Wellington Harbour was a favorite subject for James Nairn and became one that he explored deeply during 1891 after he had settled in Wellington. One of his primary interests was the effect that light had on the surface of the Harbour’s water. To capture this, Nairn used mixed colours and applied them onto the canvas with loose, flicking brushstrokes. This effect was a common practice amongst impressionistic painters.
Nairn’s style of impressionistic painting was uniquely different to those of New Zealand impressionists. This was due to the fact that his particular form was crafted in Scotland with the aid of the ‘Glasgow Boys’, a collective school of painters. Similar to French impressionists, the ‘Glasgow Boys’ painted rural and urban scenes in open air. This enabled them to work quickly and directly onto the canvas.
Because of his unique style, Nairn’s impressionistic treatment of everyday subjects came across as shockingly radical to New Zealand audiences. Nairn was unfazed by the criticism and continued his work, commenting ‘I shall always make the point of trying to outrage the taste of the ordinary public, as I do not want them to like my work’.
Despite his initial criticism, Nairn’s work soon became a pioneer of inspiration for future New Zealand artists. ‘Wellington Harbour’ can be seen as a painting that was far ahead of its time.
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