Section 2: September-November 1885

Section 2: September-November 1885

Harris, Emily Cumming collection. Collection of Puke Ariki (ARC2002-190).

Sept 5th [Saturday]. Mrs Hardcastle called. I asked her if she would go with me to the meeting to hear what Dr von Haast had to say about the Indian & Colonial Exhibition, she said she would & would call for me.

Sept 6th. I went to ask Miss Bessie Jones & her sister if they would like to go with me. I showed them the circular I had received, they thought it would be as well to go. Colonel Branfill called to ask me if I would like to go to the meeting, I said I had asked three ladies to go with me but would be glad if he would escort us as I had never been to a public meeting.

Sept 7th. At eight p.m. we all arrived at the Council Chamber where we found a dozen or more intending exhibitors already assembled. Dr von Haast, the Bishop of Nelson & Mr Scaife, Hon. Sec. The Bishop came forward & shook hands with us, & showed us a good place to sit. Colonel B. was introduced to Dr von Haast & had a little talk with him. Mr Bayfield came to see if we had any questions to ask Dr Haast because if so he would put them for us. I said no, we only came to listen. He then asked if we would like to be introduced to Dr Haast. I said yes, so after a time the Dr was introduced to each of us, then we had a little talk after which the meeting proceeded. I forgot to say that Dr Haast was pleased to see us, & the more so because it was the first time ladies had attended the meetings. I will cut out the newspaper report, but we heard a great deal more than was put in it. Miss Jones, when Mr Bayfield came the second time to see if we wished to ask any questions, asked if pictures had better be framed here or in London.

Sept 9th. We all got up about half past five a.m., made a little water boil while we were dressing, had a little refreshment, & then set off, Father for the Church Hill, & we three for the Port Hills, to see the eclipse of the sun. The morning was perfectly calm, still & light, not a cloud. We got a splendid view of sea & sky, the sun rising above the hills, the lovely effect of deep shadow & yellow light as the eclipse went on until when totality was reached it became almost dark & very cold, the stars began to appear, then suddenly the most brilliant rays of white, rosy & rainbow shot out from beneath the dark edge, again the sun began to emerge from the black shadow & gradually the light of day & the blue sky returned to us. It was a sight never to be forgotten. I tried to make a sketch but was not very successful.

Harris, Emily Cumming collection. Collection of Puke Ariki (ARC2002-190).

Oct 20th [Tuesday]. And so it is more than five weeks since I wrote a word in this my diary, and why, may I ask myself? Indeed I scarcely know why. Perhaps because I have not been in a cheerful frame of mind. I have not sold one of my exhibits, have received nothing more substantial than a few empty compliments. I received a letter from Mr N. Barraud in answer to my complaints, ‘With reference to the position in which your large screen has been placed viz. at one end of the stand in the centre of the main hall, I think the place is perhaps the best that could be found in the room & certainly is as well placed as any other in the room.’ So I had to write & say how sorry I was to have complained without due cause. At the same time I asked if it was true that one panel of the fretwork of the large screen was broken.

Emerson Mabin when he went to see the Exhibition undertook to find that out for me. He went to Mr Callis about it, Mr Callis was much surprised & went with Emerson to see if it was the case. They found it was true enough, then they went to the man who had unpacked the screen, he said it was broken when he took it out of the case. He gave Emerson the pieces, ten in number. Mr Callis said that if I got a new panel made he would see that it was put on. Emerson brought me back the broken pieces, I fortunately had had the pattern, I went to Fleming to get a piece of wood cut out to make a new panel. The fretwork I had to do myself, after a good beginning I found that although I could do it yet it was very slow work. Then both Frances & Ellen got bad feverish colds, & before Ellen got well I began to get ill, Ellen exclaimed in great disgust, ‘I never can have a cold in peace but some of you go & get one before I have time to get well.’

Unfortunately my cold became a serious matter as it turned to congestion of the lungs. I knew from former experience how to treat myself, but after the congestion had got better I still had to remain in bed. Whether I had a sort of fever or not is a puzzle to me but I could not get up for ten days. We had always looked forward to going over to see the Exhibition at the beginning of October. We thought to have high jinks over there but as the time drew near to go we both seemed to care less & less about it, and we both gave up the idea. Planning to go was the ideal, the real was lying in bed too ill sometimes even to read.

October 12th [Monday]. Received a letter from Mr S. Stuart, Hon. Sec. N.Z.S.A. viz., ‘Dear Madame, I do not know whether you are going to exhibit this year but hope we may have the pleasure of hanging some of your works, etc.’ I had been trying hard to paint some cards but could not manage to do anything well, indeed I think this illness must have been coming on for some time. It was a great disappointment not being able to send anything.

One evening Oct 10th [Saturday] Ellen brought the Mail upstairs to read, when suddenly she said, ‘Oh! I see your name, listen,’ & she read a local, ‘Among the awards recently made at the Exhibition & telegraphed today are two to Miss Harris of Nelson, one for a painted screen the other for a painted table-top, and we are glad to find that her work has been duly appreciated by the Judges as both these are really beautifully executed paintings.’

‘Now,’ said Ellen, ‘that ought to please you, & help you to get well.’

‘It depends on what they are,’ I replied, ‘nothing but a first will do me any good.’ Fortunately the list of prizes was in the paper & soon we found, ‘Screen painted on satin in watercolour, Miss E. C. Harris, Nelson, 1st. Hand painted table-top, 3rd.’ I felt so thankful to have got a first that I felt as if I could get well at once. Ellen said it was quite like lifting a heavy weight off all our minds.

1st November [Sunday]. And I seem to be a long way from getting well. I get up in the morning, I have been into school three times, but still I cannot get strong, do what I will, it is so unfortunate just when there are so many things to do, things I would like to do.

Harris, Emily Cumming collection. Collection of Puke Ariki (ARC2002-190).

← Previous                                                                                                                     Next


to hear what Dr von Haast had to say about the Indian & Colonial Exhibition
Emily’s attention turns to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition to be held in London in 1886. Exhibitors in the Wellington Industrial Exhibition were already aware of opportunities for sending on their exhibits to London and Dr Julius von Haast attended meetings around the country to distribute information about New Zealand participation.

Johann Franz Julius von Haast (1822-1887) arrived in Auckland in 1858, beginning a distinguished career in New Zealand as an explorer, geologist, writer and museum founder. In 1861 he became provincial geologist of Canterbury and from that date was closely associated with the development of science and art in the province. The opening of the Canterbury Museum in 1870 and von Haast’s appointment in 1876 as professor of geology at the recently-established Canterbury College consolidated his reputation as a scientist and teacher. In his capacity as commissioner for the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition von Haast travelled to Europe. He returned to Christchurch not long before his death in 1887. (DNZB)

Mr Bayfield came to see if we had any questions to ask
Von Haast’s courtesy to the women attending his meeting is exemplary, but the solicitude of Colonel Branfill and Mr Bayfield on behalf of Emily and her friends reflects their primary status as lady guests rather than professional artists. One report noted the presence of the women: ‘A meeting of those interested in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition to be held in London next year was held at the Council Chamber last night, among those present being several ladies.’ The same report ranges widely over topics covered by von Haast:

The space allotted to New Zealand was 400ft x 50ft, and in one portion of it there would be a fernery, for which he had already sent home a number of ferns. There was also to be a Maori house with groups of natives cast in wax, and a number of their old weapons would be shown. […] In reply to a question, Dr Haast said that exhibits, especially pictures, would have to be submitted to him for approval. Of course it would be ridiculous to ask Mr Gully, Mr Richmond, and one or two others in New Zealand to submit their work for inspection, but generally this would have to be done, and he trusted those whose works were refused would not be offended. There were always a number of worthless pictures sent for exhibition, but the space was so limited on this occasion that none but the very best would be accepted. Half the pictures shown in the Wellington Exhibition he would not touch. […] He had omitted to mention that there would be a New Zealand restaurant in the court, at which there would be frozen meat, preserved soups and fish, cheese, butter, and jams, and he meant to take care that a good cook was engaged who could not only send up good dishes of meat but could also make particularly nice jam tarts, and he hoped the Nelson fruit in this state would be appreciated. (Nelson Evening Mail 8 Sept 1885: 2)

Sept 9th. We all got up about half past five a.m.
The solar eclipse of 9 Sept 1885 features in the work of Emily and her father Edwin. See Emily Cumming Harris, ‘Total eclipse of the Sun from the Port Road, Sept 1885.’ Oil painting, 258 x 196mm. Nelson Provincial Museum. AC472. Edwin Harris may have recorded the same event in one of two sketchbooks now held by his descendants. See Cranstone sketchbook (44), watercolour studies of eclipse and moon patterns, hill line with a low sun behind it and a dotted arrow annotated ‘height of sun.’

The eclipse was the subject of much commentary, popular and scientific. Arthur Samuel Atkinson (1833-1902), journalist, lawyer, philologist, astronomer and naturalist, was at home in his observatory at Fairfield, Nelson: ‘Using a specially imported Cooke refracting telescope, he recorded the total eclipse of the sun on 9 September 1885. This telescope is now housed in Nelson’s Atkinson Observatory.’ (DNZB)

Oct 20th [Tuesday]. And so it is more than five weeks since I wrote a word
Emily summarises events of September and October, backdating entries about an invitation to exhibit with the New Zealand Society of Arts and about her work in the Wellington exhibition.

Emerson Mabin when he went to see the Exhibition
Arthur Emerson Mabin (1867-1944) was the son of Nelson auctioneer John Row Mabin and his wife Fanny Jane. ‘Born in Nelson in 1867, he was educated there at Bishop’s School and Nelson College. He began his business career in the office of A. A. Scaife, Nelson, in 1880, and left there to join the staff of Levin and Co., Ltd., Wellington, eight years later. His progress in that employ was steady, and early in the century he became the manager of its wool and hemp department and its auctioneer.’ (Manawatu Standard 19 June 1944: 4)

October 12th [Monday]. Received a letter from Mr S. Stuart, Hon. Sec. N.Z.S.A.
Emily exhibited with the Auckland Society of Arts in 1882, 1883 and 1884. (Field-Dodgson Appendix 1) Stuart wrote a more casual letter of invitation to JC Richmond 2 Aug 1884: ‘I send you with this a few circulars of our forthcoming Exhibition . . . Your pictures sent to the Soc. of Arts’ Exn. were greatly admired, especially the ‘Takaka Lagoon’, and I was surprised they did not find a ready sale, but some awful rubbish went off at a higher price (so much for people’s taste). Have written to Mr Gully to keep a look out for any Maori curios for our Exhibition, as we want to get up a collection of them; and should be glad if you would favour us by doing the same . . .’ (Scholefield)

One evening Oct 10th [Saturday] Ellen brought the Mail upstairs to read
Nelson Evening Mail 10 Oct 1885: 2. Emily’s transcription varies slightly from the original: ‘Among the awards recently made at the Exhibition and telegraphed to us to-day are two to Miss E. C. Harris of Nelson, one for a painted screen, and the other for a painted table top. Both of these are really beautifully executed paintings and we are glad to find that her work has been duly appreciated by the judges.’ In the official record of the exhibition Emily’s work received special mention: ‘As specimens of decorative art a great many hand-painted table-tops, screens, door-panels, plaques, and mirrors have been supplied. […] Three screens, shown by Miss M. E. BENNETT, Johnsonville, Miss ADELA MEDLEY, Wellington, and Miss EMILY C. HARRIS, Nelson, are very handsome, notably the latter, which shows evidence of great originality of design and force of execution.’ (NZ Industrial Exhibition 152-53)

Catherine Field-Dodgson’s MA thesis ‘In Full Bloom: Botanical Art and Flower Painting by Women in 1880s New Zealand’ (2003) discusses the work and exhibition histories of Emily Harris, Georgina Hetley and Ellis Rowan. Field-Dodgson notes Emily’s insistence on exhibiting decorative items in the 1880s and her indignation with reviewers who dismissed them as ladies’ work. She suggests Emily was drawn to painting screens, table-tops and fans, and working a mantel drape in embroidery silk, because of the higher prices these items commanded. She also observes Emily’s refusal to accept the gendered conventions of subject matter and media, putting a different light on art historian Ann Elias’s assessment of Emily’s attitude:

Ann Elias states that ‘Women such as Emily Harris who painted flowers on satin screens misunderstood the fact that flower subjects and functional items could never be competitive.’ It would appear, however, that Harris chose not to accept this separation, as throughout her exhibiting career she chose to exhibit ‘decorative’ items, often together with watercolour and oil paintings. (Field-Dodgson 39-40)

Emily Harris’s decorative work has disappeared, so it is not possible to compare it with her extant watercolour and oil paintings on paper and various kinds of board.

Full Navigation

Section 1: August 1885
Section 2: September-November 1885
Section 3: January-March 1886
Section 4: March-July 1886
Section 5: August-November 1886
Section 6: August-December 1888
Section 7: January 1889
Section 8: February-August 1889
Section 9: September-October 1889
Section 10: November-December 1889
Section 11: January-February 1890
Section 12: August 1890-February 1891