MANA WHENUA/MANA OF THE LAND

Lake Waikare c.1910

This idyllic scene, typical of Baker's work, takes some cultural liberties primarily because of his representation of Maori people. The most obvious references to Maori culture are the buildings that include a raupo-thatched whare and a pataka. A large kete in the foreground and the semblance of a waka floating on the water also point to a Maori presence. However, were it not for these inclusions, the buildings alone would pictorially designate this village as a Maori one.

We must then only presume that the people represented are Maori, even though their clothing and the presence of domesticated poultry suggests well-established European influences. While the scene may understandably delight an unschooled eye, it is also important to note that the Maori kainga has been adapted to suit the artist's painterly intentions rather than to record any particular Maori achievement. Indeed, the 'civilised' settlement dweller seen in this picture could actually be from any cultural background. Appropriated Maori architectural forms make this picture into a particularly 'New Zealand' scene. Without this architecture, and the painting's give-away title, it could have passed as yet another standard romanticised illustration of any inland stretch of water. One can only reflect upon the fact that yet again a version of Maori culture has been 'wheeled out' by an artist who knows what his public wants. The work shows little or no understanding and acknowledgement of Maori life. JD

William George Baker 1864-1929

Lake Waikare c.1910
Oil on canvas

Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare O Rehua Whanganui

Baker was born in Wellington, his pioneer family having arrived there in 1840. Although not recorded as having any formal training, Baker became a prolific artist, specializing in riverside pa scenes such as these. There was a considerable vogue for idealized paintings of Maori life in the early years of the twentieth century. The work exhibited alongside this one, Walter Wright's The Family Gathering, is another typical example.

While not particularly noted for their technical prowess, Baker's oils were popular, selling at agricultural shows and being regularly selected for display at Art Society exhibitions.

While much of Baker's work was done on journeys in the South Island and the Wairarapa, this subject is a pa scene on the hilly eastern side of Lake Waikare, near Te Kauwhata, in the Waikato. European settlers arrived to farm this traditional Tainui land in the mid-1860s, following the Waikato invasion and subsequent land confiscations. Rangiriri, scene of the most ferocious engagement of the war, is close by. PS

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