Century-old Rhona Haszard painting poses beach mystery for Christchurch Art Gallery

Have you seen this beach?

Summer holidaymakers – particularly those in the Coromandel – have been asked to turn detective to help locate the coastline depicted in an almost 100-year-old oil painting.

“Hopefully someone’s looking out at this view right now,” says Felicity Milburn, Christchurch Art Gallery’s lead curator.

Sentinels is a rare, early work by Thames-born artist Rhona Haszard, painted in 1923 shortly after she married Coromandel man Ronald McKenzie. An Instagram post by gallery staff suggests the artwork shows a North Island scene, and wonders if it could have been inspired by honeymoon travels.

Milburn describes the painting as “luminous – you can almost feel the breeze from the water”. The gallery bought the work at auction in December but, apart from its early exhibition history, little else is known.

“Knowing the location may allow us to connect it up with a known trip the artist took, or even tell us something new, and of course we’d love to be able to see what the view looks like now, and what people can tell us about that area,” says Milburn.

“We’re also always interested to see what artists decide to leave in, and what they leave out, so when they are working from a known view it gives us the chance for comparison.”

Haszard first studied painting in 1919 at the Canterbury College School of Art. According to Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, she was one of its “most spirited and promising” students. Her work was internationally recognised in France and Britain, but she died aged just 30, after falling to her death while sketching from a tower in Egypt.

Sentinels was first exhibited in 1923. It was the critic’s pick of four Haszard paintings, described in one newspaper review as a “bright and vigorously painted study of blue-gums fronting on a summer sea”.

Gallery staff now hope those eucalyptus trees might provide a clue to the real-life inspiration behind Haszard’s painting.

Sentinels is currently on display in the “I Tawhito Ra Ano From Distant Shores” section of Christchurch Art Gallery’s post lockdown major collection rehang Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania.

Anyone who thinks they can identify the coastal spot shown in the painting is invited to email: [email protected] with “sentinels” in the subject line.

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