Still Life 1972 by Douglas MacDiarmid


New Zealand expatriate painter Douglas MacDiarmid loves the beauty and sensuality of flowers. He has regularly painted them as a luscious still life when a particular arrangement or bloom takes his fancy – in this case a vase of glorious peony roses that have tempted his brush more than once.

Peony roses are always something special. Each flower seems a small work of art with layer upon layer of petals and a sweet, lingering perfume. The national flower of China, peonies have been called the most beautiful flower in the world. Long-lasting as cut flowers, they are never out of fashion or favour.

Still Life 1972 by Douglas MacDiarmid. Oil on canvas 133x84cm. James Wallace Arts Trust collection, New Zealand. www.douglasmacdiarmid.com
Still Life 1972 by Douglas MacDiarmid. Oil on canvas 133x84cm. James Wallace Arts Trust collection, New Zealand.

At first glance the picture appears to be unfinished because of the extent of white canvas. This is not the case, at the time it was painted, MacDiarmid was in his ‘white period’, using a lot of neutral colour in the background of landscapes and other forms to give greater depth of light and an edge of coolness to the subject. This technique makes the flowers stand out, unencumbered by any distractions.

Still Life 1972 has been part of the permanent collection of the Wallace Arts Trust for more than a decade. It was much admired as part of a one night ‘Circle of Friends‘ exhibition at the Trust’s magnificent heritage premises, The Pah Homestead in Hillsborough, for the Auckland launch of the biography Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid on 18 July 2018.

Sir James Wallace at the launch of Colours of a Life - the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid, with one of his artworks by the artist Still Life 1972.
Sir James Wallace at the launch of Colours of a Life - the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid, with one of his artworks by the artist Still Life 1972.

While this painting is given over to the beauty of the peonies, some MacDiarmid still lifes are a composition within a scene – perhaps a vase of flowers framed in a window with the landscape beyond, or a table setting with a wider view. Others take a mischievous approach – is that a cat snuggled up to that vase of flowers, or are my eyes playing tricks? The main thing is to embrace what you see in a MacDiarmid painting; that is its reality.

Still Life 1972 featured in a one-night exhibition of works contributed by a circle of friends on 18 July 2018 at the Auckland launch of Douglas MacDiarmid’s biography, Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid, written by his niece Anna Cahill.

MacDiarmid’s biography is available to purchase here, at selected galleries or from all good bookstores throughout New Zealand.

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