RIHA Journal 0193 | 20 July 2018

Images of the 'Exotic'? Gottfried Lindauer in the Context of European Portraiture1

Alexandra Karentzos

In 1886, twelve of Gottfried Lindauer’s portraits formed part of the presentation of the British colony New Zealand at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. For the European public, in this context these portraits represented ‘Otherness’, for they were exhibited – and in this way ‘naturalized’ – together with cultural artefacts, members of the indigenous population performing handcrafts, and specimens of nature in greenhouses. The paintings were functionalized into ethnographic-documentary, ‘authentic’ representations of Māori culture. Within this exhibition glorifying colonial power, they were turned into objects displaying British scientific knowledge and prestige. This essay reads Lindauer’s paintings in the context of nineteenth-century European portraiture, a genre where exotic colonial goods and plants were appropriated as luxury items. The resultant constellation marked by exoticizing self-representation in Europe and exoticizing representation of ‘indigenous’ Others reveals the uniqueness of Lindauer’s work, which defies such a schematic classification of exoticization: the portraits were in part commissioned by Māori who wished a pictorial representation of themselves or their relatives. By presenting the Māori nobly as large-sized figures in the portrait genre, Lindauer’s paintings simultaneously offer the scope for various readings.


[1] The 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London presented the flora of New Zealand in one of its greenhouses, and among it's 5.5 million visitors2 was Gottfried Lindauer (1839–1926) himself (fig. 1).3 An image from the Illustrated London News shows the visitors to the exhibition dressed in the London fashion of the time as they explore nature in the setting created. Twelve of Lindauer’s portraits formed part of this presentation of the British colony. In what follows, I would like to examine various facets of such contextualising of Lindauer's painting in Europe: proceeding from the phenomenon of an exoticisation in European portraiture, I will go on to examine the exoticisation of Lindauer’s portraits in Europe more closely.

1 The Colonial and Indian Exhibition: The Fernery in the New Zealand Court, in: The Illustrated London News, 26 June 1886 (reprod. from: Alexandra Karentzos, “Bilder des ‘Exotischen′. Gottfried Lindauer im Kontext europäischer Portraitmalerei”, in: Gottfried Lindauer Die Māori-Portraits, eds. Udo Kittelmann and Britta Schmitz, Cologne 2014, 176-185: 176)

In the Palm House – Exoticism in Europe

[2] “[…] we associate with each vegetable form the wonders of a distant land; we hear the rustling of the fan-like leaves […]. So great is the charm which reality can give.”4 In his Kosmos (1845–1862), Alexander von Humboldt describes the perfect illusion of the tropics offered by a palm house where the artificial world becomes reality for visitors. The exotic hence becomes the familiar. In Édouard Manet’s famous 1878/79 portrait of M. and Mme. Guillemet, In the Conservatory, which hangs in the Berlin Alte Nationalgalerie, the owners of a fashion house present themselves urbanely in a palm garden (fig. 2). The plant pots in the painting reveal the artificiality of the ‘natural’ interior. The deep green of the plants, with its copious shadings, forms the background to the picture, against which the figures stand out.

2 Édouard Manet, In the Conservatory, 1878/79, oil on canvas, 115 × 150 cm. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (reprod. from: Karentzos, “Bilder des ‘Exotischen′. Gottfried Lindauer im Kontext europäischer Portraitmalerei”, 176)

[3] The greenhouse represents “a refuge for exotic musings”5. The Viennese poet Felix Dörmann describes a couple in the glasshouse's “moist air” yearning for distant climes6 in his 1892 poem, “In the Palm House”, which is reminiscent of Manet's Impressionist picture. In the painting, Madame Guillemet's face merges, as it were, with the exotic flowers, the delicate pink blossoms find themselves reflected in the similarly coloured cheeks and the mouth, the greenblue eyes correspond with the green and the blue of the plants, and the dress carefully fanned out on the bench relates to the fan palms in the background. Sigrid Weigel points out in general terms that the discourse about foreignness and that about femininity are both based on structurally analogous concepts.7

[4] In Manet's painting, nineteenth-century colonialism figures via the colonial produce on display: the plants as well as the cigar in the man's hand and the gold rings on the couple's fingers, together with the woman's gold bracelet, indicate the luxuries of the exotic. This picture thus belongs to the same nineteenth-century colonial context as the display of New Zealand's flora at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. The German commentator, Julius Lessing, focused his attention above all on the luxury presented in this exhibition: “What moves us most remarkably in most colonies is the confrontation of primordial barbarity and a colossal excess of unprocessed raw materials with individual products from sophisticated luxury industries.”8

[5] In the nineteenth century, the predilection for everything exotic is also reflected in the furnishing of bourgeois apartments: “The winter garden, integrated into the architecture of a villa, became the high point of exotic interior decoration.”9 A winter garden appears as a microcosm of the distant exotic in your own house. In the decoration of the studio of the Viennese painter Hans Makart, the theatricality of the exotic culminated in a historicist and eclectic collection of palms, ostrich eggs and feathers, into which the paintings with exoticising subjects fitted very well, such as the portraits of Charlotte Wolters as Cleopatra (fig. 3). “The palm, the most obvious symbol and cliché of exotic yearning, became a standard requisite in bourgeois apartments.”10 Life in overseas colonies, above all those of the British Empire, provided material for exotic fantasies.11 In his two paintings of the palm house on the Peacocks' Island (Pfaueninsel) near Potsdam, Karl Blechen boosts the exoticism of the space still further by including reclining odalisques, who lend an additional erotic charge to the natural interior (fig. 4).

3 Hans Makarts Künstlerwerkstatt in Wien, Gußhausstraße 25, 1870, wood engraving by Vinzenz Katzler after a photograph by Josef Löwy (© akg-images)

4 Karl Blechen, The Interior of the Palm House, 1832/33, oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 64 × 56 cm. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (reprod. from: Karentzos, “Bilder des ‘Exotischen′. Gottfried Lindauer im Kontext europäischer Portraitmalerei”, 177)

[6] The palm house is seen as a domesticated jungle, as an artificial paradise, conserving under glass that paradise the colonies destroyed.12 In this way, the nature on display is aestheticised like a work of art. Thus, at the same time, Lindauer's portraiture is naturalized in the Māori pavilion at the 1886 colonial exhibition.

Lindauer's Portraits in the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London

[7] The most interesting portion of the New Zealand collection is, to most visitors, The Maori Court: The whole of the collections, which have been brought together for the purpose of illustrating fully history, arts, manners and customs of the Maori race, are exhibited by Dr. Walter L. Buller, one of the New Zealand Commissioners […]: They comprise a fine series of life-size portraits, in oils, by Herr G. Lindauer, of well-known chiefs and typical Maoris of both sexes, all in characteristic native costume; also a collection of Maori mats, shawls, and robes of every description.13

In his commentary on the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, Frank Cundall, Chief Assistant Secretary to the Royal Commission, describes how Lindauer's portraits were presented in the context of objects from Māori art and everyday life (fig. 5, 6). The portrayals belong to an imposing self-celebration of the British Empire, in which the wealth of the colonies from Cyprus via India as far as New Zealand was meant to be demonstrated, and an opportunity was to be created “not only of giving a stimulus to commercial interests and intercourse, but of strengthening that bond of union between Her Majesty's subjects in all parts of the Empire”, as the Prince of Wales put it in an anticipatory speech.14 Thus the economic, political and ideological framework of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition is described, which is committed to the nineteenth-century faith in technological progress. The art on display is closely intertwined with the global interests of the industrial age.

5 “Colonial & Indian Exhibition, 1886. New Zealand. Maori Tomb, in: Reports on the Colonial Sections of the Exhibition, issued under the supervision of the Council of the Society of Arts, and edited by H.T. Wood, London 1887 (reprod. from: University of Ontago Library, Hocken Collections: https://hockensnapshop.ac.nz/nodes/view/3213, last retrieved 7 Jun 2018)

6 “Colonial & Indian Exhibition, 1886. New Zealand. View of Court Looking S.E.”, in: Reports on the Colonial Sections of the Exhibition, issued under the supervision of the Council of the Society of Arts, and edited by H.T. Wood, London 1887 (reprod. from: University of Ontago Library, Hocken Collections: https://hockensnapshop.ac.nz/nodes/view/3210, last retrieved 7 Jun 2018)

[8] The exhibition attempts as comprehensive a presentation of New Zealand as possible: from collected natural items to the indigenous populace and its cultural objects. In thus reconstructing the apparently original and authentic context of the ‘Other’, the British Empire secures its own civilizational domain in history.15 The objects from Māori culture and, with them, Lindauer's portraits become objects of British erudition and prestige. The paintings are made to function as documentary and authentic depictions of Māori culture.

[9] The historian James Clifford points out that European museal concepts traditionally follow the principle of “culture collecting” when presenting art from outside Europe.16 According to him, they collect objects with the aim of encompassing a culture as fully as possible. In this process, these objects function as trophies of colonialism.

[10] First and foremost, though, Lindauer's paintings are read in the context of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition as ethnographic documents. They are meant to provide insight into the New Zealand ethnicities and cultures threatened with extinction, and to contribute to their reconstruction. That was precisely why Henry Partridge, a businessman and collector resident in New Zealand, commissioned them.17 What is decisive from this perspective, is that in their reception they function as representations of ‘reality’.

Documentary Representations?

[11] Ethnographic depictions claim documentary status. In the anthropological photography of those days, the claim to objectivity culminated in the pretension to depict nothing less than ‘reality’ itself. In the nineteenth century, Lindauer's paintings lent themselves to functioning as ethnographic portraits not only by referencing reality – he accordingly uses photographs as a basis for his paintings18 – and by their richly detailed painting style, but also through his standardised mode of depiction: The majority of the paintings show bust-length portraits in three-quarter view; the background is often in dark brown shadow, in some of them a landscape with a low horizon forms the foil, so that the figure stands out against the dark, cloudy sky (fig. 7, 8).

7 Gottfried Lindauer, Tawhiao Matutaera Potatau Te Wherowhero, 1882, oil on canvas, 88 × 70 cm. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of H E Partridge, 1915, shown at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886 in London (reprod. from: Karentzos, “Bilder des ‘Exotischen′. Gottfried Lindauer im Kontext europäischer Portraitmalerei”, 178)

8 Gottfried Lindauer, Taraia Ngakuti Te Tumuhia, 1874, oil on canvas, 85 × 70 cm. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of H E Partridge, 1915 (reprod. from: Matiu Baker, “Gottfried Lindauer in Berlin – 49 Māori-Portraits und ihre Geschichten”, in: Gottfried Lindauer Die Māori-Portraits, eds. Udo Kittelmann and Britta Schmitz, Cologne 2014, 66-165, here 83)

[12] Ethnographic representations are equally characterised by the plainness of their background and by standardisation. They aim at serialisation and thus claim comprehensive coverage. This machinery produced one new picture after another: in Allan Sekula's words what resulted was tantamount to “a voracious optical encylopedism”,19 purporting to offer comprehensive, universal and systematically ordered knowledge.

[13] Elizabeth Edwards stresses how the production of ethnographic images is intended to “organise” the “Others”: photography is meant to furnish systematic anthropological data for taxonomic analyses.20 Photography serves as the medium for objectification, although it always implies a chosen viewpoint, and does, therefore, from the outset construct the reality it seems to depict in a supposedly neutral manner. A photographic apparatus is a viewing device which determines the gaze. Such focusing of the gaze and of the process of visualization imply a form of control, a domestication of perception. In that process, photography adopts conventions of the centralised perspective.21 As Bernd Busch explains, “seeing become photographic” is “dominance become objectified”.22 Privileging seeing and visibility in scholarly investigation endows the optics of bodily images with the validity of visual evidence.

[14] This tendency towards objectivisation and dominance is already characteristic of photography in its early phase. It had been instituting visual codes for Otherness23 since its inception in the nineteenth century. During that period, journeys of exploration to other countries and cultures had at their disposal new scientific instruments distinguished by their capacity to register images of the Other in extreme detail. What purports to be documentary and scientific registration of foreign cultures does, however, actually produce them in the first place. Photography is not without a spatial dimension, but creates a zone of Otherness, which it defines geopolitically, in effect demarcating it. In this sense, we could re-apply Christine Buci-Glucksmann's phrase of “the cartographic gaze of art”24 to characterise photography.

[15] In the context of colonialism, Lindauer's portraits could be categorised under this ethnographical principle – not just by dint of their documentary character and their seriality, but also – and not least – through the depiction of everyday scenes, which show Māori engaged in crafts, at home or having a moko (tattoo) inscribed (fig. 9).

9 Gottfried Lindauer, The Tohunga-ta-moko at Work, oil on canvas, 188.6 x 233.7 cm. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of H E Partridge, 1915 (reprod. from: Gottfried Lindauer 1839-1926. Pilsen Painter of the New Zealand Māori, eds. Aleš Filip and Roman Musil, exh. cat., Revnice 2015, 259)

These genre scenes apparently offer something ‘typical’ and everyday and hence give the impression of being representative views of the Māori way of life. In addition, the Māori buildings exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition were ‘enlivened’ with costumed wax figures, “[to] give the visitor a very fair idea of the ‘Maori at home’”25 (incidentally the title of one of Lindauer’s genre scenes, which was also exhibited in London; fig. 10).

10 Gottfried Lindauer, The Maori at Home or Harawira Mahakai, 1885, oil on canvas, 267 x 200 cm. Whanganui Regional Museum Collection, shown at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886 in London (reprod. from: Rebecca Rice, “Lindauer’s Māori at Home and Abroad”, in: Gottfried Lindauer Die Māori-Portraits, eds. Udo Kittelmann and Britta Schmitz, Cologne 2014, 186-192, here 188)

[16] It is significant that at this colonial exhibition the Prince of Wales was actually presented with a Lindauer painting, which depicts a smiling Māori woman dancing and is still in the royal collection today (fig. 11).26 Women were symbols denoting the colonised, subjugated land.

11 Gottfried Lindauer, Terewai Horomona, the Maori Poi Dancer, 1886, oil on canvas, 101.6 × 81.28 cm. London, Royal Collection, shown at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886 in London (reprod. from: Karentzos, “Bilder des ‘Exotischen′. Gottfried Lindauer im Kontext europäischer Portraitmalerei”, 179)

[17] To this extent, Lindauer's paintings seem to fit in with colonialist image production. However, unlike ethnographic depictions, the persons in Lindauer's case are usually named; they are not anonymous representatives of their ethnic identity. In addition, the portraits' subjects come across as being very individually represented, as the moko are also rendered in great detail and are not mere ornaments (fig. 12). In this respect, they refute any typification and schematisation.