Charles Goldie is one of this country’s most controversial artists, and one of the best known. He has been both denounced and praised by various critics, and squabbles about the artist and the value of his works continue today. But while he may be criticised by the art establishment, his paintings fetch high prices and the public loves his work.
Goldie was born in 1870 in Auckland, the son of a timber merchant and former Mayor of Auckland. In 1892, he went to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian. There he received a conservative academic training which included life drawing and the copying of Old Masters from the Louvre. He won several prizes for excellence. At the time Impressionism was well-established in Paris, but Goldie was not influenced by such modern developments.
On his return to Auckland, Goldie set up the French Academy of Art. Goldie’s style remained largely the same throughout his career.
At first Goldie painted historical allegories and commissioned portraits, but in 1901 he visited Rotorua where Mary Wharepapa, a friend’s wife, helped to persuade local Māori to sit for him. In 1902 Goldie made contact with elderly Māori in the Auckland area, including Ina Te Papatahi, who was to become one of his favourite models.
By 1904 Goldie was considered the leading portrait painter of Māori, and was renowned for his technical brilliance. However, he had his detractors – some critics believed his work was repetitive and lacked vitality. They also condemned his practice of painting from photographs.