When I looked through The Dowse Art Museum collection The Bathers instantly appealed. I have always had a strong inclination towards impressionist art and this work by Marcus King is also a very light, summery painting, which really fits the mood at the end of the year.
King has caught one of summer’s long evenings, as the men cool off, presumably after a day at work. There is a very deliberate capturing of sunlight, with a strong contrast between the light bouncing off the closest figures’ back and the dark banks across the other side of the river where his friends bathe.
I like how King has combined such a range of colours in this painting as the palette moves from deep purples to bright greens. I also enjoy the way that the flashing reflections from the moving water have been portrayed by King. Often it is so bright that the detail just disappears.
I have always appreciated the way that Impressionist art gives you the sense of a moment. When looking at this painting I want to dive into the water as well. King often depicted areas in and around Wellington’s bays and hills which makes this painting feel truly local.
Arguably, King is one of the most widely viewed New Zealand artists ever, yet most people wouldn’t recognise his name. Alongside his impressionist works, King was a commercial painter and played a key role in the cultural development of New Zealand. He created billboards and posters for various government departments in the pre-digital era, presenting New Zealand as a beautiful, pastoral utopia. Most people would recognise the unique, retro style he used to promote New Zealand from the 1920’s through to the 1970s. For example, his poster of skier flying off a jump at Tongariro National Park is still reproduced.
The Bathers is a fresh, intimate painting and my pick from The Dowse Art Museum collection.
Harriet McFetridge is a communications intern and is in her final year of a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts conjoint programme at Victoria University of Wellington.