Photography and the Portraits of Gottfried Lindauer

Gottfried Lindauer’s admiration for photography helps us understand his working processes as a portrait painter. We know that he made photographs himself but few of these prints remain and it is not clear whether he ever utilised his own photography as a starting point for his portraiture.

By the time Lindauer arrived in Wellington in 1874, he had already been working for a decade as a professional painter in Europe. His immigration to New Zealand occurred at the same time as a revolution within photography's technique. The difficult and time-consuming practice of wet-plate collodion to glass plate photography was replaced by the faster and cleaner methods of dry-plate photography. This technique immediately made portrait photography both cheaper to produce and easier to undertake. This change led, during the early 1870s, to a speedy increase in the business of New Zealand's photographic studios.

Fig. 1. James Foy Unidentified male albumen silver photograph 1863 - 1875 Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1995

The developments within photography meant that studio portraits became more accessible to the public. They were now more affordable than they had previously been and a large market arose for photographic images both for, and of, Māori. Māori portraits began to circulate quickly, both locally and internationally. One of the most popular, and cheapest, photographic formats was the carte de visite (Fig. 1) (named after the formal visiting card) - an object roughly the dimensions of a playing card (114 x 64mm or 4 ½ x 2 ½ inches). Locally, cartes were being produced by the beginning of the 1860s and remained popular until about the early 1880s. Initially cartes were created using an albumen print that was toned with sepia and then glued onto a slightly larger piece of card. Frequently, cartes had the name and address of the photographer printed either below the image or onto the reverse. They were inexpensive, easily reproducible and were able to be easily transported. Gottfried Lindauer collected a significant number of cartes de visite by photographers from throughout New Zealand, as well as cabinet portraits (Fig. 2) (larger format postcard-sized cards), such as those produced by the Foy Brothers and it was these images that assisted him in painting portraits of Māori.

There is no scientific evidence that Gottfried Lindauer ever applied a silver gelatin emulsion onto his canvasses. Yet, there is ample evidence that with many of his portraits he employed an epidiascope to project a pre-existing photographic portrait onto his canvas.1 In the period in which he flourished as a painter, the epidiascope was mainly used by photographic studios and within printing establishments. Similarly, there are few other local portrait painters in the years 1875 - 1910 who relied as comprehensively as Lindauer did on the epidiascope as a technical support to his portrait painting.

Erin Griffey, Senior Lecturer, Art History, University of Auckland, has noted that in the Lindauer's 1885 portraits of Mr and Mrs Paramena (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 1995-0003-2, 1995-0003-3) 'Pencil marks on the face are easily discernable with close inspection, showing he used an epidiascope or projector to throw onto the canvas an enlarged image which is then traced with a pencil.'2 Sarah Hillary, Principal Conservator of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, has further stated that a large number of the Lindauer portraits in the Gallery have pencil underdrawing indicating that the paintings are based on other portraits.3 These were certainly photographic portraits rather than drawn portraits. I believe that the epidiascope was the key means by which Lindauer transferred small-scaled photographic representation of his subjects onto his canvases in the form of drawn tracings of an enlarged photograph. Whether the portraits resulted from this process in every case is not known but it is now certain that Lindauer based many of his portraits, both Māori and Pākehā, on photographs that he had gathered from photographic studios throughout New Zealand. Professional portrait photographers had previously taken these portraits for either the sitter or as part of their business, they do not appear to have been commissioned by Lindauer for his own specific use.

One of the earliest portrait photographs that he used to base a painting on was made by Samuel Carnell (1832-1920) (Fig. 3) of the noted Ngāti Rakaipaaka ki Kahungunu rangatira Ihaka Whaanga (1808-1875) (Fig. 4). The actual date of this photograph is not yet known but is certainly in the period 1865 to 1875. It dates from a similar period to the photograph of Ihaaka that John McGarrigle of the American Photographic Company made in his Auckland studio.4 (Fig. 5). Of all the photographic portraits of Ihaaka Whanga that are currently known, the Carnell is the most compelling as it correctly records the sitter's tā moko and his wearing of the "Old Dutch" style beard.

The well-known oil portrait of Ana Rupene and child (Fig. 6)5 is the most recognised and reproduced Lindauer painting (1878). It is based on the cabinet portrait made by the Foy Brothers at their Thames studio sometime between 1872 and 1878 (Fig. 7). James Cowan recounts that Ana and her child were frequently seen in Thames' streets. Lindauer has replicated the same light direction in the top-lit studio. In the cabinet portrait, the mother and child look directly at the camera, a way of communicating with the viewer that was not repeated by Lindauer, who further tilts the woman's face away from a three-quarters pose of head and shoulders. The tassels on the korowai have been further tidied up in the painting making the portrait appear far more decorative than the original.

Fig.13 Gottfried Lindauer, Tomika Te Mutu, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Mr H E Partridge, 1915

The practice of studio photographers to sometimes further emphasise the tā moko (facial tattoo) of their Māori sitters occurred as early as the later 1860s. Such emendations - they are never enhancements because they had a tendency to distort actual designs - were done for an increased definition and clearer perception of the tā moko's design in the resulting portrait. This process did not always present an accurate portrayal of the tā moko pattern. Such photographic enhancement of the tattoo may result from different techniques - firstly, a photographic print may have had the tā moko retouched by hand and then re-photographed (Fig. 8). Alternatively, the glass negative itself was retouched but this was less frequently used as it always appeared obvious that the design of the tā moko had been manipulated.

While some of Gottfried Lindauer's Māori portraits were painted while the subject was alive, this was not always the case. For instance the Ngāpuhi leader Eruera Maihi Patuone (Fig. 9) passed away in 1872 and Lindauer's portrait dates from 1874. The portrait was based on a powerful close-up photograph made by an unknown photographer about 1870 (Alexander Turnbull Library, PA2-2262) (Fig. 10). Rangi Topeora (Fig. 11), a leader of Ngāti Toa, was a signatory to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and was photographed at the Wellington studio of E.S. Richards sometime in the later 1860s (Fig. 12). In Richard's carte de visite Rangi Topeora wears three heitiki and this is accurately recorded in the later portrait. Similarly, he carefully copies the design of the tāniko border on her korowai. 

Fig.14 Tomika Te Mutu, frontispiece in Robley, Major-General Moko; or Maori tattooing London: Chapman and Hall, 1896

Original photographic portraits were not the only source of images of the Māori that Lindauer painted. The frontispiece to Horatio Gordon Robley's book Moko; or Maori Tattooing is a reproduction of a photographic portrait of Tomika te Mutu (Fig. 13) by an unknown photographer (Fig. 14). Similarly, Major Ropata Wahawaha's portrait (Fig. 15) is based on the photograph reproduced in Reweti Kohere's 1949 biography of the soldier yet the original of this photograph has not yet been traced.( In many instances, while it is very likely that a particular portrait has been based on a previous photographic portrait, the actual portrait used by Lindauer has not been traced.

The fact that many portraits of Māori are based on photographs that were made by others in no way lessens the cultural importance of these important oil paintings. Lindauer ensured that he created likenesses of many people that he often did not have the opportunity to meet personally. As ancestral images, as taonga, they are a unique moment in the history of New Zealand's painting. Descendants of these women and men are justifiably proud of each portrait's creation.

Ron Brownson, Senior Curator, New Zealand and Pacific Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

  1. An epidiascope is an optical projector capable of projecting the appearance of both opaque and transparent objects (Concise Oxford Dictionary).
  2. Erin Griffey, The Power of Portraiture, (Auckland, University of Auckland Business School and David Ling, 2008), p 66.
  3. Sarah Hillary to Ron Brownson, personal communication, 2 February 2010.
  4. The Te Papa Museum of New Zealand American Photographic Company is currently dated circa 1865 (A.004714).
  5. Toko Renata has noted to Ken Hall that the name of the sitter is Ana Reupene Whetuki. See Ken Hall, ‘Foy Brother’s Portrait of Ana Reupene Whetuki and child’, a paper presented at the University of Otago Symposium, The Rise of New Zealand Photography, 6-8 December 2007.
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