Rotokakahi from Kaitereria 1881

Rotokakahi has attracted varied attention from artists, tourists, tangata whenua and manuhiri alike. Blomfield has captured a particularly peaceful moment from a local history that has seen events including the internment of Maori rangatira, inter-iwi warfare and the arrival of Pakeha technologies ranging from guns to speedboats. Blomfield's oil painting casts brilliant sunshine on an orderly Maori settlement; only touches of colour on garments worn by otherwise vaguely rendered human figures hint of colonial advancement. Little of the village remains now, aside from the touristy approximations that abound in this popular 'destination'. Of late, Te Arawa and its iwi trust board have regained decision-making authority over this 'Green' Lake, one of many in the Rotorua district. This appealing painting cannot tell us the full story of a Maori village and its lake. It contains no hint as to why the lake should now be designated as tapu - significant testimony to Maori burials, wars, so many other past events and now current efforts to turn back the tide of environmental degradation that has come with more modern times. JD

Charles Blomfield 1848-1926

Rotokakahi from Kaitereria 1881
Oil on canvas

Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare O Rehua Whanganui

Blomfield, like W.G. Baker, was a self-taught artist yet he became one of the best-known and most popular painters of his day. This was due largely to his having painted the Pink and White Terraces before they were destroyed in 1886. For years after he kept the originals to himself, satisfying a ready market with copies to scale. It is said that tourists flocked to his Victoria Arcade studio in Auckland.

This painting is of one of the four lakes lying between Lakes Rotorua and Tarawera and is now commonly and prosaically known as the Green Lake. Its Maori name means lake of the kakahi, a freshwater shellfish with a flavour so delicate that it was fed to motherless children for whom a wet-nurse could not be found. Formerly heavily populated by the Tuhourangi people before the eruption, the lake was later deserted and remains tapu.

That Blomfield's painting is part of a genre is evident from the company it keeps in this exhibition. PS

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