Toss Woollaston


Toss Woollaston
Production date:
Accession No:
917 x 1372mm
Oil on board

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

Toss Woollaston is well known as a landscape painter and pioneer New Zealand modernist. During a career of more than 60 years he developed a distinctive painting style. Adapting formal ideas about pictorial space and composition from European modernists, particularly Paul Cézanne, Woollaston combined this knowledge with an emotional and expressive response to landscape. For Woollaston, painting is a method of communicating the painter’s experience of a place. His paintings can be seen as documents of a negotiation between the subjectivity of the artist and the objectivity of the landscape, recording his response to a specific place and time.

Though he lived in the Nelson district for many years, Woollaston spent his childhood in Taranaki. The muscular composition of Moturoa, like many of the paintings he made on return trips to Taranaki from the late 1950s, emphasises the monumentality of the landscape. The precipitous rock slope of Paritūtū, the instantly recognisable lemon-squeezer, island shape of Moturoa and the massive breadth of sunlit, blue sea jockey for primacy in the composition, but it is the chalky pillar of the New Plymouth power station chimney that dominates. The positioning of the horizon line high in the picture effectively tilts the landscape towards the viewer, compressing any sense of perspective. This technique emphasises the flat surface of the painting, but also makes the expanse of sea a dynamic compositional force as it seems to ‘push’ forward into the front of the picture. However, it is testament to Woollaston’s skill that a sense of the sublime spaciousness of the horizon off the New Plymouth coast can still be felt.

The static formal structure of the painting, with the weighty forms of land, building and sea, is balanced by Woollaston’s signature loose brushstrokes. Conveying both turbulence and massive calm, Moturoa is a sensuous response to the grandeur of nature.