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Published: 06 August 2022

By Andy Ross

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A painting connection between Scotland, London and New Zealand

St Francis Xavier Chapel is in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Central London and it has a fresco by a New Zealand artist, Charles Goldie. 

Goldie was an artist who painted portraits of Maori people, mostly dignitaries, that have made his name famous around the globe. These portraits are fine depictions of what was then often considered to be the last days of the Maori, and they capture pride and, sometimes, sadness in the sitters. They also are important as historic documents of cultural traditions as shown in the garments and belongings in the portraits. You can see some of those portraits here in Auckland Museum's online collections.

The piece in the Church in London shows the death of St Francis Xavier. It is a depiction of the dying Saint clutching a cross with a few possessions beside him, lying on a sandbank on a Chinese river estuary, watched over by a Chinese and a Goanese man. The work was painted in 1919.

Goldie studied in Paris after having won prizes in his native New Zealand for art. He also studied in London under Sir James Guthrie, one of the Glasgow Boys who was President of the Royal Scottish Academy and who established portrait studios in Glasgow and London. Readers may be familiar with some of Guthrie's work as seen in the National Galleries Scotland. On his return to New Zealand, Goldie established an art school, first of all with his former tutor, Louis J. Steele, and then by himself.

In the portraits by Goldie, which now command big prices when they come up at auction, one can immediately see the influence of the European painting world but it is also exciting to see how that was interpreted into a New Zealand context. 

Thank you to the reader who asked about the work in London. It has been lots of fun, researching and tracking down these international links. If anyone knows any more about the work in the church, please get in touch