Painter found happiness in Titahi Bay
William George Baker may have been familiar with the ‘‘ pitiful plight’’ of his dejected subject.
Untrained as an artist, Baker nevertheless became one of the most prolific landscape painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – his widespread popularity due in part because he travelled up and down the country selling his work at fairs, in bars, and in exchange for accommodation.
It must be supposed, however, that if any hotelier didn’t have an appreciative eye for a rendition in oils, Baker would find himself homeless for the night.
His way of life as an itinerant of New Zealand’s back roads ended at Titahi Bay, where he stayed for 30 years, until his death in 1929.
When he made this sketch, in the early 1920s, the bay was being promoted as an idyllic place to spend a holiday, or to stay while doing business in Wellington.
Accommodation was in demand, most of it catered for by the imposing Titahi Bay Club Hotel – which later became known as a place to procure illicit grog, and which is now demolished.
Baker’s sketch is prophetic of the housing shortage that affected Titahi Bay in the 1940s.
It led to 500 ready-cut state houses being assembled by a large party of Austrians brought in for the job.
Many of them, like Baker, liked the place enough to stay.