The Itinerant Artist - Revisiting the Paintings of William George Baker Fri, 04 May 2007

'The Itinerant Artist' - Revisiting the Paintings of William George Baker. At Pataka, Norrie Street, Porirua, Wellington. 29 April - 19 August 2007

William George Baker's love affair with the unspoilt New Zealand landscape is readily apparent. He painted its every mood, seemingly with the ambition to capture the entire length and breadth of New Zealand with his brush.

Baker was born in Wellington on 20th October 1864. He had no formal art training but was arguably one of the most prolific landscape artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. He travelled the country, often selling his paintings in hotels, at local fairs and show-grounds and bartering a painting in exchange for his accommodation. He painted the great lakes, rivers and mountains of the South Island and in the North Island, his work included the representation of numerous Maori pa and villages, usually set beside a picturesque river or lake.

Baker travelled as far south as Stewart Island and north to Great Barrier Island, portraying the landscape that he obviously felt a close affinity with. Socially there were interesting implications that led from Baker's itinerant lifestyle. There is no doubt that his style of work, sold while journeying the back roads of the land and possibly to those with a lesser purse in the public bars and at the country fairs of small town New Zealand, would have reached a wider audience than that shown in the art society exhibitions in the cities.

Unlike the topographical painters of the 19th century, Baker was not overly concerned with the accurate recording of the landscape form. In contrast with Heaphy and other early New Zealand landscape artists, his skill was not grounded in any art school tradition. He composed and created conventional paintings that would appeal to a wide audience, caring little for expressing any personal creative flair or style abstract to his mainstream landscape themes. His work was accessible to the general public both in content and in cost and quickly became popular.

Baker has his work represented in the collections of numerous art galleries and museums in New Zealand including Auckland Art Gallery, Alexander Turnbull Library, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Christchurch Art Gallery, Canterbury Museum, Waikato Museum of Art & History and the Rotorua Museum of Art and History and at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

The Pataka exhibition features 90 of Baker's paintings, both oil and watercolours. A comprehensive catalogue has also been published for the exhibition and is available at the Pataka reception.