Artist Profile

Thomas Arthur McCormack

Born 1883, Died 1973

T A McCormack was one of New Zealand's first full time painters and one whose career matured almost solely in this country. Except for the 8 months he spent in Australia in 1928 he never left New Zealand.

His earlier years were spent in Napier but by the end of 1921 he had set up a studio in Wellington working as a watercolourist. Residing in Wellington for over 40 years McCormack occupied the Hill Street studio formerly occupied by D K Richmond and this became a focal point for other artists.

His landscapes were similar to those of Nugent Welch although by the second half of the 1930s he had begun to display the simplicity, spontaneous brushwork and inventive colour that characterised his mature work. At the beginning of 1937 a major Chinese art exhibition had been displayed at the National Museum in Wellington, and without a doubt his work from this time shows the precise rhythms and brushwork of Chinese landscape painting.

This was the period McCormack's reputation was at its highest. In 1940 his work was declared by E H McCormick in Letters and Art in New Zealand (p.190) " ... the greatest individual achievement of recent New Zealand art." His imagery appealed to the connoisseur rather than to the layman and in 1945 the Arts Year Book (p. 80) succintly stated the position " ... McCormack, like an old, dry sherry, is an acquired taste and to be relished as such. His colour is sophisticated and its range is restricted by a kind of patrician reticence. In the still lifes there are browns and a red moving towards muted purple, flicks of yellow. His seas are dark and chilly. All of which is to say McCormack gives great pleasure to the educated eye and is not to be confused with any artists south (or north) of the line."

In 1956 he was honoured with an OBE and his work has been shown in Australia, Canada and the United States. Retrospective exhibitions were held in Wellington in 1959 and 1971 and in Hastings in 1978.

T A McCormack's importance for New Zealand painting is that he achieved an independent way of perceiving the world outside normal conventions or aspirations and in the country of his birth.

Art New Zealand No.27

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