John Gully was one of New Zealand’s foremost artists, probably the most popular of his time. Born in Bath, England he was first apprenticed to an iron foundry. He graduated to the designing and drafting department but found this work without challenge and took private lessons in painting.
In 1852 he and his wife and children immigrated to New Plymouth on the John Phillips. He first used his artistic skills as a draughtsman, painting “views” of properties to send overseas.
In 1863 he began to exhibit his paintings professionally. Encouragement by his fellow artists von Haast & J. C. Richmond and the Commissioner of Crown Lands. Richmond went on painting expeditions with him and used all his influence to make Gully’s work known.
By 1870 Gully was probably the most popular painter in the country. He exhibited watercolours at the Intercolonial Exhibition Melbourne 1866 – 1867. In 1878 he was listed in Wises directory as a Nelson artist, where he became the Drawing Master at Nelson College and then draughtsman in the Lands Survey Office.
Gully worked nearly always in watercolour and was greatly praised for his atmospheric effects that incorporate Claudian principles. In the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin in 1889 – 1890, a group of watercolours by the late “Mr. Gully” were shown as a special exhibit.
He exhibited at the Fine Arts Association Wellington 1883, the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in 1889, the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880 -1881, the Centennial Exhibition Melbourne 1888 – 1889, and the Centennial Exhibition Wellington 1940. His works are represented in the Suter Art Gallery Nelson, and most other major gallery and library collections in New Zealand.