Past Exhibitions

Toss Woollaston

Selected Works

4 May - 27 May 2024

Exhibition Works

Tasman Bay [8475]
Tasman Bay [8475] (ca 1950)
Pa Hill and House [8481]
Pa Hill and House [8481] (ca 1970)
McFedries Farm, Riwaka [8483]
McFedries Farm, Riwaka [8483] (1970s)
Riwaka Farmscape [8479]
Riwaka Farmscape [8479] (ca 1970s)
Lake Brunner, Westland [8493]
Lake Brunner, Westland [8493] (ca 1955)
Taramakau River with the Hohonus [8472]
Taramakau River with the Hohonus [8472] (ca 1960)
Mt Richmond from Mahana [8494]
Mt Richmond from Mahana [8494] (ca 1940s)
Untitled (Nelson Landscape)
Untitled (Nelson Landscape) (1940s)
Mt Arthur from Gardiner's Valley [18462]
Mt Arthur from Gardiner's Valley [18462] (ca 1950)
Flat Hills, Big Sky [8453]
Flat Hills, Big Sky [8453] (1995)
Black Stephen
Black Stephen (1993)
Lady Isaac [18469]
Lady Isaac [18469] (1990s)
Totaranui [1111]
Totaranui [1111] (1962)
Blackball [1084]
Blackball [1084] (1961)
Mount Malita from Upper Mahana [3535]
Mount Malita from Upper Mahana [3535] (ca mid 1980s)
Brownacre [2949]
Brownacre [2949] (1970)
Hohonu with Cloud [1389]
Hohonu with Cloud [1389] (1965)
Bayly's Hill [2919]
Bayly's Hill [2919] (1966)
Bayly's Hill [2920]
Bayly's Hill [2920] (1966)
Rapahoe - View North at Sunset [1174]
Rapahoe - View North at Sunset [1174] (1961)
Horoirangi (1970s)
Brownacre and Mount Arthur (2) [3334]
Brownacre and Mount Arthur (2) [3334] (1978)
Grey River and Mount Davey [859]
Grey River and Mount Davey [859] (ca 1960)
Hokitika River and Wharf [747]
Hokitika River and Wharf [747] (ca 1955)
Hohonu Mountains [597]
Hohonu Mountains [597] (1960)
After Cézanne [418]
After C├ęzanne [418] (ca 1962)
Chemical Works, Mapua [23]
Chemical Works, Mapua [23] (1948)
From Spooner's Range [567]
From Spooner's Range [567] (1960)
Man in a Felt Hat [507]
Man in a Felt Hat [507] (ca 1958)
Arnold Wells When Blind [680]
Arnold Wells When Blind [680] (1961)
Allan Holcroft [473]
Allan Holcroft [473] (1950s)


Philip Woollaston, son of the artist, speaks to Vanessa Eve Cook on the opening night of the exhibition at Milford Galleries Dunedin. Video production: O3 Media.
Kaleidoscope - Toss Woollaston Documentary, Television New Zealand, 1987

Exhibition Text

“Writers on my work are fond of quoting me as having said, many years ago, that I wanted to paint the light, but only after it had been absorbed into the earth. It is true. Therefore, yellow ochre is my only yellow. I don’t need any brighter… Similarly, I need only earth reds, light red and Indian red…”1  

Selected Works, drawn directly from the Toss Woollaston Trust, must be categorised as an exhibition of considerable importance, demonstrably reminding us of and reasserting Woollaston’s true significance in New Zealand art and that, as Charles Brasch wrote, “Woollaston was one of the first to see and paint New Zealand as a New Zealander.”2

Covering almost sixty years of Woollaston’s “single-minded devotion”3 and oeuvre, Selected Works has three constituent elements: his acclaimed watercolours, ink and pencil drawings, and oils. While the primary focus is upon his landscapes, there are also two major portraits, two watercolours and an ink drawing which demonstrate his telling use of line, colour and form, reminding us that portraiture for Woollaston was career-long, where the emotion of the subject and his connection to the person was the over-riding painterly concern.  

There can be no doubt that Woollaston was a regional painter and that the Nelson and West Coast landscapes were his primary source material and preoccupation. However, while this may be true, equally in no sense can his works be said to be topographical renditions: his goal was to deliver contemplative, emotional responses, animated by feelings of immediacy, delivered with a unique interplay of rhythms and forms. He undoubtedly achieved this. His are landscapes of feelings, moods and emotions just as much as of mutating forms and light.4

In the watercolour landscapes, we see Woollaston’s intuitive, gestural style imbued with swiftly written notation, bordering on music with paint. His spontaneous brushstroke and islands of colour stand apart from all that came before and since. His are landscapes where mountains are paraphrased into folded forms and blocked line, where smears, blobs and strokes of colour do all the ‘talking’. Fundamentally, these are visual narratives of emotions and sensations, energised by the side-by-side angularity of altering shapes and earthy colours.  

His outstanding landscape oils, while still intuitive, are less gestural, more contemplative and broader in mood, as if somehow Woollaston harnessed the passage of time into a more tangible and considered presence: that the total environment was suggesting an underbelly of mythical presences while – atop – the landscape was alive with the energy of nature. In these authoritative, important, meditative paintings, Woollaston adds the layered conversation of increased space and distance, fluxing mood and the distinctive marks of geography.  In this way, we the viewers have been brought to “bear witness in the wilderness”5 as we look out upon the celestial splendour of the earth which is “swimming and floating in colour”.6
1. M.T. Woollaston, Sage Tea: An Autobiography, Collins Auckland, 1980, p. 264.
2. Charles Brasch, quoted by Gordon Brown, Toss Woollaston article, Barry Lett Galleries Newsletter, Vol 8, No 1, 11 November 1965.
3. John Caselberg, Chart to my Country, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1972, p. 152.
4. Docking, Dunn and Hanfling, 240 Years of New Zealand Painting, Bateman, 2012, p. 158.
5. Francis Pound, The Invention of New Zealand: Art and National Identity 1930-1970, Auckland University Press, 2009, p. 29.
6. Ibid, p. 216.

Exhibition Views