Track 1: Introduction and Gallery 1, A Painter’s Journey 


Kia ora. I’m Judith Jones, an audio describer at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Welcome to this audio descriptive introduction to Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist. There are four tracks. This first one introduces the exhibition and its immersive opening gallery. The next three tracks offer audio descriptions of some works in three smaller galleries, which follow a chronological journey through Rita’s life and work.

From the 1930s onwards, Rita Angus boldly forged a life as an artist. Her ground-breaking works express her feminism and pacifism, and her identity as a 20th-century woman painter. This exhibition brings together more than 70 of her works – from Te Papa’s art collection, the Rita Angus loan collection, and other public and private collections. 

It’s all there, the strangeness, colour, exhilaration. 
Rita Angus

Rita saw colour as a powerful way of communicating – almost a language. Colour surrounds us as we begin our experience with the vibrant world of her work. We’re in a huge, two-storey space. The floor and walls are white. Coloured fabric banners, 1.4 metres wide, drape here and there from the ceiling above, falling to different lengths. They’re not attached to the floor and will move as visitors pass by.

A bridge runs through this gallery, 4 metres above us and 3 metres wide, taking people across Level 5. 

The soundscape from a short film projected on the walls on either side of us threads through the space. We’ll hear orchestral music and the sounds of nature.

The film, A Painter’s Journey, takes us into the spectacular world of Rita’s oil painting Central Otago. Each screen is the length of the 13-metre-wide wall, and 7 metres high. The film is around 10 minutes long and plays on a continuous loop. There are bench seats nearby for visitors to sit on. 

The banners in this gallery pick up the colours Rita used for the tones of water, sky, earth, and rocks in her watercolour studies for this painting.

The landscape Central Otago is one of Rita’s most important paintings, and is audio described in Track 4, ‘A world of colour’ gallery. 

A Painter’s Journey 

I’ve tried through the medium of paint to express … how simple and wonderful living is …
Rita Angus, 1944

This short film, made by Te Papa, celebrates Rita’s artistic practice – diving into her painting Central Otago. Central Otago has colour and vitality that capture Rita’s deep feeling for and close observation of this wild, dramatic landscape. 

She spent two weeks travelling through the area in the summer of 1953, recording what she saw, what she experienced, in watercolour studies and sketches. She then pieced these together to create a single oil painting.

Rita captured the multiple landscapes, light, moods, movement, and textures of an entire region in one composite picture, from the high alps to a lake with the wind ruffling its waters, the foothills and farmlands, mounds of earth left by gold dredges, farm buildings, and the tiny wooden church at Naseby.

She painted Central Otago through 1953 to 1956 and reworked the painting in 1969. In this film, we imagine her process. Explore the landscapes Rita captures in paint, and her vivid palette of colour. Trace the evolution of the work – from fluid watercolour study to crisp oil painting. 

A Painter’s Journey takes us on an immersive journey into the rich, vivid details of the work and the artist’s practice. The soundscape includes Douglas Lilburn’s work Four Canzonas for String Orchestra) and natural sounds recorded in Central Otago in 2021.

I asked the filmmaker, Prue Donald, Te Papa’s Digital Producer, to tell us about her journey making this film.

Prue Donald

Following Rita’s travels, we ventured south to Central Otago in October 2021, armed with copies of her watercolours, stopping to seek local knowledge about where a particular bend in the river might be. Some landscapes she captured in a few sharply observed lines, but enough for locals to recognise the shape of a ridge.

Rita travelled through Central by bus, so she would have explored these places on foot – we know she was a great walker. We imagined her arriving, say, in Arrowtown, maybe heading for a friend’s crib to stay a few nights, and finding a nearby lookout point to sketch landscapes in detail. We’re certain she would have climbed Tobins Track, for instance, to get a spectacular panorama of the Wakatipu basin – which maybe inspired her bird’s-eye view of the region that you sense in the oil painting.

At the places that drew her attention, we heard the wind through the tussocks on the barren hills, the chorus of birds in the still morning air, the sound of water rushing through shallow riverbeds – and imagined Rita might have experienced the same sense of thrilling isolation, of being in the world of the wild back country, feeling the deep momentum at the banks of the Clutha River, or admiring the simplicity of a tiny wooden church in the forest. And picking up her brushes to paint.

Moving into the next three galleries

As we leave this first gallery, we’ll pass the staircase to Level 5 on our left. From here, as we move ahead, there’s an art activity studio on the right. Visitors can take a seat and relax here, or explore colour and portrait-making with hands-on activities. When we have travelled through the three next galleries, we will come to the other end of this space. As we move forwards towards the first of three connected galleries, we will travel around either side of a layered set of green banners that signals the entry into the main exhibition area. 

The three galleries display works in oil and watercolour, covering the full 40 years of Rita Angus’s practice as an artist.

She was born in Hastings in 1908 and died in Wellington in 1970. Te Papa houses the largest collection of Rita’s work, made up from artworks in Te Papa’s own collection, and over 700 oil paintings, watercolours, sketches, and works on paper from the Rita Angus loan collection. The loan collection has been held by Te Papa, on behalf of the estate, since the artist’s death.

Rita used two names for her signature over time. She changed her name to Rita Cook when she married the artist Alfred Cook in 1930. They separated in 1934 and divorced in 1939. In 1947, she changed her signature back to Rita Angus.

The next galleries are all standard roof height, their walls are painted white, and the floors are concrete. There will be some seating available in each. There are some banners within these gallery spaces. Their banner colours align to those of artworks within each.

The following three recorded tracks are named for each gallery. I’ll introduce their themes and audio describe some works in each. There’ll be a brief sound interlude after each audio description.