Thursday 3 February 2011

Are the Terraces destroyed?

Charles Blomfield’s question ‘Are the Terraces Destroyed?’, which he posed around a sketch showing the devastation caused by the eruption of Mt Tarawera, can finally be answered.

A team of scientists led by GNS Science have discovered remnants of the Pink Terraces submerged in Lake Rotomahana. For details of this fascinating find, see yesterday's newspaper and television reports.

The eruption of Mt Tarawera in June 1886 was one of this country's most deadly natural disasters (second only to the Napier earthquake). It utterly transformed the landscape near Rotorua. A big question for many was – ‘Are the Terraces destroyed?’ Newspaper reporters and artists were dispatched from Auckland to discover the answer. The Pink and White Terraces had become world famous landmarks and there was a burgeoning tourist industry around them.

Charles Blomfield is famed for his depictions of the Pink and White Terraces, which he painted throughout his career. He visited the site of the eruption four months after the event, making drawings and paintings of the destruction, which he worked up on his return to Auckland. The oil sketch (illustrated at top), looking towards the still smoking volcano, records the ‘mud-covered hills’ over which he tramped.

His shock at what he saw is palpable. In a letter to his wife, in which he reassures her he is in no danger, he writes the ‘Scenes you must see to understand, for surely never before was there anything like this except perhaps in the Moon.’

Charles Blomfield
The mud covered country
oil on paper on card
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from a private collection

Charles Blomfield
Pink Terrace, Rotomahana
oil on canvas
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Sir Henry Brett, 1894

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