Leonard Bell (University of Aukland), ‘Synthesising Maori and Jugendstil ornamental motifs in early C2Oth New Zealand: towards a ‘universal language of form’ and a nationally distinctive settler-colonial design’

Henry van de Velde posited the notion of fundamental ornamental motifs (spiralling and curvilinear) upon which all art and design should be based, if an allegedly essential unity of body and spirit was to be ‘embodied’. In turn-of-the-century, colonial New Zealand several leading European or Pakeha artists and students of, and writers about, Maori art drew parallels between elements from Art Nouveau/Jugendstil art and design and Maori art and ornament, in relation to beliefs in both commonalities of visual form among European and Polynesian cultures and the desirability of a distinctive culture emerging in New Zealand as a result of an ‘amalgamation’ of Maori and Pakeha (settler colonial Europeans). Artist and Director of the Colonial (later National) Museum, Augustus Hamilton’s Maori Art (1901) testifies to this, while his close friend, Willhem Dittmer, married Maori and Jugendstil curvilinearities in his pictures in Te Tohunga:The Ancient Traditions and Legends of the Maori (1907). In his New Zealand: The Land and its People (1912), Max Herz characterised the koru or ‘coil’ motif’ of Maori art as a primal form, found all over the world, that attested to fundamental origins, the beginnings of cultures. Dittmer and Herz came from Germany.  It is tempting to link their practices and views to Alois Riegl’s promotion of Maori art as the product of sophisticated artistic consciousness and his ‘obsession with spirally structured ornament’, articulated in Stilfragen (1893), as well as his little-known essay, ‘Neuseelandische Ornamentik’ (Vienna, 1890). This paper explored the various intersections.

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