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.

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