Story: Arts and the nation

Colin McCahon's 'Northland panels', 1958

Colin McCahon painted the 'Northland panels' in 1958, immediately after returning from a visit to the United States, where he had seen the work of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. This inspired him to paint works on a larger scale. The 'Northland panels' comprised eight hanging canvasses, all painted using house paint. The first of the panels most strongly reflects the impact of abstract art – it is a simple rectangle divided into two parts: a larger area of black and a smaller area of white. But the other panels, while reflecting the American influences, retained McCahon's interest in the land and especially hills. McCahon did not engage in a traditional way with New Zealand's landscape – making it pretty and attractive to tourists. Rather, he pointed to the estrangement he saw between New Zealanders and their hills. So, in the fifth panel, he wrote across the sky, 'a landscape with too few lovers'.

Using this item

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Reference: 1978-0009-1/A-H to H-H
Oil on canvas by Colin McCahon

Permission of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust

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How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Arts and the nation - Major themes of cultural nationalism, 1930 to 1970', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/zoomify/45016/colin-mccahons-northland-panels-1958 (accessed 20 September 2019)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 22 Oct 2014