11 April 2011

Landslides in art part 10: Charles Emilius Gold

Posted by Dave Petley

Regular readers will know that I occasionally feature pieces of art that depict landslides. Usually this is the visual arts (i.e. paintings); sometimes it involves music. The previous edition can be found here.  Today’s edition was pointed out to me by Anthony Miner in Australia, so many thanks to him.

On 23rd January 1855 a large earthquake occurred in the southern part of North Island in New Zealand.  Now known as the Wairarapa Earthquake, it strongly shook the newly established city of Wellington.  Although loss of life was comparatively low, the earthquake was significant in that it induced uplift of land across a large area of Wellington, creating new land areas that have subsequently been occupied by the local population.  Perhaps most significantly, a strip of land was exposed running along the bottom of the slope that linked Wellington and Lower Hutt, as shown in this Google Earth image:

Prior to the earthquake this link was flooded at high tide.  This strip of land has subsequently been occupied by both the road and the railway line, allowing the development of the Hutt Valley as a key suburb area for Wellington.  However, the earthquake also triggered large numbers of landslides, one of which occurred on the cliffs behind the newly created coastal strip.  This landslide featured in a watercolour painting by Charles Emilius Gold:

Gold was a senior officer in the British Army and father of 15 children (I wonder how he had time to paint?), who ended leaving New Zealand after a somewhat unsuccessful stay, eventually dying in poverty in Dover in 1871.  His rather colourful life is described in detail here – it is worth  a read.  He painted watercolours of the New Zealand  landscape, of which the painting above is one.  This landslide was triggered by the earthquake in 1855.  Although Gold’s art is in general somewhat simplistic in style, he captures the landslide and the landscape quite well I think.  If you look carefully he has even recorded the geological structure in the outcrops.  This is quite well illustrated by the Te Ara site, which has a (reasonably) recent picture of the landslide as it is now:

Despite the revegetation and the reclamation of land to create the road bench, the site is clearly recognisable from the painting.

I welcome any thoughts or comments, and suggestions for future posts in this series.