Otago Peninsula 1946-1949

COLIN McCAHON 1919-1987 Aotearoa New Zealand

Oil on gesso on board
Collection of Dunedin Public Libraries Kā Kete Wānaka o Ōtepoti, Rodney Kennedy bequest.

Otago Peninsula (1946-49), commissioned by McCahon’s friend and supporter Rodney Kennedy, was the second of two large paintings of this subject by McCahon from this time. The first, Otago Peninsula (1946), was his largest-to-date and showed the structural, almost skeletal approach to the landscape that had been anticipated in Harbour Cone from Peggy’s Hill. This second painting shows a more tonal and modulated painting style, adding depth, perspective and drama to the increasingly simplified composition. It is the more monochromatic and austere of these two paintings - the stacked, repeating landforms anticipating the next phase of McCahon’s work.

Otago Peninsula (1946-49) hung above a mantelpiece in Kennedy’s home
in Royal Terrace, recalled by Charles Brasch in 1955 in his journal. Brasch wrote, ‘Colin McCahon’s big painting of Otago Peninsula is one of the things I shall miss most when we leave here...Colin has captured in it so remarkably the heroic proportions & brooding spirit of the place itself, but heightened and simplified....I suppose it is the finest landscape ever done in NZ, to be thought of with Buchanan’s Milford Sound and nothing else.’3

Rodney Kennedy bequeathed this painting to the Dunedin Public Library in honour of City Librarian Archie Dunningham and wife Peggy, who were advocates of contemporary art in Ōtepoti Dunedin in the 1930s and 40s, working to make exhibition space available at the library when many organisations refused to show the works of young, experimental artists.

3. Quote reproduced in Peter Simpson’s Colin McCahon – There is only one direction, (Auckland University Press: 2019), p.68

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