John Gully ( 1819 - 1888)

Gully was a New Zealand painter born in Bath. He was largely self-taught. Gully emigrated to New Zealand with his wife and three children in 1852. Gully originally settled on a small block of land in Omata, Taranaki, working in various jobs including farming and clerical work. During this time he advertised as a painter of ‘views’ of properties to send back to England. He eventually ended up bankrupt and so took some art pupils. In 1860 driven out by the land wars of Taranaki Gully moved with his family to Nelson.

He was appointed part-time art master at Nelson College, though because he was self-taught and not schooled in the classical style, he was not popular with the principal. In 1863 Gully got a full-time job, with the assistance of his friend, politician and amateur painter James Crowe Richmond, as a draughtsman at the Department of Lands and Survey. Gully and Richmond painted landscapes together at Milford Sound, Lake Manapouri, and other locations. In the same year he successfully applied to illustrate a paper that was to be presented to the Royal Geographical Society by the famous explorer and geologist Julius von Haast. Haast had reservations about Gully’s skill, but both the paper and Gully’s twelve illustrations of lakes, mountains and glaciers in the South Island were a great success and established Gully’s reputation.

In 1871 a work of Gully’s, Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, West Coast of New Zealand, was included in the British Royal Academy’s summer exhibition. Gully saw acceptance by this group as the high point of his career. This was a considerable achievement for a self-taught artist from the colonies. Gully had thought that success in England would confirm his ability and was particularly anxious to sell his work on the English market. ‘I shall no doubt find out whether I can paint or not, for [England’s] the place to take it out of a fellow if he has any conceit’.

In 1878 Gully retired from his job as a draughtsman and turned to painting full-time. He continued to paint and exhibit, his last big exhibition being the Wellington Industrial Exhibition in 1885.

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