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"That most detestable picture": the Reception of G. F. Watts’s The Spirit of Christianity in Australasia


  • Dr. Rebecca Rice Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa


G. F. Watts, International Exhibitions, Art History, exhibition history, art criticism


George Frederick Watts’s Dedicated to all the Churches (1875), which became better known as The Spirit of Christianity, was possibly the most discussed picture shown at the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition held in Dunedin in 1889-90. In contrast, its appearance at Melbourne’s Centennial International Exhibition (1888-90) passed with barely a comment. This paper contrasts the reception of the painting in these contexts as part of a broader investigation of the expectation that this and other British paintings that were toured to Australasia for international exhibitions would play a significant role in the education and civilisation of exhibition visitors. In particular, it considers the role of “colonial taste,” and what the reception of Watts’s painting might tell us about the understanding of “High Art” by the “enlightened” versus the “common” colonist.

Author Biography

Dr. Rebecca Rice, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa


Dr. Rebecca Rice is Curator Historical Art at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. She specialises in the field of colonial New Zealand Art, with a focus on histories and networks of collecting and display. Rebecca has curated several exhibitions at Te Papa, including Rā Maumahara | New Zealand Wars with Matiu Baker (2017), Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality (2018) and Tamatea: Legacies of Encounter with Megan Tamati-Quennell (2019). Recent publications include: “From Aide-memoire to Public Memorial: The ‘Gordon Collection’ of Photographic Portraits Relating to the New Zealand Wars,” New Zealand Journal of History, 2018; “‘My dear Hooker’: the botanical landscape in colonial New Zealand,” Museum History Journal, 2020, and, with Matariki Williams, Ngā Tai Whakarongorua Encounters, Te Papa Press, 2021. Her current research focuses on nineteenth-century female botanical artists, the visual culture of the New Zealand Wars, and the impact of impressionism on New Zealand artists at home and abroad.


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G. F. Watts. The Spirit of Christianity. 1872-75.  Oil on canvas, 27.3 x 15.24 cm. Tate Britain, London.







PreRaphaelitism in Australasia Special Issue