Twelve Watercolours of Glaciers in the Province of Canterbury
An Account of the collaboration between Julius von Haast
& John Gully in the 1860's


On 8 February 1864 the Royal Geographical Society members in London heard a paper entitled 'Notes on the Mountains and Glaciers of the Canterbury Province, New Zealand'. The President, Sir Roderick Murchison, in a prefatory address referred to three papers of great interest from 'the Southern portion of Australasia' by Dr Hector, James McKerrow and 'a most important account of the highly interesting journeys of the provincial geologist, Dr. Haast'. The President summarised Haast's explorations in 1861 and 1862: the rivers Ashburton and Rangatata traced to their sources in Mounts Arrowsmith and Tyndall; the course of the river Tengawai followed, the mountain range crossed to Lake Tekapo; the Godley Glacier, Mount Darwin, Lake Pukaki and the Naumann Range all visited or explored. He referred to Dr. Haast's comments on the features of glacial action 'which he has thoroughly described in all its different phases, and illustrated by a series of very beautiful, coloured sketches upon a large scale. The sketches are now deposited in the archives of our Society. . . . '. To these remarks the President added a footnote when his address was printed: 'I earnestly hope that chromolithographic copies of these very remarkable coloured sketches of New Zealand Glaciers will soon be published. Glacielists and Alpine travellers should possess them.'(1)

JOHN GULLY Macauley Glacier
lithograph (Collection The Alexander Turnbull Library)

In 1864 this was a pious publishing hope.(2) No such copies were made. Instead, the 'very remarkable coloured sketches' remained in the archives of the Royal Geographical Society for one hundred and ten years, until 1974, when the Society offered to sell them back to the country of origin for £5,000. With a special government grant they were acquired and can now be seen in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

A listener to the Royal Geographical Society address might easily have assumed that Julius Haast was himself the artist, and may not have noticed that the paintings were signed, very unobtrusively, 'J. Gully'. Neither does the editor who supplied a footnote to the printed address name the painter. His footnote reads 'Dr. Haast sent to the Society a number of well-executed water colour drawings representing the Alpine scenery of the Canterbury Province, and the following descriptions of glaciers are compiled from his explanations of the different views.'

JULIUS VON HAAST View of the Roches Montanees from the junction of the Harper with the Avoca 1867
watercolour (Collection The Alexander Turnbull Library)

At the time of this lecture John Gully would have been little known as a painter outside Nelson. (Only three paintings by 'John Gully, Esq., artist & exhibiter' are listed in the official catalogue of the New Zealand Exhibition of 1865).

Born in 1819, in Bath, England, John Gully had had some training as draughtsman in an engineering workshop before he emigrated to New Zealand in 1852. He took up land in Taranaki. He was not a robust man and soon gave up farming for clerical work in New Plymouth. In 1860 he settled with his family in Nelson and earned a living by teaching drawing at Nelson College until, in 1863, he was appointed draughtsman in the Nelson Survey Office under J.C. Richmond. Gully and Richmond shared a passion for landscape painting and often went sketching together. Their friendship lasted through Gully's lifetime and it is in two letters from J.C. Richmond that one gets a vivid sense of the character of both men, and of the affection with which Richmond describes the modest, gentle and guileless Gully.(3)

JULIUS VON HAAST View from the Mt Cook Range towards the beginning of the Tasman and Murchison Glaciers 1861
watercolour, 17 x 36cm (Collection The Alexander Turnbull Library)

But when did John Gully paint twelve watercolours of glaciers? They must have been finished at least three months or more before the lecture they illustrated. How then did a man teaching at Nelson College come to make such evocative and detailed descriptions of alpine scenery? Perhaps we too easily assume that all the 'topographical' painters of the eighteenth and nineteenth century faithfully recorded the scene before their eyes or think that only visionaries like William Blake or Samuel Palmer could distil the essence of a landscape from imaginative perception. We may overlook, also, the habit of copying (other people's or a painter's own work) which was a frequent and necessary way of reduplication before photographic prints were common.

These are both factors we need to bear in mind if we try to discover how and when John Gully painted the twelve large watercolours of the Southern Alps landscape.

In the Haast MS papers in the Turnbull library are a number of letters from Gully to Haast which date from 1863 to 1886. In the earliest one, dated 4 May 1863, we find the first evidence that Gully had worked from sketches, made in the field, by Haast. He writes 'I have been to lake Roto Iti with Richmond and can testify to the correctness of the outline you gave me to copy when I first came to Nelson'.(4) Haast and Gully had arrived in Nelson at almost the same time. The geologist had been appointed by the Nelson Provincial Government to make a topographic & geological inspection of the western districts of the Nelson Province. (His survey expedition had lasted from 8 January to 28 August, 1860). So Haast knew, in the first year of their acquaintance, that John Gully could interpret one of his own survey panoramas. The geologist must also have decided that he could trust Gully's eye for atmospheric colour, his knowledge of South Island landscape forms, and his technical competence as a watercolourist, before asking the artist to illustrate his lecture to the Royal Geographical Society.

JULIUS VON HAAST Sources of the River Godley 1862
watercolour, pencil and ink 17.6 x 76.5 cm (Collection The Alexander Turnbull Library)

But did Gully see the glaciers himself? Or were all these watercolours also made from Haast's own sketches? And if they are copies, in what ways do they differ from the originals? When did Gully paint them?

The Haast MS Papers 37 in the Turnbull library gave some of the clues; 150 drawings in pencil, ink and watercolours made by Haast himself were deposited among his papers by Julius' son, Dr H.F. Von Haast. (These are now housed in the library's art collection). They record Haast's surveys in Central Nelson, the Grey and Buller watersheds, and the Southern Alps from their approaches. They date from 1860 to March 1864. Two later groups are dated June 1865 and March/April 1866. Some are small quick works: colour records of the fall or fan of a glacier, the disposition of moraines, the profile of a peak. Others are careful panoramas, giving compass bearings, detailing and naming peaks over such an area that a narrow ink drawing may unfold for 100 centimetres. Haast's eye was accurate, his speed prodigious (sometimes 'three vast panoramic drawings are dated on two consecutive days.) He often uses watercolour, but limits his use of colour strictly: a cerulean blue wash for water or sky, a scrubby grey which follows the structures of rock formations, and terre verte, in quick dry brush strokes, to suggest the vegetation. He sometimes notes on his drawings the kind of trees growing or the line of permanent snow; very occasionally, he draws a station hut or sheep yards, but these he was seldom near. Many of the inscriptions are in German.

JULIUS VON HAAST, Two Waterfall Glacier, Macaulay River 1862
watercolour, 16.5 x 32cm (Collection The Alexander Turnbull Library)

Of the twelve paintings(5) sent to the Royal Geographic Society it is possible to find Haast prototypes for eleven. To take one example: No.5 of the Gully watercolours is On the great Godley Glacier. Among Haast's survey drawings is a watercolour (16 x 51cm) inscribed 'From central Terminal Moraine of Great Godley Glacier, 5 March 1862'. And a second, (16.5 x 38cm) 'from terminal Moraille of Great Godley Glacier' is dated the same day. In pencil above the second drawing Haast has written and underlined 'this one'. But these similarities would not be conclusive without supporting evidence from the Haast/Gully correspondence.(6) In these letters are references to Haast's field sketches and to more elaborate drawings made by Haast from them; and, later, to photographs, as sources for Gully's watercolours. On 2 June 1865 Gully returns sketches to Haast, with drawings made from them, and tells Haast that he has sent five sketches to the Otago Exhibition and says 'one is from the peak of Mt. Cook and I have taken considerable liberty with your sketch, having supposed myself to be on the left hand spur in your drawing and rather near that bit of glacier on the left hand top corner. . . '

On 2 September 1865 Gully writes again 'I have to acknowledge the receipt of your last letter enclosing another print of the Glacier. This, with the former ones, will help me considerably until I see the Glaciers themselves and judge it with my own eyes.

JULIUS VON HAAST, View of Whitcombe's Pass from the banks of the Pass Stream 1866
watercolour, (Collection The Alexander Turnbull Library)

Haast must have replied suggesting that Gully should come with him on an expedition and see the Glaciers for himself, because Gully's answer thanks Haast for the offer but 'Our present Superintendent would not listen for a moment to a proposition of 2 months leave of absence - I have a child very ill but I will not give up the idea of doing those Glaciers some day.(7)

All these letters post-date the lecture to the Royal Geographical Society. If Gully had not given up the idea of 'doing those Glaciers some day' in 1866, we can be sure that he had not seen them when he painted his twelve watercolours of the glaciers. A later letter quite specifically confirms his collaboration with Haast. Gully speaks of the price 'as you offered 10.10.0'. for each of the three sketches he has posted and adds 'by Jove I have forgotten to enclose the originals - I will send your own sketch in a letter next time.'(8)

So Gully had worked from Haast's own drawings. How closely had he followed them? If we compare them with their prototypes they appear both faithful and yet a world apart in attitude. Haast was coming to grips with land, with rock, with shelf and steep cliff, with snow and ice flow. The marks he made were quick signs, jabs of the brush to show protrusions, spaces tellingly refined to suggest snow. They are not 'pictures': they record abstractly. The distances come close to the picture plane. These thin marks have an impress of truth. They are the facts of the snow and rock and skyline. The man who made the marks is in the landscape. He slogs over it, holds the rock, touches the sharp ice. Each mark, however faint, shows form and defines exact relations of edge and space. Gully takes these truths and subtly changes them into his own poetry. He aesthetisizes. He makes pictures. His substance in, say, the rocky cliffs in the Macaulay Glacier painting, have more apparent reality. There are more bumps and hollows, more rocks in the foreground (a dark triangle to 'lead into' the picture and pointing to the bed of the glacier); the middle distance veers off at a predictable pictorial axis; the distant peaks rise sharply and dramatically against the sky.

JULIUS VON HAAST, Head of the Hooker Glacier 1867
ink drawing, 13.5 x 62.3 cm (Collection The Alexander Turnbull Library)

But do the darks really define the land-forms or are they pretty marks on paper? By inventing a foreground Gully alters the spatial sense of Haast's original in which the bluff on the right is so near that the viewer is closely involved with the weight and flow of the glacier itself. In Gully's version, recomposed according to his own pictorial sensibility, the glacier is distanced and made only a quarter of the view. Gully, by his use of colour - richer, more varied than the abstracted, plan like observations of the geologist - and by his imposition of 'atmosphere', by his handling of tone makes a much more familiar and more generally acceptable 'picture'.

The same process works with more poetry, almost with grandeur, in Sources of the Godley River and in the Two Waterfall Glacier, Valley of River Macaulay. In these Gully transcends his picture making with a near visionary perception. Gully again invents a foreground for the two waterfall glacier - sharp rocks and skeletal trees on the left - and a long middle distance of valley flat, traversed by tiny figures. He does not, in any way, distort Haast's facts of the shape of the glacial field in its relationship to containing peaks, or its fall down the rocky escarpment, but his inventions give his version a poetic grandeur and a vast sense of space.

In all the comparable pairs, while keeping the ostensible structure of Haast's drawing, Gully tames, or enhances, with sunset glow, invented vegetation or foreground rocks, sweeping clouds or cold afternoon mist. In some he merely tames; in others he makes a visionary grandeur of his own from the elements given. In all he makes pictures in the European tradition.

But can we see in Haast's awkward, truth-telling drawing a different kind of aesthetic? Are they part of another tradition which runs through the New Zealand surveyors' field drawings, through J.C. Richmond and Charles Douglas and J.S. Welch on to Woollaston and McCahon?

Alexander Turnbull Library, Art and Manuscript Collections.
H.F. Von Haast, The Life and Times of Sir Julius Von Haast
Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, v.34 (1864).

1. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, v.34 (1864), p.cliii-iv.
2. In 1974 three paintings were reproduced in The Gully Prints 1974: published by the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust Board.
3. A.T.Ll. MS. Papers 113/6; J.C. Richmond to W.M. Hodgkins, 20 March and 5 June, 1889.
4. A.T.L. MS. Papers 37/68; Gully to Haast, 2 September, 1865.
5. For a full description of these see The Turnbull Library Record v.7, no.2, p.7-8.
6. A.T.L. MS. Papers 37/68.
7. A.T.L. MS. Papers 37/68; Gully to Haast, 2 September, 1865.
8. Ibid; Gully to Haast, 2 January, 1866.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 8 November/December/January 1977-8