School. He graduated from Canterbury College, Christchurch with a Bachelor of Arts in English, literature and music after World War II.

Based in Paris since 1952, Douglas has found his own way and outlived his contemporaries. MacDiarmid is a gifted, charmingly charismatic, highly articulate, erudite and witty individual. With his prodigiously versatile painting style in portraits, figures, landscapes, urbanscapes, representational and abstract art, he has had wide success earning a living from his art in a very competitive market.

Now 96, he continues to represent New Zealand on the world art scene. He has returned regularly over the decades and featured in many exhibitions in his homeland.

Douglas describes himself as an expressionist painter – one who expresses the visual rhythm of things. He has worked in oils, watercolour, acrylic on various surfaces, and experimented with new textures and sculptural mediums. All of his work is imbued with his deep interest in the classical world, music, mythology, literature, and the origins of civilisation and language.

Career Highlights
This multi-faceted man has led an extraordinary life. He is an important artist with a wide view of art, history and life that spans almost a century. His diverse body of work is strongly influenced by his extensive travels, observations, writings, friendships and exchanges over the past nine decades.

In the 1940s, he was the young darling of the avant-garde The Group in Christchurch, encouraged by Evelyn Page, Leo Bensemann and Rita Angus.

In the 1960s, he gave lectures on contemporary painting around New Zealand and was the first New Zealand painter to exhibit at New Zealand House in London.

In 1990, he was declared a New Zealand ‘living cultural treasure’ during an official sesquicentennial exhibition of his work in Wellington, and his portrait painted for the National Portrait Gallery. The artist’s 80th birthday in 2002 coincided with the publication of an illustrated art book titled MacDiarmid by French art historian Dr Nelly Finet, published in both English and French.

In 2006, a 52-minute documentary film about Douglas MacDiarmid’s art and life views premiered at the annual Australia New Zealand Film Festival at St Tropez, France. Called A Stranger Everywhere, the documentary was supported by an art exhibition of the same name.

In 2011, he invited fellow expatriate New Zealand sculptor Marion Fountain to join him in mounting an exhibition at the New Zealand embassy in Paris to raise funds for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.

In 2012, a collection of 130 of his artworks was acquired by Otago University’s Hocken Library. In 2014-15, his work was featured in Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand’s Ngā Toi exhibition. In 2017, the University of Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery exhibited work covering a period of six decades, gifted to their permanent collection by the artist in 2015.

In July 2018, his biography Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid was published. Written by his niece Anna Cahill, the book is available here. Its launch was accompanied by an exhibition of portraiture at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and a one night exhibition of private works at the Pah Homestead in Auckland. Listen to what Douglas had to say about writing his biography.

Since 1949, Douglas MacDiarmid has had more than 30 solo exhibitions in New Zealand alone, the most recent in 2017, and been represented in many more. In Paris, he staged an exhibition every two years until 2014.

His paintings are owned by French and New Zealand governments, the City of Paris, and hang in public and private collections across the world, including New Zealand, Australia, the United States, France, England, Scotland, Greece, Switzerland, Morocco, Scandinavia, South Africa, China, Hong Kong, South America, Korea and Tahiti, as well as the collection of the late Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

His work is also held in New Zealand by all major art collections, including Alexander Turnbull Library, Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum of New Zealand, New Zealand Portrait Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery, Auckland Art Gallery, University of Auckland Art Collection, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Sarjeant Gallery, Dowse Art Museum, Suter Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington, Sir James Wallace Arts Trust, Manawatu Art Gallery, Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Waikato Museum, Dame Ngaio Marsh House, Aigantighe Art Gallery, New Zealand Treasury, and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade collection – Wellington, London, Paris and Cairo.

Significant exhibitions[edit]
1945: Showed with The Group, Christchurch, NZ, also 1945, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1956, 1963

1950: Helen Hitchings Gallery, Wellington, 1st solo show

1951: Work shown at Bienniale de Menton salon exhibition, Gallery Pierre Mondal, London

1952: Galerie Morihen, Paris, France, 1st French solo exhibition; Fifteen New Zealand Painters, Irving Galleries, Leicester, presented by Helen Hitchings as 1st exhibition of contemporary NZ art in Britain; New Forms Gallery, Athens, Greece

1953: Chelsea Private Gallery, London; Galerie Royale, Paris

1955: Galerie Ror Volmar, Paris

1958: Galerie du Colisée, Paris, Galerie du Claridge, Paris; Pierre Montal Gallery group exhibition, London

1959: André Brooke’s Gallery 91, Christchurch; John Leech Gallery, Auckland; Beaux Arts group exhibition, Paris, works selected for L'Exposition du Prix Othon Friesz, Paris

1960: Commonwealth Week, Midland Bank, London; Gallery Pierre Montal, London; Redfern Gallery, London; Galeries Felix Varcel, represented NZ in New York Norwich International Exhibition, London

1961: Architectural Centre, Wellington

1963: Galerie Chardin, Paris; New Forms Gallery, Athens

1964: Opening of NZ House, London (the first painter to exhibit there); New Forms Galleries, Athens: represented NZ at Stamford International Exhibition, Connecticut, USA

1965: Galerie 259 Raspail, Paris, with sculptor Dambrin; represented at NZ painting & ceramics exhibition, New Zealand Embassy, Paris; John Leech Gallery, Auckland, also 1966, 1967, 1971, 1973

1966: Ensemble exhibition, Palmerston North Public Art Gallery, NZ; group Exhibition of NZ Paintings & Pottery, NZ Embassy, Washington DC

1968: Retrospective MacDiarmid Exhibition, Wellington; Galerie Berri-Lardy, Paris; represented NZ at Commonwealth Exhibition, Bristol, UK

1969: Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, NZ.

1970: Dunedin Public Art Gallery, NZ: Festival Week Exhibition; Canterbury Society of Arts Gallery, Christchurch

1972: Galerie Motte, Paris

1974: Medici Galleries, Wellington, also 1975, 1976.

1976: NZ House, London; Galerie Venise Cadre, Casablanca, Morocco

1977: Galerie Séguier, Paris

1979: Galeriè Bond Street, Casablanca

1981: Louise Beale Gallery, Wellington, also 1985

1983: Galerie Lambert, Paris, also 1986

1989: Chez Lonjon, Paris – 1st home based exhibition

1990: NZ Sesquicentennial Exhibition, Light Release, Louise Beale/Christopher Moore Gallery, Wellington; National Art Gallery, Wellington

1992: Christopher Moore Gallery, Wellington, also 1993, 1995, 1997; Chez MacDiarmid, Paris, also 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005

1995: New Zealand Embassy, Paris

1996: Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui, NZ

1999: Ferner Galleries, Auckland & Wellington, NZ, MacDiarmid 50th anniversary Retrospective 1948-1998, - From the Artist’s Studio, & 2001; 2002 Celebrating the artist at 80 retrospective – including the New Zealand launch of artbook MacDiarmid by French art historian Nelly Finet[3]

2003: St Tropez, France, solo exhibition for 5th Australia/New Zealand Film Festival

2004: NZ Embassy residence, Paris

2006: Hocken Library, Dunedin NZ, Douglas MacDiarmid: A Very Generous Gift; St Tropez, France 11–15 October. This show supported the release of A Stranger Everywhere[4] documentary at Australia/New Zealand Film Festival; Otago University Auckland Centre; NZ Embassy exhibition, Paris

2008: New Zealand Embassy, Paris, also 2011 exhibition in aid of Christchurch earthquake reparation

2013: Montmartre, Paris exhibition with expatriate NZ sculptor Marion Fountain; Jonathan Grant Galleries, Auckland Douglas MacDiarmid: An Artist Abroad

2015: Early work shown in Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa autumn Nga Toi exhibition, Wellington[5]

Bell, L., "In transit: Questions of home and belonging in New Zealand art," presented and transcribed as part of the 2006 Gordon H. Brown Lecture series.
Bell, L., "A stranger everywhere: Douglas MacDiarmid and New Zealand," Art New Zealand 123 (Winter 2007), pp. 76–81, 95.
Brown, G. H., (1981) New Zealand painting 1940–1960: Conformity and dissension, Wellington: QEII Arts Council. pp. 46, 50–51, 58, 61, 100.
Finet, N., (2002) MacDiarmid, Paris: Editions STAR.
Fraser, R., "Douglas MacDiarmid: A conversation with an expatriate," Art New Zealand 59 (Winter 1991) pp. 84, 87, 105.
Frizzell, D., (2012) It's all about the image, Auckland: Random House NZ. ISBN 9781869797072
Grinda, E., (2006) A Stranger Everywhere, (52 minute documentary film on MacDiarmid's work and views). Hong Kong: Artisan Limited.
Johnstone, C., (2006) Landscape paintings of New Zealand: A journey from north to south, Auckland: Godwit Press.
MacDiarmid, D. "What is art supposed to do?" Ascent: A journal of the arts in New Zealand, 1, 1, (November 1967) pp. 11–15.
Norman, P., (2006) Douglas Lilburn: His life and work, Christchurch: Canterbury University Press.
Trevelyan, J., (2008) Rita Angus: An artist's life, Wellington: Te Papa.
Wolfe, R., (2008) New Zealand portraits, Auckland: Penguin. ISBN 9780670071777


Douglas MacDiarmid - Jonathan Grant Gallery". Jonathan Grant Gallery. Retrieved 2016-02-05.
Douglas MacDiarmid | The New Zealand Portrait Gallery". www.nzportraitgallery.org.nz. Retrieved 2016-02-05.
Finet (2002)
Grinda (2006)
Trevelyan, J. "‘The wild country of my Taihape’: a painting by Douglas MacDiarmid". Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 11 December 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
Categories: People from TaihapeNew Zealand artistsLiving people1922 birthsPeople educated at Timaru Boys' High SchoolUniversity of Canterbury alumni

Datum toegevoegd: 13/04/2009 door: De Kunsthistoricus
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