Audio description of Rita Angus’s ‘Tree’, 1943

Rita Angus, Tree, 1943, watercolour. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (1998-0028-5)


This watercolour on paper is 28cm wide by 25cm high. It’s part of Te Papa’s art collection.

A lone, leafless tree stands, almost seems to float, in the centre of the painting. Rita sketched for this work in Greymouth, where she was staying alone in the spring of 1943. There was a cherry tree in the front garden.

The tree emerges, just seems to appear, growing up from a featureless beige foreground that takes up the lower third of the work.

The tree’s smooth brown trunk curves a little to the left then realigns as it stretches up in front of low and softly formed, distant blue hills – as if it’s been growing here a while and shaped its growth to something that happened here seasons ago.

Branches extend from the top of the trunk, thinning and forking as they spread across the paper. The delicate yet somehow energetic, stark lines of smaller twigs cascade out and down, the whole forming a shape like a huge, irregular, line-filled umbrella.

Little buds of spring growth stud the criss-crossing lines, all tiny but standing out in silhouette against the pale sky like beads threaded along a string.

Three small, dark birds perch high in the tree, all facing different ways, as if they’re about to hop about or take flight or sing.