Lithographs of ornithological beauty

At a recent art auction in Wellington, Napier’s Greening the Graveyard group found their attention drawn to three coloured lithographs of New Zealand native birds by printmaker, Thomas Ralph de Vere Gulliver. Knowing that these lithographs would be an appropriate and fitting acquisition for the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection, and that they would fit into the ethos of the group, they bid on, and won the prints.

The lithographs are the work of civil engineer Thomas Gulliver, a founding member of the Quoin Club, which was formed in 1916 in Auckland at the Mining Chambers in Mills Lane. Other founding members of this group included print makers such as Arnold Goodwin and Albert Hooper both of whom were commercial artists, Reuben Watts, a jeweller and the architect, William Gummer. The Quoin Club artists were at the forefront of New Zealand print making until the club dissolved in 1929. The main objective of the Quoin Club was to foster the arts and crafts movement and the subject matter reflected this by focusing on the realities of everyday life such as indigenous flora and fauna, contemporary city scenes, people at work and leisure and local landscapes. The three prints were from a portfolio of lithographs of native birds produced by the Quoin Club in 1919.

Thomas Gulliver’s interest and knowledge of printmaking led to his appointment as Honorary Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Auckland Art Gallery which was then a part the Auckland Public Library. In 1927 he organized the first temporary exhibition at the Gallery of historical and modern etchings. He was described in the New Zealand Herald at the time of his death, as being New Zealand’s leading authority of the graphic arts.

When viewing the lithographs I was struck by the difference in artistic style between Thomas Gulliver’s imagery and that of Johannes Keulemans, who illustrated Walter Buller’s comprehensive treatise on the ornithology of New Zealand titled A History of the Birds of New Zealand, 1873. On opening the pages of this beautiful leather bound first edition, which is in the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection, it is Walter Buller’s description of New Zealand’s native birds that exemplifies the craftsmanship and romanticism conveyed in Gulliver’s lithographs. Therefore, it is in Walter Buller’s words, that these lively and expressive birds are described below:2014.13.2Fantail, Thomas Gulliver, (b.1891 d.1933), gifted by Greening the Graveyard Group, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2014/13/2

The pied fantail is ever flitting about with broadly expanded tail and perfecting all manner of fantastic evolutions, in its diligent pursuit of gnats and flies is one of the most pleasing and attractive objects in the New Zealand bush. It is very tame and familiar allowing a person to approach within a few feet of it without evincing any alarm. It is found generally in pairs and loves to frequent the wooded banks of mountain streams and rivulets, where it may be seen hovering over the surface of the water gathering gnats. Long may the Pied Fantail thrive and prosper in the face of cats, owls, naturalists, and the whole race of predators. For without it our woods would lack one of the prettiest attractions and our fauna its gentlest representatives.

2014.13.3Morepork, Thomas Gulliver, (b.1891 d.1933), collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2014/13/3

Every New Zealand colonist is familiar with this little owl, under the name of morepork. It is strictly a nocturnal species, retiring by day to the dark recesses of the forest, or hiding in the crevices of the rocks and coming abroad soon after dusk to hunt for rats, mice, and the various kinds of moths and beetles that fly at night. The ordinary call of this owl at night consists of two notes uttered with vigor and having a fanciful resemblance to the words more-pork from which it derives its popular name. The flight of the bird is light, rapid and so noiseless that, I verily believe, it could surprise and capture a mouse at the very entrance to its burrow.

2014.13.1 Kingfisher, Thomas Gulliver, (b.1891 d.1933), gifted by Greening the Graveyard Group, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2014/13/1 

In light rainy weather the Kingfisher is in his element in the meadows. The moisture brings out the grubs, earthworms and other small animal life to the surface. From his post of observing on the fence he drops nimbly to the ground, swallows his captive and remounts to his perch, repeating the operation every few minutes and for more than an hour at a time. When engaged in fishing, the kingfisher does not plunge into the streams but dips into it lightly as it skims the surface of the water or darts downwards from its post of observation on a rock or overhanging branch. It is moreover, one of those birds that seem instinctively to resort to the habitations of man … and seeks out the new home of the settler, and becomes the familiar companion of his solitude.

I suspect from the beauty of the prints that, like Buller, Thomas Gulliver had a great love for the richness and vitality of the birdlife that abide in New Zealand’s native forest.

The Napier Greening the Graveyard group makes regular donations to the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection using funds from taking tours around the historic Napier Cemetery and we are grateful for their support in acquiring these works for the collection.

Gail Pope
Curator of Archives
May 2014