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A Matter of Taste: the Fate of the Archdeacon Smythe Collection of British Watercolours in New Zealand

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thesis
posted on 28.07.2021, 23:47 by Annika Sippel

Francis Henry Dumville Smythe, a humble clergyman from England, spent a lifetime amassing his private collection of watercolours. During the 1950s, he decided to gift them to two art institutions in New Zealand – Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the National Art Gallery in Wellington. They were welcomed with open arms and celebrated as “the finest collection of water colour pictures in the Southern Hemisphere.” However, they soon fell out of favour: rarely exhibited, the collection remains poorly understood and unexplored to this day. Was their initial praise simply a matter of taste?

This project looks at the rise and fall of the Smythe collection and aims to reveal the circumstances that led to its current low profile within its respective institutions. The collection itself will be analysed in depth for the first time, and the impact that changing artistic tastes have had on its status will be examined. In New Zealand’s case, these shifting tastes are symptomatic of the redefinition of national and cultural identity during the 1950s-1980s. How did this redefined national and cultural identity contribute to the continued drop in status of the Smythe collection in New Zealand? This dissertation considers the geographical contexts of both Britain and New Zealand and seeks to explore new ways of engaging with New Zealand’s public art collections, through combining the different research fields of watercolours, taste, and identity. While British watercolours are now mostly considered old fashioned, this thesis will find new ways of making them relevant again.

History

Advisor 1

Rice, Rebecca

Advisor 2

Spiteri, Raymond

Copyright Date

28/07/2021

Date of Award

28/07/2021

Publisher

Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Rights License

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Degree Discipline

Art History

Degree Grantor

Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Degree Level

Doctoral

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 PURE BASIC RESEARCH

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis

Language

en_NZ

Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre, Media Studies and Art History