Olivia Spencer Bower

Portrait of Una Platts

Portrait of Una Platts by Olivia Spencer Bower

Artwork Detail

Olivia Spencer Bower is one of New Zealand's most accomplished 20th-century watercolourists. Best known for her landscapes of the South Island, she was also a skilled portraitist as this depiction of historian Una Platts (1908-2005) demonstrates. According to acquaintances of Platts, Spencer Bower has captured a characteristic look and attitude of the sitter; recording not only her likeness but also a strong sense of her personality.

Made using thin washes of colour attention is focused on the face, which is finely modelled. Cool blue shadows emphasise the contours of the cheek and chin, contrasting with the sitter's rosy complexion. While her head is turned to the left, her eyes make direct contact with the viewer. Loose fluid brushstrokes briefly allude to Platts's blouse and the background is blocked in using only flat colour.

Una Platts was one of New Zealand's early art historians. She had a long involvement with the Auckland Art Gallery, curating a series of exhibitions in the 1950s which highlighted the achievements of colonial artists and focused on the early history of Auckland. Her research led to the publication of The Lively Capital: Auckland 1840-1865 and her dictionary of Nineteenth Century New Zealand Artists. These landmark books remain important sources for researchers, scholars and curators today.

Portrait of Una Platts
Olivia Spencer Bower
Production date
307 x 245 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, transferred from Auckland City Libraries, Una Platts papers, 2006
Accession no
Other ID
Una Platts papers NZMS 1377, Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries Reference number (external institution)
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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