This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Sir John Logan Campbell (1817-1912). His legacy has had a lasting impact on both Auckland’s cultural and geographic landscape. Campbell is one of the special themes for the Heritage Festival 2012. The festival, organised by the Auckland Council, runs from the 29th of September until the 14th of October 2012.
Campbell was not only a business man and philanthropist but a significant patron of the arts. He was the inaugural member of the Mackelvie Trust and established Auckland’s first school of design in 1878. Auckland has always been perceived as being late in the creation of an art school. However, Campbell’s school was formed only eight years after the Dunedin School of Art (1870) and four years before the Canterbury School of Art (1882) (Stone, 1984).
The ‘Auckland Free School of Art’ also known as the ‘Free School of Art’ or the ‘Campbell Free School of Art’ has been largely forgotten in the histories of New Zealand art education, with no reference made to the school in either Calverly (1937) and Cranwell (1967). While Dunn (2003, p. 14) Brown and Keith (1982, p. 52) make very slight reference to its existence. However, it is wrong to assume that the Elam School of Fine Arts was Auckland city’s first real foray into art education. The Free School of Art was established in November 1878 and housed in the Auckland Museum in Princes Street. The administrative development of the school is discussed by Wolfe in his comprehensive article on the early history of the museum (Wolfe, 2001). While the inter-personal relationships involved in the school’s creation has been explored by Stone (1984, 2007).
Campbell believed that Auckland was in need of an art school and discussed the importance of ‘Art’ at the school’s inaugural prize giving in 1879,
…Art is acknowledged throughout the world as the one great source of refinement and moral elevation, and to tempt you along the path you have every reason to rejoice that you live in so a fair a land, which invokes you in the most entreating language to become votaries to Art….And furthermore, is it not a good and desirable thing that we should have in our midst the fact practically brought home to us by such evidence as this School of Art, that there are aims in life other than mere money-making … ("The Free School of Art: Presentation of Prizes," 1879)
The photographer and painter Kennett Watkins (1847-1933) was the school’s one and only art instructor (From Our Own Correspondents, 1933; Platts, 1980). He instructed an average of 25 students at a time with his classes focussing on copy or drawing from antique casts, figures or statues (Watkins, 1881). The students were taught on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the Museum’s Lecture Hall and the Main Hall, where a significant number of antique plasters casts and artworks from the Mackelvie Collection were exhibited (Wolfe, 2001, p. 6). Notably the Russell Statues purchased in 1878 by Thomas Russell, with the financial support of Campbell, remain in the collection of the Auckland Museum and include ‘The Dying Gaul’, Laocoon’ and ‘Discobolus’. While the Mackelvie art collection formed the basis of the Auckland Art Gallery which was founded in 1888.
The Free School of Art was closed at the end of 1889, with the establishment of the Elam School of Art enabling Campbell to “safely retire from his self-imposed duties” ("Auckland Free School of Art," 1889).
Campbell’s memoir Poenamo: Sketches of the Early Days of New Zealand Romance and Reality of Antipodean Life in the Infancy of a New Colony (1881) can be read online in the Early New Zealand Books (ENZB) database. The ENZB database contains the full text of 19th century books about New Zealand and is maintained by the staff at The University of Auckland. Professor Russell Stone has recently launched the expanded edition of this book entitled Poenamo revisited : New Zealand's very first adventure story. Stone spoke about this revised publication on Radio New Zealand Concert. The interview of the 21st of June can be heard here.
Auckland Free School of Art. (1889, December 21). Auckland Star, p. 5. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/Mv6O4k
Brown, G. H., & Keith, H. (1982). An introduction to New Zealand painting, 1839-1980 (Rev. and enl. ed.). Auckland N.Z.: Collins.
Dunn, M. (2003). New Zealand painting : a concise history ([Rev. & expanded]. ed.). Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland University Press.
The Free School of Art: Presentation of Prizes. (1879, December 20). Auckland Star, p. 3. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/LXroe7
From Our Own Correspondents. (1933). Art notes (Auckland). Art in New Zealand, 6(1), 54.
Platts, U. (1980). WATKINS, Kennett (C. H. Kennett Watkins) 1847–1933 Nineteenth century New Zealand artists : a guide & handbook (pp. 248): Christchurch, N.Z. : Avon Fine Prints, 1980.
Stone, R. C. J. (1984). A Victorian friendship and Auckland's first school of art (Campbell Free School of Art). Art New Zealand, 30(Autumn), 52-55.
Stone, R. C. J. (2007). A Victorian friendship and Auckland's first school of art Logan Campbell's Auckland Tales from the Early Years (pp. 189-200). Auckland: Auckland University Press.
Watkins, K. (1881, April 6). Correspondence: Auckland School of Arts, New Zealand Herald, p. 3.
Wolfe, R. (2001). Mr Cheeseman's legacy: The Auckland Museum at Princes Street. Records of the Auckland Museum, 38, 1-32.
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