Audio description of Rita Angus’s ‘Flight’, 1941

Rita Angus, Flight, 1969, oil on hardboard. Purchased 1970 from Wellington City Council Picture Purchase Fund. Te Papa (1970-0012-1)


This oil painting, painted in 1969, would be Rita’s last oil painting. It’s part of Te Papa’s art collection. It’s 61cm wide by 60cm high.

A graveyard monument dove is mid flight above a coastal bay, where tombstones lie seemingly abandoned on the shore on a bright, sunny day. The dark-blue waters are framed by a hilly headland that juts into the ocean, leaving a brief stretch of horizon line on the left, and craggy rocks and a grassy strip in the foreground. A bank of white clouds moves in from the sea towards the highest edge of the headland. To the right, grey smoke billows up from a valley, rising as a twisting column into the sky.

Three small, white fishing boats lie at anchor in the bay, facing out to the sea. The water is so still that sunlight on each casts a light reflection on the water. Another fishing boat chugs in from the open ocean, breaking a line of white caps in its wake, while someone in wet weather gear stands sentinel in the bow.

A few sharp brown rocks break the waters close by shore, outliers from the rocky coastline that takes up about the lower third of the painting. A lone red-billed, red-legged seagull perches on its chosen rock above a small, placid pool to the right.

On the grassy foreshore, there’s a roughly formed pile of tombstones – perhaps 20. Two upright crosses stand amongst them. The others are solid shapes, hewn from concrete and marble, worn and weathered, most rectangles with angled or curved tops. Some stand upright while others lie cast or stacked sideways. None have inscriptions on the sides that face us.

Above the bay, the huge stone dove holds steady in the air, its beak to our left, its head against the clouds, its large feet angled forward as if to land. The dove is in flight, wings spread, but there’s a sense of heaviness about it. It’s coloured like the grey gravestones, as if it too has been wrenched from a cemetery. Its beak holds the stalk of a wide, drooping piece of foliage, or perhaps a drift of fabric, also sculpted in solid stone.