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Emily Cumming Harris

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Name  Emily Harris

Died  August 5, 1925
Emily Cumming Harris

Emily Cumming Harris (c.1837–5 August 1925) was one of New Zealand's first professional women painters. She chiefly painted New Zealand plants and flowers and worked mainly in water colour. She was born in Plymouth, Devonshire, England on c.1837 but spent most of her life in Nelson, New Zealand.

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Early life

Harris was the daughter of Sarah Hill and her husband Edwin Harris. The Harris family emigrated from England on the "William Bryan", a ship of the Plymouth Company of New Zealand. They reached New Zealand on 31 March 1841. Harris' father was a surveyor as well as a competent artist who supported his daughters efforts in painting. Her mother was a teacher who established a primary school in Taranaki. Harris subsequently became an assistant teacher at that school.

Following the outbreak of the First Taranaki War in March 1860, Harris was sent to Hobart to study while her family moved to Nelson. After spending several years in Australia she returned to Nelson where she joined her sisters in running a small primary school and giving private lessons in music, dancing and drawing. She continued to paint but sales of her work were never sufficient to allow her to give up teaching to concentrate on her art full-time.

Exhibitions

Harris showed her work at exhibitions in New Zealand and overseas. In 1879 she exhibited at the Sydney International Exhibit where she was awarded a first degree of merit. She also exhibited at the 1880 - 1881 Melbourne International Exhibition. In 1885 she sent work to the Auckland Art Student's Exhibition as well as to the New Zealand Industrial Exhibit where she won first prize and a silver medal for a painted screen. She was also awarded third prize for a painted table top. In 1886 she was commended for work at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London and in 1888 -1889 again exhibited in Melbourne at the Centennial International Exhibition. She also organised exhibits of her own work in Nelson, Wellington, New Plymouth and Stratford in 1889 and 1890, and again in New Plymouth in 1899. In 1896 she exhibited at her studio in Nelson.

Published work

Harris published three books, New Zealand Flowers , New Zealand Ferns and New Zealand Berries. These were later published in a single volume, Flowers, ferns and berries of New Zealand. Harris also illustrated a children's book by Sarah Moore called Fairyland in New Zealand published in 1909.

Unpublished work

She completed a book entitled New Zealand Mountain Flowers in the 1890s which was never published. The Alexander Turnball Library purchased the manuscript in London in 1970.

Later life

Harris's professional artistic development and success was constrained by family obligations, straitened finances and the conventions of her time. However, in 1924 the Alexander Turnbull Library purchased 63 of her water colours. She continued to live and paint in the family home at Nile Street, Nelson, until her death aged 88, on 5 August 1925.

References

Emily Cumming Harris Wikipedia


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