Portrait of Sir Robert Macalister, Mayor
Nicoll, Archibald Date
1953 See full details
Barrister and solicitor Robert Macalister was a long-term city councillor before he was elected mayor of Wellington in 1950.As mayor, Macalister helped oversee a major post-war Wellington clean up. This city-wide project was spurred on by the 1953 visit of newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
Community associations from all over the city worked hard to spruce up their neighbourhoods, prompting Macalister to comment on the unifying effect of the royal visit and the cooperation between the Council and the community.
Archibald Frank Nicoll OBE (1886-1953) was a New Zealand artist and art teacher. His interpretation of the Canterbury landscape made him a leader in what has become known as the 'Canterbury School'.
Nicoll attended night classes at the Canterbury College School of Art where he won many awards. In 1908 he took up an appointment as an art instructor at Elam School of Art in Auckland. He remained on the staff until 1911, then travelled to Britain to further his study in painting.
In 1914 while travelling back to New Zealand for a visit, the First World War was declared. After arriving in Christchurch, Nicoll married Ellen Fearn then immediately enlisted. Six months later Nicoll was deployed, initially to Egypt where he found time to paint, then to France where he was badly wounded at the Battle of the Somme and required a leg to be amputated.
After a long convalescence in England Nicoll arrived back in New Zealand in 1918. He was reunited with his wife who had moved to live with family in Wellington. Nicoll began taking portrait commissions and came to be regarded as one of New Zealand’s most well-regarded portraitists.
In 1920 Nicoll took up the position of Director of Canterbury College School of Art. In the 1920s and 1930s, Nicoll's reputation as a landscape artist, the Canterbury landscape in particular, made him a leader of what was to become known as the 'Canterbury School'. In 1928 he had resigned as director of the art school to paint full time. Six years later he returned to teach, until his retirement in 1945. Nicoll was a committee member for the National Art Academy and in 1947 was awarded an OBE for recognition of his services to the arts.
A traditionalist, Nicoll held no firm philosophy of art. His landscapes and portraits, though seemingly gestural, were firmly structured, the outcome of careful observation. He was a dominant personality among his contemporaries and as a teacher exerted a strong influence on two generations of Canterbury artists.
Nicoll died in Christchurch in February 1953. The date of this painting of the Mayor of Wellington is curious. It is possible that 1953 is the date the painting arrived at the Wellington City Council, rather than when it was finished. Recently Mayoral portraits are commissioned after a new Mayor has been elected. Macalister had a further 3 years in the role.
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