The Materials and Techniques of Gottfried Lindauer

The realism of the portraits by Gottfried Lindauer caused a sensation amongst New Zealanders, at a time before colour photography. The artist was able to capture the quiet dignity of the sitter in a smooth, concise manner and with a convincing sense of light falling on a three-dimensional form. In many cases the figures appeared to emerge from the shadows, creating a dramatic presence.

In 1901, Apirana Ngata commented in the Māori Visitors' Book at the Lindauer Art Gallery:

I am of the Ngati-Porou tribe.  I have come here to lament over the great men of other days, the people before us coloured as if they were living.  Pleasing to the eye is the shadow-carving of the European artist - it is as if they had all risen from the dead.  Thankful are we to the man who has preserved these pictures of our elders, our old chiefs, as a treasure for the years to come.'1
(Translation by James Cowan)

Lindauer studied at the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna under Léopold Kupelwieser and Josef von Führich from 1855 to 1861.  His teachers were influenced by an affiliation of German painters known as the Nazarenes, who established themselves in Rome in the early nineteenth century.  They revived the style of Italian artists who had worked in the period known as the quattrocento.2 The Nazarenes came to influence a number of British painters, especially a group of artists known as the Pre-Raphaelites, and provided an important precedent for that group's medievalising tendencies.3

For these artists, the translucency of the paint was a crucial factor.  The image was sketched out in pencil on a smooth white ground and then thin glazes were applied.  It was believed that this was a better approach than the traditional method of modelling forms first in dull brown, known as 'dead colouring', which would have destroyed the purity of the white ground shining through the transparent paints.4

This placed greater emphasis on the accuracy of the drawing but it was possible to correct by rubbing or painting it out.  It appears that Lindauer worked out the composition on the canvas, as very few preparatory drawings are known to exist.  The similarity between Lindauer's paintings and known photographs (Figs 1, 2) has led to speculation that he may have projected the images on to the canvas to aid the drawing process.  Certainly, the pencil marks are very elaborate when viewed with infrared photography (Figs 3, 4), but it can be assumed that even without these aids, Lindauer was a highly skilled draftsman and painter.5

A survey of the paintings in the Auckland Art Gallery's Partridge Collection that I conducted as the Gallery's Principal Conservator, has led to many discoveries regarding Lindauer's materials and techniques.

Fig. 5 Reverse of a Lindauer painting showing the canvas/stretcher and inscription


Lindauer's preferred painting support was stretched canvas and these were obtained ready primed and stretched from a local supplier (Fig. 5).6 The expandable stretchers were of moderate quality, with mortise and tenon joints.7 In most cases, the canvas was tacked along the edge and trimmed at the back of the corners.  A majority of the works in the Partridge Collection are painted on a high-quality twill-weave canvas (Fig. 6) and the remainder in a plain weave (Fig. 7).8 Of the latter, about a quarter have a pronounced weave texture due to a double weave.9

Primed canvas was probably imported on rolls and stretched locally.  Certainly there is a far greater range of sizes than would be expected in an imported product and some of the stretcher bars appear to be wood that has been reused.10 The canvases for the large genre paintings would have been made to order, but again the sizes vary considerably.

Fig.8 Cross-section showing ground in normal light


All of the ground layers are an off-white colour and most consist of an upper layer of lead-white pigment over a more granular chalk layer.  These grounds tend to be fairly fluorescent under ultraviolet radiation which may indicate a proteinaceous binder in addition to the oil, giving it a semi-absorbent quality (Figs 8, 9).12 This was meant to provide a better bond for the paint but was also intended to reduce the glossiness of subsequent layers without absorbing too much and darkening.  As a consequence, those paintings that have escaped being varnished at a later date have retained a velvet-like quality to the surface.

Fig.9 Cross-section showing ground under UV light



Where glazes13 are required to create a luminous quality, particularly in the flesh, the artist has used transparent pigments and added a resinous material to the oil paint, possibly a copal oil varnish.14 Resin is highly fluorescent and can be identified in the cross-sections when viewed under ultraviolet (Figs 10,11).  The modified oil paint was still fairly slow drying to allow sufficient time for manipulation with the brush, so that smooth transitions of colour could be developed between shadow and highlights.  Darker areas do not necessarily contain the resin but tend to be made up of a variety of pigments, both transparent and opaque.

The artist has used a limited palette.  It includes pigments such as Lead White, Carbon and Bone Black, Vermillion, Red Ochre, Yellow Ochre, Raw and Burnt Umber and Terre Verte (or green earth).  Analysis also identified chromium (chromium green or viridian) and possibly ultramarine.15 There is very little blue in the paintings apart from the occasional sky.  More research is necessary to fully understand the range of pigments used by Lindauer.

When surveying the paintings in the Partridge Collection it is possible to see a variety of approaches taken by the artist that can be categorised by the level of clarity and detail in the image.

  • Sharp or super-real

Those in the 'sharp' or super-real category, tend to be from Lindauer's first two decades in New Zealand, such as the portrait of Raiha Reretu (Figs 12, 13) painted in 1877.  The forms are simplified and clearly delineated, while the paint is more colourful as well as being reasonably opaque with white added, and covers the underdrawing. This style of painting appears to be closest to that used by the artist when he was painting religious subjects in Europe before his arrival in New Zealand.16

Fig. 13 Hone Heke MHR detail of eye
  • Simple-sharp

A related category is described as 'simple-sharp' because the clarity remains but the forms are more simplified and there is much less modelling.  An example is Hone Heke MHR (undated but possibly 1901) (Figs 14, 15).

Fig.14 Gottfried Lindauer, Hone Heke MHR, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Mr H E Partridge, 1915
  • Muted

The opposite of 'sharp' are the paintings from the 'muted' category, where the contrast is reduced considerably, the paint is the most transparent with little or no white added, and the pencil underdrawing is clearly evident.  Such a painting is the portrait of Whitiora Te Kumete, which is undated (Figs 16, 17).

  • Medium-sharp

A majority of the works in the collection fit a 'medium-sharp' category, which includes paintings from all periods.  An example is the portrait of Whetoi Pomare painted in 1896 (Figs 18, 19).  These paintings are very detailed but seem more realistic than the 'sharp' category as the colour is more muted, slightly darker, more transparent and the pencil underdrawing is more apparent.

In all cases the paint layers are thinly applied and the underlying canvas texture is clearly visible on the surface.



It seems likely that paintings often left Lindauer's studio in an unvarnished state and works in this condition still exist.  Many paintings were later varnished, but the glossy and discoloured surfaces detract from the image and are hard to remove safely.  The varnish tends to highlight the canvas texture to a greater degree and any discolouration causes a dulling of the colour contrasts.



The works in the Partridge Collection were all reframed in a plain wooden moulding when the Lindauer Room at the Auckland Art Gallery was reopened in late 1954.  The original frames were destroyed as they had borer and were no longer valued.17 Examples of original frames do still exist, such as on the portraits of Mr and Mrs Paramena 1885 in the Te Papa collection, and these have gilded decorative mouldings and wide slips.18 It is probable that in most cases it was left to the owners to choose frames for their paintings. In the 1980s the Partridge Collection paintings were reframed again and placed in a modern moulding with an aged gilded appearance.


Comparison with Charles Frederick Goldie (1870-1942)

The careers of the two artists overlap and Goldie painted his first Maori portrait of Tamehana in 1900, when Lindauer was still very active.19 Although their styles differed from each other, they both showed little variation in their own approaches to painting over the course of their careers.  Goldie attended the Académie Julian in Paris from 1893 to 1898 where he received a traditional academic training.  He was taught to prepare a painting by drawing the image in charcoal and to apply a dead colouring before the main body of paint was applied.  Goldie preferred not to add resin to his paint and the results were more opaque and more painterly than the Lindauer paintings.  The surfaces of paintings by the two artists also differ. The texture of the canvas is prominent in Lindauer's painting because the paint is very thin and smooth.  However, Goldie disguised the canvas weave by applying another ground layer of interlocking brushstrokes to the primed canvas.  Goldie also painted on wooden panels to produce a very smooth result.


Sarah Hillary, Principal Conservator, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki


  1. Words written by Apirana Ngata and translated in Pictures of Old New Zealand: The Partridge Collection of Maori Paintings by Gottfried Lindauer, described by James Cowan (Whitcombe and Tombs, Auckland, 1930), p 204, and in Roger Blackley, ‘The Shadow Maker: Gottfried Lindauer in Hawke’s Bay’, Art New Zealand, no 119, Winter 2006, p 76.
  2. Fifteenth-century Italy which encompasses the artistic styles of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance.
  3. Joyce H Townsend, Jacqueline Ridge and Stephen Hackney eds., Pre-Raphaelite Painting Techniques 1848-56 (Tate Publishing, London, 2004), p 13-14.
  4. Pre-Raphaelite Painting Techniques 1848-56, p 52.
  5. Infrared photography is an analysis method that captures the natural or reflected emission characteristics of infrared radiation. When an object or painting is illuminated with natural or incandescent light, infrared radiation can interact with not only the surface but also underlying layers. Since the absorption of infrared wavelengths varies for different pigments, the resultant image can help distinguish the pigments that have been used in the painting or underdrawing.
  6. A ground or priming layer is a paint applied to the supporting structure to prepare it for painting. It seals and protects the layer below and provides a texture to work from. Canvas supports are generally attached to a wooden frame (such as a stretcher) to keep them flat. A stretcher has expandable joints so that it can be adjusted to keep the canvas taut.
  7. Mortise and tenon joint: consists of two principal parts; a tenon is the projecting component at the end of a member, which is inserted into the mortise, the receiving component, a slot in an adjacent member. Other terms: tongue and groove.
  8. Twill weave is a basic weave pattern that results in parallel, diagonal ribs. Twill weaves are made by weaving the filling threads over two or more warp yarns then under one yarn. This produces a strong durable fabric. Plain weave fabrics are made by passing filling threads over and then under each warp thread. The adjacent filling thread reverses the lacing pattern by going under and then over each of the warp threads. Both the filling and warp threads are equal in thickness. Plain weave fabrics can be tightly or loosely woven.
  9. Double threads in one or two directions.
  10. The most common sizes in the Partridge collection are: 520 x 447mm (approx 20 ½” x 17 ½”) 7 works 625 x 525mm (approx 24 ½” x 20 ½”) 13 works 685 x 570mm (approx 27” x 22 ½”) 5 works 850 x 700mm (approx 33 ½ x 27 ½”) 5 works
  11. See note 6.
  12. Animal glue size may have been added to the ground as a binder. Compared to a purely oil ground, an oil and glue priming layer has a greater capacity to absorb some of the oil from the paint layer.
  13. A glaze is a layer of paint that is thinned with a medium to become somewhat transparent.
  14. Copal oil varnish was made from copal resin and a drying oil, which could be bought ready-made in the 19th century. Copal is a fossil resin which is very hard and almost insoluble. It has to be melted to mix with solvent or oil and has a tendency to discolour with age.
  15. Elemental analysis by Catherine Hobbis, University of Auckland, using a Philips XL30 S-FEG and EDAX Phoenix EDS, 2007 and 2009.
  16. See images in the unpublished essay in the Auckland Art Gallery’s E.H. McCormick Research Library by Frantisek Subert, Essay to the paintings of the painter Bohumir Lindauer discovered at Valasske Klobouky and Vizovice in Moravia in Czechoslovakia, 1961.
  17. Letter to the Town Clerk, Auckland, 11 November 1955 and Minute of the Library Committee dated 17/11/55, 1955/AG/132, F.J. Gwilliam. Roger Blackley, Goldie (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1997), p 37.
  18. A painting of Ihaka Whaanga has also been illustrated in an identical frame in a pamphlet celebrating the presentation of two Lindauer portraits to Māori descendants by Phillips New Zealand Limited in 1992. A slip in a picture frame is an inner section closest to the painting that is often flat and gilded. The portraits of Mr and Mrs Paramena from the Te Papa collection are reproduced in Roger Blackley, “The Shadow Maker: Gottfried Lindauer in Hawke’s Bay”, Art New Zealand, no 119, Winter 2006, p 74-75.
  19. Lindauer kept painting until around 1918-20 when his eyesight deteriorated.
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