One of Douglas MacDiarmid’s early 1960s works looking out over a church steeple in a French mountain village that is probably in the Alpes Maritimes region, the high country behind Cannes and Nice in the south of France. The drawing was sold from the International Art Centre’s Important and Rare Art catalogue, at auction in Auckland on 27 November 2018. Douglas later painted the view as a vibrant oil painting that is now part of the Alexander Turnbull Library art collection in Wellington, New Zealand. It is a good example of the typically untraditional paintings he regularly painted in that period in which he combines still life objects with a window view of a landscape beyond.
This drawing came from the Estate of Frederick and Evelyn Page, of Wellington, an important connection in the development of MacDiarmid as a painter. Fred and his artist wife Eve were among Douglas’ closest life-long friends and persuasive older influences from his Christchurch university and war service days in the 1940s, and the relationship continued through their children (whom Douglas and his composer friend Douglas Lilburn used to babysit at Governors Bay, on Lyttleton Harbour). Fred was Douglas’ inspiring music master at Canterbury College when he was studying music with a view to maybe becoming a concert pianist, but World War II took care of that. Teacher and student quickly became friends and the charismatic young man was welcomed into their wide, erudite social circle. It was as if he had come alive. When Evelyn introduced Douglas to his first palette of colours, it set him off on his painting career. Evelyn recognised his latent talent immediately and was a generous guide and mentor. They painted together all over Christchurch and Banks Peninsula at every opportunity, and as far afield as Queenstown. The Pages collected quite a number of Douglas’ works, and championed his early career. Fred and Douglas Lilburn took it upon themselves to act as Douglas’ unofficial art agents in New Zealand, selling his work privately among their wide creative circles to keep him afloat, during his early years in France.