Colin McCahon

The Second Bellini Madonna

The Second Bellini Madonna by Colin McCahon

Artwork Detail

The Second Bellini Madonna is the second part of a series of four paintings from 1961-1962 that respond to Giovanni Bellini’s painting The Alzano Madonna/Madonna with a Pear c1485 (Bergamo, Galleria dell'Accademia Carrara) which imparts a sense of spiritual gravity and the presence of the divine within an everyday landscape.

1961 was a year of intense painting activity for the artist, having moved from French Bay in Titirangi to Partridge Street in Newton.

The artist noted: ‘Not long before this picture was painted the family left our house in Titirangi to come to live in the city....The painting reflects the change I felt in shifting from Titirangi with its thick native bush and the view of French Bay to that of the urban environment. This picture belongs to a whole lot of paintings that were, believe it or not, based on the landscape I saw through the bedroom window. This also applies to the Gate paintings and it shows the remarkable change that happened in my paintings from what I had been doing at Titirangi to what I did in town.”

The Second Bellini Madonna mirrors the rooftops and angular architecture which surrounded McCahon’s inner city home in the worker’s suburb of Newton. The painting is both an abstracted response to Bellini’s Alzano Madonna and an evocation of a built-up urban environment that contains deep space along with complex spatial shifts.

There is a careful rendition of marbling forms as if the artist is morphing the type of decorative marbling effects used in painted patinas. Sensations of spatial tumbling, tipping and spiralling accumulate across the painting’s surface with vertiginous abandon. Instead of the qualities of harmony and repose apparent in the Giovanni Bellini Alzano Madonna there are immediate impressions of unease, tension and disquiet.

The Second Bellini Madonna is one of the most radical New Zealand paintings of the period and in showing that its composition is in fact a homage to another painting indicates a level of sophistication in pictorial construction that is almost without parallel by any of McCahon’s local painting cohorts. The severe mood, the deliberate avoidance of graphic harmony and the swopping shifts in sensations of depth signal this painting to be every bit as experimental as Here I Give Thanks to Mondrian also from 1961.

The Second Bellini Madonna
Colin McCahon
Production date
oil (enamel) on hardboard
1218 x 788 x 5 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Friedlander Foundation through the Auckland Art Gallery Foundation, 2016
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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