City Gallery

Past exhibition

Peter McIntyre’s War

22 July–19 September 1995

PARTNER Archives New Zealand OTHER VENUE Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton, 9 December 1995–March 1996 SPONSOR Ministry of Defence

Fifty years ago, New Zealand painter Peter McIntyre was on the ground, recording his experience of World War II.

McIntyre trains at London's Slade School of Art from 1931 to 1934. A few years later, Britain is at war with Germany. McIntyre volunteers to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force supporting the British Armies in Cairo. Taking his paints and paper, he joins the 150-strong New Zealand 34th Anti-Tank Battery. In 1940, Major General Freyberg appoints him official war artist for the New Zealand Division in Crete, North Africa, and Italy. He follows one division through the War.

In McIntyre’s own words, his job is to provide an ‘intimate impression of the drama, the colour, the humour, and the tragedy of war’. Scenes of calm and rest, strategising and anticipation, are given as much weight as moments in the fray. The works feature changing territories: the North African desert, Mediterranean port towns, and mountainous scrub. Destruction is ever-present. In Air Raid at Monte Cassino (1944), black smoke billows over three-quarters of the composition, dwarfing the shells of buildings below. In Into Cassino (1944), a figure scrambles over the rubble, another staggers, exposed, as something explodes vividly before him. McIntyre accurately recreates the lurid hellishness of war.

McIntyre’s work serves as an historical record. His paintings of Crete—where over 7,000 New Zealand soldiers are involved in fighting the German invasion—is particularly valuable, as no official photographers accompany the Allied forces. McIntyre also captures hundreds of faces, from privates to generals. His portrait of Freyberg is one of the leader’s most famous, while Two New Zealand Tuis (1944) depicts members of the New Zealand Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (known as ‘Tuis’). Some veterans still treasure the pencil portraits of them McIntyre made for an Egyptian pound apiece, apparently to pay for his mess bill.

During the war, McIntyre’s work is exhibited in Alexandria, Suez, Rome, Florence, Trieste, London, and, finally, New Zealand. After the war, he returns to New Zealand and establishes a reputation as a portraitist and a landscape artist, publishing several best-selling books. He gets an OBE in 1970.

In the show, photos, magazines and books, medals and McIntyre’s old service jacket are displayed in vitrines and a New Zealand flag is hung. As well as showcasing McIntyre's work, the show commemorates those who fought and died, and those who contributed to the war effort at home and lost family.

Sadly, on 11 September 1995, eight days before the Wellington show closes, McIntyre himself passes away, after a long illness, aged eighty-five. His Dominion Post obituary declares, ‘It is McIntyre the man that friends remember most, but to thousands of New Zealanders, old soldiers especially, he is remembered as the artist who committed them and their mates to canvas during World War II.’