Two Wellington Entrepreneurs of the 'Thirties

The Murray Fullers II
Edwin Murray Fuller


When he died in 1933, Edwin Murray Fuller was said to have had 'a will to succeed as an art dealer, or distributor of art, a title more in keeping with his temperament'. The same could certainly be said of his wife Mary. For a quarter of a century, from 1920 to 1945, these two were key figures in the artistic life of Wellington.

Murray Fuller established one of the first galleries in New Zealand dealing in local art.1 The Murray Fullers together brought six exhibitions, of the order of two thousand works, of 'contemporary' British art to this country. Exhibitions in 1928,1930 and 1932 were credited to Murray Fuller. Mrs Fuller organised exhibitions in 1935, 1936 and 1940. Associated with these pursuits, both were, at different times, on the Council of The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington; with Mrs Fuller on the Committee of Management of the National Art Gallery.

Edwin Murray Fuller
(New Zealand Railways Magazine, 1938)

The Murray Fullers sought to educate New Zealand artists and art audiences by offering the work of 'eminent' artists, albeit academic, from 'Home'. Like others they felt that a national artistic style and appreciation would only develop in the desired way if artists here and the hoped for growing number of patrons came into contact with the work of British or European trained artists.

Born in Wellington in 1892, Murray Fuller was educated at Mount Cook School and the Wellington Technical School of Art.2 Murray Fuller's lifetime association with the Academy started in 1908, with an entry in the annual exhibition competition of a design for a catalogue cover. His name also appeared in the 1909 competitions (as did the name of his future wife Mary Hamilton - three years his elder); and in 1910, with later friends Nelson Isaacs (a future head of the School of Art and Academy Council member) and W.S. Wauchop, (a future vice-president and president of the Academy).

As early as 1912, the dominance of the Academy in setting artistic tastes in the Capital did not pass without objection. 140 works rejected for that year's Annual Exhibition were displayed in a kind of Salon des Refuses at the McGregor Wright Gallery. Writing in 1960, E.C. Simpson could still complain: Great emphasis is placed in New Zealand on the work of amateurs, who, by exhibiting their works, thereby gain social prestige . . . Too much judgment of works of art is based on the social standing of the artist, rather than on the merit of the work .3

Self Portrait 1913
oil on canvas 595 x 595 mm.
(collection of The
National Art Gallery, Wellington)

After leaving the Technical School, Murray Fuller worked as an artist first for John Ilott and then Charles Haines, advertising agents. Edwin Murray Fuller, 'Commercial Artist', and Mary Hamilton were married at the Wellington Registrar's Office on 19 March, 1913. During the First World War, Murray Fuller served in France, rising to the rank of sergeant. On 23 May, 1919, the Academy held a special evening for five returned soldier artists: Nugent Welch, Archibald F. Nicoll, Esmond Atkindon, E. Murray Fuller and W.H. Carter, Jnr.

The previous year, four of Murray Fuller's works appeared in the Academy annual exhibition and, thereafter, in subsequent years. His medium seems always to have been watercolour with titles evocative of exotic places - Cape Town, Paignton and Armentieres, and later Venice and Zanzibar; his other subjects, starting with the 1918 exhibition, were often urban, a relatively modern area of interest. The 1920 annual exhibition catalogue illustrated one of his watercolours in that year's exhibition, Featherston Street (Wellington). He was said to be 'out after truth all the time', a catch phrase much used when an artist's efforts were felt to be directed correctly.

Murray Fuller was first listed as an artist member of the Academy for the 1918 - 19 membership year, and then for every year until his death. In August 1920, he was elected to the Council of the Academy and retained this position of influence until August 1926, when he nominated W.S. Wauchop for a Council position. (Mary Fuller became a subscribing member of the Academy in 1920 but she did not achieve direct political power within the Academy until she became a member of the Academy Council after her husband's death.)

In 1920 Murray Fuller established his gallery dealing in New Zealand art. An announcement for the gallery appeared in the 1920 Academy annual exhibition catalogue, opposite the illustration of Featherston Street.
At the request of a number of Art patrons and others interested in New Zealand Art, I have arranged to conduct a permanent exhibition of original pictures by New Zealand Artists, at the rooms I am opening in The McDonald Building (now nearing completion), next Albert Hotel, Willis Street.

The artists he was to represent were then listed. A virtually identical list appeared in an advertisement in The New Zealand Times of 30 October, 1920:
Mr Fuller has been appointed representative for such notable artists as Archibald F. Nicoll, S.S.A., H. Linley Richardson, R.B.A., Nugent Welch, F. McCracken, W. Robert Johnson, John Weeks, T.A. McCracken, Miss D.K. Richmond, Miss Flora Scales: also for the sculpture of Joseph Ellis.

The Murray Fuller Gallery changed its address four times in five years. By September 1921, it had moved from Willis Street to Vickers House at the corner of Woodward Street and The Terrace'(Entrance opposite Wellington Club)'. Under the heading 'Start of a New Zealand school', The New Zealand Times of 1 December, 1921, claimed that New Zealand artists had 'found a focus in the permanent gallery of New Zealand art, maintained in Wellington, by Mr. E. Murray Fuller, whose enthusiasm is doing good service for "the cause".' An advertisement for the gallery, appearing in the Academy annual exhibition catalogue, urged the 'purchasing of New Zealand Artists' work's as 'a wise policy, as evidenced by prices obtained now at Exhibitions compared with the value of pictures purchased quite recently'. In September 1922, the address was 190 Lambton Quay, '(Exactly opposite Midland Hotel)'. The business, in 1923, had expanded to include 'England's most prominent exhibitors. Among the watercolours to arrive shortly are ten by S.J. Lamorna Birch, R.W.S., who has an international reputation'. Between late 1923 and September 1924, the gallery moved to 236 Lambton Quay and was still there in September 1925.

Lecturing on 'Art in New Zealand', at the Trades Hall under the auspices of the Workers' Educational Association, in October 1921, Murray Fuller observed:
New Zealand started with a vigorous culture of a high standard and sound British tradition, but its people must not blind themselves to the danger inherent in this initial advantage. It was often more difficult for the people of a colony with a highly developed imported culture to evolve an adequate expression of the spirit of the new life than for such as had strong primitive forms on which to build.

Individual contributions by Van der Velden and Nairn had meant that this country's artists were not as far behind the desired goal as they might have been. Nairn had been a ' "Messiah of art" . . . who brought all the great traditions of Europe first-hand to the Dominion.' The key, it was seen, was experience of European (in fact British) artistic practice.

In an interview in 1922 with The New Zealand Times, Nelson Isaacs, a La Trobe scheme recruit, stated that as secretary of several Royal College of Art societies he had had the good fortune to meet distinguished artists such as Sir William Orpen, Augustus John, Muirhead Bone, Eric Kennington, George Clausen, Francis Dodd and William Rothenstein, who had said that they would willingly lend 'drawings' for exhibit in New Zealand: 'all had evinced warm and keen interest in this, the most English of the British Dominions'. This basic analysis of the means to establish a national aesthetic did not quickly change, and in a 1932 speech: 'Mr Isaac emphasised the necessity for art continually to reassert a sense of the past in order to preserve a sense of proportion'.

W.S. Wauchop, in his Reminiscences, delivered to the Academy on the occasion of his retirement in 1964, recalled that after he came to live in Wellington in 1924 the Murray Fullers were quick to include him in the local art scene. Social functions were given for W. Menzies Gibb, Sydney Thompson and 'Archie' Nicoll and at the homes of Nugent Welsh and Nelson Isaacs. 'We all threw parties for Christopher Perkins, when he came from London to join the staff of the Technical College School of Art.' Charades were popular; and when fund raising for the National Gallery was a priority and evenings and fancy-dress dances were held in the Whitmore Street gallery, 'prominent among the organisers [were] Mr and Mrs Murray Fuller'.

The Murray Fullers travelled to Australia, England and the Continent, starting in late 1926 or 1927, for the express purpose of gathering works of art for exhibition in New Zealand. E.H. McCormick in The Expatriate records that a dealer, '(presumably Mr Murray Fuller)', called on Frances Hodgkins in Concarneau and took five drawings for possible sale in Australia.4 Two of her watercolours, Ebbing Tide, Concameau and From a French Window were offered at 25 guineas each in the 1928 E. Murray Fuller exhibition.

In 1928, 1930, 1932 and 1935, E. Murray Fuller exhibitions of 'contemporary' British art were shown in the Academy's Whitmore Street gallery. Intended as, mini-Royal Academies, they were educative in purpose, the correct grounding in art appreciation being exposure to the best work from 'Home' as dictated by the arbiter of fashionable taste, the Royal Academy. The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington had stated its position in the 1918 Annual Exhibition catalogue:
It is not yet sufficiently recognised by our modern educationalists that works of art have a powerful effect in instruction of almost any kind.
Art, in fact, is the right way of doing things and the evidence thereof is Beauty.

The Academy had suggested the frame within which the viewer should approach a work of art, so that the twin academic ideals of moral purpose or educational value and beauty should be apprehended.

By the time of the E. Murray Fuller exhibitions, the exponents of impressionism in England, broadly represented by the New English Art Club (NEAC), now numbered among the ranks of the Royal Academy. The process which has been aptly called 'the domestication of French Impressionism without prejudice to the native tradition' had long since been completed.5 Artists whose names were associated with the NEAC for some part of their careers first appeared in the 1932 Murray Fuller exhibition. Some were there as much or more for their R.A. membership - Richard Sickert (also a member of the London Group), Sir George Clausen, Augustus John, Philip Connard. Sir William Orpen first appeared in the 1930 exhibition. The 1932 exhibition did, however, include NEAC members such as P. Wilson Steer, Ethel Walker, Beatrice Bland, Sir CJ.. Holmes, Charles Cundall and Muirhead Bone. In his Prefactory Notice to the 1932 catalogue, A.D. Carbery explained: Searching and revealing drawing was the vital impulse of the new schools, so that the skill of the English artists in the graphic use of line became everywhere acclaimed.

The Baby's Bath 1910-11
black and coloured chalks
on grey paper, 1068 x 938 mm.
(Collection of the
National Gallery)

The London Group, formed in 1913 from a number of groups dissatisfied with the increasingly academic outlook of the NEAC, had itself by 1932 sufficient respectability to be mentioned by Carbery in his introduction, and three members, Henry Lamb, Mark Gertler and C. R.W. Nevison, had work included in the exhibition.6

The Murray Fuller exhibitions were described as an 'unimpeachable source' from which to purchase works of art, and were compared in this respect to the exhibition of British art brought out to New Zealand in 1912 by John Baillie, in consultation with George Clausen, R.A. The 'eminent' artists included in the Baillie exhibition were cited in the 1938 Academy 50th annual exhibition catalogue:
These included paintings by such eminent artists as E.A. Walton, Glynn Philpot, Sir George Clausen, G. Houston, Arthur Kynaston, Frank Craig, Sir Herbert Hughes Stanton, Oliver Hall, Charles Simms, Wilson Steer, O.M., Terrick Williams, Oswald Birley, Bertram Priestman, Harold Knight, Frank Brangwyn and others.

Of the fifteen names listed from the 1912 exhibition, eight appeared in Murray Fuller exhibitions.

All four Murray Fuller exhibitions included 'Original Paintings in Oil and Water Colour, also Etchings by Britain's most eminent painters and etchers'. The emphasis on etchings does seem to reflect a personal Murray Fuller enthusiasm. It could also have arisen from the new wave of interest in prints that had taken place with the increase of a monied middle-class during the 'twenties .7 Murray Fuller seemed to have understood and been able to capitalize on such market forces. His abilities in this respect led the Academy, as 'an experiment', to ask him to 'take charge of sales at the Annual Exhibition. Sales rose by over fifty percent thanks to his excellent salesmanship'.

The 1928 exhibition of 240 works was seen in Wellington from the 13th to the 26th April and then in Christchurch.8 In his Foreword, A.D. Carbery, vicepresident of the Academy, focused on Murray Fuller's personal contact with the artists involved, an often repeated aspect of the Murray Fuller exhibitions: Mr Murray Fuller is to be commended for his enterprise and success in persuading these famous painters to part with their treasures for our edification. Among them are three New Zealanders: Sydney Thompson, Eleanor Hughes, and Frances Hodgkins.

While guidance from 'Home', through the work on display, would lead, thought Carbery, to a 'betterment in our standards of taste', W.H. Alien asked art societies to purchase modern work 'instead of confining their patronage abroad to the efforts of the "safer" and older academicians', and Christopher Perkins had noted, when reviewing the 1930 Academy Annual Exhibition: 'The vice-president's alternative use of the terms Academic and Victorian' showing 'that the Academic person is, or wishes to be thought, old-fashioned'.

The Haymakers 1903
oli on canvas, 770 x 643 mm.
(collection of the
National Gallery Wellington)

From the 1928 exhibition, the Academy acquired Arnesby Brown's Autumn, an oil (250 guineas); Harold Speed's May Morning, an oil (175 guineas) and, although not listed in the catalogue, W. Lee Hankey's The Right of Way, a watercolour, would have been obtained from the E. Murray Fuller exhibition.

The second Exhibition of 199 works of 'Contemporary British Art' opened on 7 February, 1930. Murray Fuller is acclaimed:
it is not going too far to say that the promotor, in bringing it here, has conferred a distinct boon on the artists and the art-loving public of the Dominion.

An Orpen drawing The Breeze (65 guineas) was presented to the Academy, who purchased Silver and Blue, Pas de Calais, an oil, by Algernon Talmage, R.A. (250 guineas).

Two works listed in the 1930 catalogue were 'Not for Sale', both by 'The Late H.H. La Thangue, R.A. (Recovered from the wreck of the S.S. "Manuka")'. This referred to the loss of a 'Murray Fuller Collection', valued according to one source at £80,000 and at £25,000 in another source; and it accounts for Mrs Fuller's claim in 1941 that the Murray Fullers had brought seven and not the six exhibitions discussed to New Zealand.

Undeterred by the disaster, the 1932 show, taking two and a half years to collect ' was Murray Fuller's most successful. The accolades were impressive. Opening the exhibition at the Academy gallery on 26 February, 1932:
His Excellency the Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe, expressed the belief that there was a real yearning on the part of the more educated section of the New Zealand public to be brought more in touch with the higher forms of pictorial art. His Excellency said that if he had any doubts as to the justification of his opening the exhibition - and he had none - they would have been removed in the first place by a communication he had received from Sir William Llewellyn, president of the Royal Academy, expressing the earnest hope that he would support in every way possible Mr Murray Fuller's enterprise. He had received, also, a similar letter from Sir Herbert Hughes Stanton, president of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colour.

Apres le Bain, Dieppe 1929
oil on canvas

After discussing aspects of the exhibition raised by Carbery in his Prefatory Notice, referred to earlier, he claimed that:
Mr Murray Fuller had organised successfully, probably more than any other man of British race, exhibitions in various parts of the Empire in order to draw attention to the merits of modern British pictorial art; and in somewhat depressed times he had now enriched Wellington with works by outstanding British artists.

It was also observed that Mr Murray Fuller had been a close friend of the late Sir William Orpen and the inclusion of three works by Orpen sent at the express wish of the artist on the eve of his death was repeatedly referred to as a stamp of excellence on the exhibition. One of these, Apres le Bain, Dieppe (700 guineas) was said to have been the final self-portrait by the artist. The Academy purchased Silver Sea, Irish Coast, an oil by Julius Olsson (65 guineas).

The local press in an item from London noted:
George Lambert, Charles Bryant, Sickert, Bycameron (sic D.Y. Cameron), Steer, Connard, John, Annesby-Brown (sic), Brangwyn, Clausen, Dod Froncton, McBey and Russell Flint are among others charmingly representing British academic art.

After Wellington, the exhibition opened in Dunedin on 15 April, 1932, where the Orpen self-portrait was purchased for the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. It opened in Christchurch on 17 May, 1932 and it was intended that the exhibition then be toured in Australia.

Before leaving Wellington, Murray Fuller had treated a luncheon audience at the Wellington Rotary Club to anecdotes about 'eminent British painters' he personally had known:
The best place and atmosphere in which to meet painters is undoubtedly at the Art Club, Dover Street, or the Chelsea Art Club ... on a Saturday night, one will meet practically every member of the Royal Academy ... Sir William Orpen, with his happy and boy like nature made the club rooms rock with laughter.

Other names mentioned were Harold and Dame Laura Knight, Arnesby Brown, Julius Olsson, S.J. Lamorna Birch and W.E. Webster.

Discussing the exhibition in Christchurch with a reporter, Murray Fuller said:
Artists in the Dominion were doing excellent work to-day, and Mr Fuller was sure that they would develop a characteristic school in the future. It was, however, really necessary for painters in the new world to see something of what was being done in Europe and to make somestuclyof modern tendenciesand modern works.

Murray Fuller went on to report on a conversation he had had with Augustus John before leaving England. John felt that Norman Lindsay, the Australian artist, 'would have shown better draughtsmanship if he had had a European training'. Of what he called the 'ultra-modern school', Murray Fuller said that they were 'exciting attention' and the Royal Academy were hanging 'some very modern pictures', although they were being hung separately. 'It was likely, said Mr Fuller, that the modernists of today would not be considered in the least extreme by the coming generation'.

Market Place in Zanzibar 1931
watercolour, 254 x 292 mm.
(collection of The
National Gallery)

E. Murray Fuller died on 25 February, 1933, aged 41. In his memory, the Academy purchased a watercolour, Market Place in Zanzibar, 1931, at its Autumn Exhibition. The work had been 'hung on the line at the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Water Colours in London'. On 7 March, a well-attended funeral service was held in Saint Paul's Cathedral, Wellington. The pall-bearers were Nelson Isaacs, W.S. Wauchop and Nugent Welch. In 'An Appreciation', published in the Dominion on 28 February, 1933, 'By Brother Artists', his friends described Murray Fuller as:
one whose ambition it was to make known to the Dominion the best work of modern British painters ... as a boy he formed a romantic desire to visit Zanzibar, as a man he wished to emulate John Baillie, . . . he conducted exhibitions of living art in Liverpool, (Manchester), Cape Town, Johannesburg, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne and the four centres of New Zealand.

But for fate, he would have, they said:
realised his ambition and become an art dealer with an international reputation. To realise this aim requires courage, determination, and above all a love cleansed of all merely mercenary implications - Murray Fuller had these qualities. He also had a gift for friendship, a modesty, a transparent honesty, and a personal attractiveness that made him dear to all those who knew him. He gained the confidence of British artists of high repute, who welcomed his visits to London, and the friendship and the aid of the late Sir William Orpen, whose last self-portrait he brought to New Zealand.

1. Gordon H. Brown, New Zealand Painting 1920-1940, Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand, Wellington, 1975, p.29
2. The Technical College does not have student lists for this period. However, H. Linley Richardson, already known as an illustrator, joined the School of Art in 1908. R. Herdman-Smith was at the School from 1902-6. An etcher, he could have initiated Murray Fuller's interest in etchings.
3. E.C. Simpson, A Survey of The Arts in New Zealand, The Wellington Chamber Music Society, 1960, p.39, para. 89.
4. E.H. McCormick, The Expatriate, New Zealand University Press, Wellington, 1954, p.211.
5. Herbert Read, Contemporary British Art, Pelican, London, 1951, p.14 (quoting Charles Marriott, Modern Movements in Painting, London, 1920).
6. Sir John Rothenstein, British Painting since 1900, Phaidon Press, London, 1962.
7. Riva Castleman, Prints of the Twentieth Century: A History, Thames and Hudson, London, 1976, p.92.
8. The 'Art Notes' and 'Notes from the Centres' in Art in New Zealand occasionally record Murray Fuller exhibitions in centres other than Wellington. It seems certain that each exhibition toured to at least Christchurch and Dunedin and the public galleries in these centres and Wanganui include work brought to New Zealand by the Murray Fullers. The provenance of most work purchased from Murray Fuller exhibitions is from the particular exhibition to the artist.

I would like to acknowledge with thanks the following assistance and sources used in preparing this essay:
The staff and facilities of the National Art Gallery, Wellington, Cordon H. Brown, Art in New Zealand, The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts annual reports and annual exhibition catalogues, E. Murray Fuller exhibition catalogues, The Alexander Turnbull Library and the Evening Post files.

-A. C.