A Spot of Lindy Loo by Angela Caldin

lindauerCzech Origins of Lindy Loo

I learnt something interesting while watching a programme about German immigrants to New Zealand. The presenter mentioned that the New Zealand sparkling wine Lindauer (sometimes referred to as Lindy Loo and intimately linked with Kiwi celebrations) was named after the painter Gottfried Lindauer (1839-1926), well known for his near photographic paintings of Māori.

Gottfried Lindauer, also known by the Czech name Bohumir, was born on 5 January 1839, at Pilsen, Bohemia which is in Czechoslovakia. While still in his teens, he travelled to Vienna in Austria to study painting, eventually joining the studio of Carl Hemerlein, a fashionable portrait painter.  In 1864 he established his own studio in Pilsen specialising in portraits of the local gentry. It’s said that when he was called up for service in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1873, Lindauer moved to Germany, and the following year sailed from Hamburg for New Zealand.

Lindauer and Māori

Throughout his successful career in New Zealand, Lindauer produced many different kinds of paintings, including portraits of settlers, European genre scenes and copies of old and nineteenth century masters; but he is most famous for his portraits of Māori, the first of which were painted in Nelson where he settled soon after his arrival. Later, he moved to Auckland, where he met Henry Partridge, a businessman who became his chief patron. Partridge believed that there was a pressing need for a pictorial record of the traditional Māori, and over the next 30 or so years he commissioned Lindauer to paint many portraits and scenes of Māori life and customs.

In 1916 Partridge gifted the collection to the Auckland Art Gallery on condition that £10,000 was raised for the relief of Belgian war refugees, a total that was speedily achieved. The paintings are still there to this day and it is well worth visiting the Art Gallery to have a look at them. At the time of writing, 14 portraits are beautifully hung on a curving wall and 14 subjects emerge, backlit, from their dark backgrounds displaying the attributes of their status: moko, tiki, huia feathers on their heads and kiwi feathers woven into their cloaks, holding greenstone and whalebone clubs. Their faces exude energy, authority, wisdom, and a deep connection to tradition.

Lindauer’s Māori paintings were highly valued as historical and ethnological records. He painted some of his Māori subjects from life, but relied primarily on photographs and some of those depicted were long dead by the time he painted them. He often altered small details of the photos to enhance the portraits, straightening a tiki here and repositioning a feather there – an early instance of photo-shopping.  One view nowadays is that the history he was attempting to capture represents a European interpretation – a romanticised portrayal of a race which some thought was dying out. Nevertheless, his works remain, along with Charles Goldie’s, the best-known and most popular paintings of Māori in New Zealand, and, most importantly, are greatly valued among Māori as memorials to ancestors.

Lindauer’s Life and Times

The paintings show great respect for Māori culture and beliefs, though apparently Lindauer was an atheist or agnostic at a time when that was unusual. He rarely exhibited at art society shows in New Zealand, and lived most of his life in small towns.  He was naturalised in 1881, eventually settling in Woodville, near Palmerston North, where he died in 1926. He was frequently mistaken for a German, and during World War One experienced considerable hostility because of his former supposed nationality which was extremely upsetting for him and his English wife.

The Czech writer and global traveller, Josef Korensky, met up with Lindauer in New Zealand in 1900. He described the coming together of a Czech artist and his Māori subjects as ‘incredible’, going on to stress how Lindauer’s portraits were treasured by Māori families: ‘Say the name Lindauer, and every Māori chief will nod his head…When you attend a funeral and visit the house of a chief, what do you see above the displayed corpse? You will see a painting which is the true likeness of the chief. And who was the creator of this work? If you look at the corner of the …painting, you will recognize the artist’s signature: Bohuslav Lindauer.’

Fusion of Two Worlds

It was only as late as 1981 that Lindauer sparkling wine was first produced and it’s fascinating to wonder how and why the makers settled on the name. Since then it has won international recognition and is one of New Zealand’s most exported wines. It has recently been rebranded to feature the tui on its label. The tui is a quintessentially Kiwi bird identifying the brand firmly with New Zealand in a way that its Germanic name does not. But the two together echo that amazing and intriguing coming together of foreign and indigenous which Gottfried Lindauer’s career encapsulates.

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