John Holmwood

Relics of the forest

Relics of the forest by John Holmwood

Artwork Detail

In the race to create usable grazing land, nineteenth century New Zealand settlers and farmers conducted spectacular burn-offs, razing native bush and forests and leaving blackened, smoking hillsides. Bleached white tree trunks, isolated in farm paddocks, were eerie reminders of former forest giants. The burning continued until the 1950s and although artists and writers noted this devastation of the landscape, few applied to it a contemporary conservation ethic. Attracted by the sculptural forms of the skeletal trees, most shared the current view that prosperity for New Zealand would be best achieved through this sort of land use. As a young man John Holmwood travelled around New Zealand, often in a railway jigger, working for the New Zealand Railways Advertising Studios and checking on the state of billboards which were regularly used by farmers for casual target practice. Many of his paintings show newly-cleared landscapes, inhabited by dead tree trunks and by farming debris - discarded machinery, old cars and rolls of fencing wire. Holmwood later said: 'The pioneers started this slaughter of the bush and it still goes on. You can't get it back'. Yet in this painting the vigorously twisted fallen tree easily supports a load of springy new growth. The great trees may take centuries to return, but the life-force of the bush is unquenched. (from The Guide, 2001)

Relics of the forest
John Holmwood
Production date
oil on canvas
733 x 1065 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased with funds from the M A Serra Trust, 1987
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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