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Regionalist painting by Juliet Peter
Juliet Peter, Portrait of a Landgirl (Ann Ensor at Rydal Downs) 1944. Watercolour, collection of David Ensor.

Juliet Peter: Where the Line Leads

Andrew Paul Wood

That Juliet Peter’s work exists at all is a small miracle. Born in the sparse Mid-Canterbury community of Anama, near Mount Somers in 1915, she grew up on a farm, and not untypically for a country girl of the time, received no formal education. Her mother’s death and her father’s poor health resulted in the farm being sold and the family moving to England. Then the depression hit, and Juliet and her sister returned to New Zealand, where, at the suggestion of an aunt, Peter attended the Canterbury College of Art. In 1945 Peter moved to Wellington, and two years later joined the School Publications branch of the Department of Education.  If you’re of a certain age and experience an unaccountable sense of déjà vu looking at her work in Christchurch Art Gallery’s Juliet Peter: Where the Line Leads, it’s probably because you remember them from the School Journal or The Listener.

Stylistically Peter owes much to British mid-century Neo-Romanticism (a pastoral and nostalgic reaction to the war), Eric Ravilious, John Minton etc, evoking a range of experiences, from her rural childhood to bustling 1950s London, and the bush-clad, bird-loud hills of Ngaio in Wellington, where she lived for much of her working life following her marriage to potter Roy Cowan. The influence of Rita Angus is, however, palpable, in the 1969 Bolton Street.  Also included are examples of Peter’s ceramic work, which probably don’t get as much attention in the wall texts as they deserve.

Peter passed away in 2010 leaving behind a marvelous legacy in whimsical, illustrative art that can’t fail to enchant even in this jaded and cynical age.

Juliet Peter: Where the Line Leads, curated by Felicity Milburn,

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Cnr Worcester Boulevard and Montreal Street

Until 20 January 2019

Juliet Peter, Where the Line Leads, reviewed by Andrew Paul Wood

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