Sarjeant Happenings: Gathering Clouds - a Mt Ruapehu painting by Edith Collier

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Sarjeant Happenings: Gathering Clouds - a Mt Ruapehu painting by Edith Collier

Gathering Clouds, Mt Ruapehu, a painting by Edith Collier in the Sarjeant Gallery collection, holds many warm memories for the artist’s niece, Helen Gordon, and nephew, Gordon Collier.

Gordon sent a photograph of the very scene to the Sarjeant, which sparked renewed interest in the painting.

“I took sister Helen on a Sunday drive early August landing up at the very spot Edith painted 80 years ago. The view is little changed to this day and has nostalgic memories for all of our family.

“I sent it down to the gallery as a talking point because of the forthcoming book on Edith [by author Jill Trevelyan] which is of great interest to us all. Gathering Clouds is possibly the family favourite of Edith’s landscapes,” Gordon said.

The two siblings remember going on a summer family picnic in 1939 to a neighbouring farm at Tangiwai. Edith sat at her easel, paints spread around her.

Sarjeant Happenings: Gathering Clouds - a Mt Ruapehu painting by Edith Collier

Edith Collier's niece Helen Gordon at the scene of her aunt's painting. Photo / Supplied

Helen recalled: “We had a great day and of course Edith was painting away. We were rushing around exploring. It was pretty austere that landscape but I think she captured the atmosphere very well.

“She always did a charcoal sketch first and elaborated on that later. It took her a long time to finish it. I remember her weeks afterwards and she’d still be looking at it and going back and tweak a bit there and add a bit there and take a bit off there, and she was never satisfied, of course. It was all from memory.”

Gordon particularly likes an earlier painting Edith did of Mt Ruapehu in 1921 from their family home after her return to New Zealand.

“She did [it] in a modern style – broad brush with not much detail. In the later one her style regressed because her art had such a poor reception from the art community, they hadn’t caught up with what was happening in Europe.

“The earlier painting is the one I like and is not well known but the second one is the one the family enjoys most because we were all there when the painting was being done. It was a pretty landscape and Edie captured it well.”

Helen remembers how much Edith loved nature and animals, and always had pet cats and chooks.

She recalled a story about Edith driving into town one day in her rather elderly automobile. When she arrived she wondered why people were looking and laughing, then realised a row of chooks perched on her front bumper had accompanied her to town.

Edith lived with two of her sisters about three miles out of Whanganui.

“They had a nice little farm and a lovely house, which has since been moved. Three single ladies, very well respected in the town.

“Edith was very much for women’s rights, and while she was in England, Emmeline Pankhurst was doing her stuff. Edith and her cousin Fanny Collier went to one of the meetings and the cousin was arrested because they thought she was Emmeline Pankhurst.”

Edith was a favourite aunt of 37 nieces and nephews.

“She stayed with us at the farm, painting or looking after the family while mum and dad had a holiday. She was a marvellous aunty, kindly and compassionate. She gave every one of us a birthday and Christmas present.”

Edith gave Helen many presents of books and music scores. Helen studied music in Vienna and was a concert pianist. She said Edith was very encouraging and supportive of any musical or creative talent.

Edith’s own artistic career did not progress much after her return from Europe as Helen said her modernist art style was ahead of the times in New Zealand.

Edith painted her last piece in 1942, Gordon Collier recalls. As a boy he was fascinated by Edith’s art and would visit her art room at any opportunity.

“She’d let me in sometimes. There was a great mass of stuff she had brought back from England years before, not yet unpacked – sculptures she’d done, and heads. It was an art paradise and of course I was keen to have a look.”

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