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Portrait of a painter

A stunning new portrait of New Zealand artist Grace Joel has been unveiled at the Auckland retirement village named after her.

Renowned painter Craig Primrose QSM revealed his vision of the artist with the help of Ryman Healthcare’s chief executive Gordon MacLeod at a special presentation yesterday.

Residents of Grace Joel retirement village and representatives from Auckland East Arts Council gathered to see the new painting unveiled, accompanied by the sounds of harpist Robyn Allen-Goudge.

In his address, Gordon said naming the village after Grace Joel, one of six female artists that Ryman has named villages after, reflected the company’s continued support of the arts.

“Naming our village after her was one way of honouring her artistic legacy and keeping it alive for the generations to follow, which is something that Ryman Healthcare values highly.

“Given that she was one of the earliest New Zealand woman painters to gain an international reputation we think she deserves to be a household name,” he said.

Describing the artist, who died in 1924, Gordon said the ‘rich quiet tones’ used in her paintings were ‘reminiscent of the Old Masters’.

She was renowned for her fine portraits and a common focus of her work was on the human figure, especially mother and child studies which she described as ‘the most beautiful subject in the world’.

Gordon explained that the village became intrinsically linked to Grace Joel as her nephew, Hartley Joel, was one of the original residents to move in when it opened in 2002.

Art had become a huge focus at the village - in conjunction with the Auckland East Arts Council the village hosts an annual Art Showcase every Mother’s Day weekend, featuring some of the best New Zealand artists and acclaimed speakers from the art world.

The event has grown to become a huge highlight of the village calendar and had inspired other Ryman villages to put on similar events.

The unveiling is the third in a series of paintings Ryman has commissioned Craig to produce of all its village namesakes.

His portraits of Bruce McLaren and Sir Edmund Hillary were unveiled last year at the Howick and Remuera villages named after them.

When he took to the stage, Craig acknowledged the challenges he faced with this project, including painting a portrait of someone renowned for painting portraits herself!

“Grace Joel was a very private person and there weren’t many photographs of her in existence so that was a challenge, but I like a challenge!” he said.

“Being an artist one cannot afford to be intimidated by the subject even if the subject is a very renowned artist.

“Our job is to break the painting down into sections and then start. Eventually the painting evolves and is completed, however at times I am still puzzled as to how I got there.”

He added: “Her style was very refreshing and spontaneous and she did many wonderful still lifes of flowers which is why I have incorporated a mass of colourful flowers around the portrait.”

The aspect of the painting he was most proud of was the resounding self-assurance in her face yet still depicting poise, he said.

The afternoon then turned into an impromptu Q & A session with one resident asking how long the painting had taken.

Craig’s response? “A lifetime. It’s taken a lifetime of work to get to this point,” he said.

“Each painting I have undertaken for Ryman has been so different and it is an incredible buzz for me that they are. I am very privileged to be painting these exceptional New Zealanders for Ryman Healthcare.

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