Ely Cathedral, Palm Sunday

Oil on canvas
40 x 50 cm
Circa 1950

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Christopher Perkins was born in Peterborough, England in 1891. He was a graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art where his contemporaries included Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler and Dora Carrington.

Perkins was one of a number of artists who came to New Zealand in the 1920s under the La Trobe scheme to teach in the art departments of the technical colleges throughout the country. He arrived in Wellington in 1929 accompanied by his wife and three children. The scheme provided the appointees and their families with a one-way fare, but Perkins only stayed until 1933 before returning to England.

From the first Perkins was a controversial figure and somewhat outspoken, voicing his disappointment at the lack of a national style of art and lack of interest in local subject matter. He commented on the “marvellous light” but was disappointed by the conservative and insipid work being produced. He had expected to find a country that was a “temperate version of Gauguin’s Tahiti, exotic with rich flora and vigorous native art“.

Perkins’ art centered around nature, particularly landscape. His compositions reflect the influence of Cézanne. He emphasized rhythms and patterns, simplifying and flattering the formations and using clear, strong lines. The New Zealanders found his choice of subjects startlingly contemporary.

The Perkins family moved on to Rotorua where Christopher could observe the traditional arts and crafts that were made by the local population. Perkins established a relationship with the inhabitants of Ohinemutu and moved amongst the Maoris making sketches.

In 1966 Hamish Keith and Gordon Brown requested permission from Perkins to include him in the publication An Introduction to New Zealand Painting. He was to feature as one of ten major painters of influence in the development of New Zealand art. Today Perkins’ paintings are held in all major public art galleries in New Zealand.