Sir Mountford Tosswill (Toss) Woollaston (Knighted in 1979 for his services to art) was born in Toko, Taranaki and in 1928 moved to Nelson where he painted his first watercolours. Largely self-taught, his professional training consisted of two terms at the Canterbury School of Art in 1931, at Dunedin Technical College in 1932 and one term at Canterbury in 1938. 1939-49 was largely spent at Mapua, Nelson that was his base until 1950 when he moved to Greymouth, although during this time Woollaston did make visits to Dunedin, Christchurch and Taranaki.
Woollaston, along with McCahon, was not readily accepted. His unorthodox approach to the landscape appeared unformulated, sketchy and muddy to eyes accustomed to the precision of hard-edged crispness of cold, glacial light and stark green bush. The earth’s pigments of yellow ochre and light red are the colours of the homemade sun-dried brick used to build his first home at Mapua and these colours characterise his work.
Awarded two fellowships by the Association of New Zealand Art Societies in 1958 and 1960, he visited Australia for 5 weeks in 1958 and in 1962 visited Europe and America on an Arts Advisory Bursary.
He has exhibited in both Australia and New Zealand, was in a retrospective exhibition with Colin McCahon in 1963 and has been represented in most of the travelling exhibitions that have left New Zealand. In 1973 a retrospective covering Woollaston’s works from 1933-73 toured the country. He is represented in all the major galleries throughout the country as well as many private collections.