Shooting 'The Signing'

The painting mounted on the custom built L frame trolley.Marcus King's The Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi mounted on the custom built L frame trolley. Photo Mark Beatty

Last year, authors Peter Alsop and Warren Feeney launched a publication that examined the work of artist Marcus King. Many New Zealanders will be familiar with one of King’s signature works: The Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The work is held by the Alexander Turnbull Library, and last year was re-photographed. The resulting image was then used in the new book by Alsop and Feeney.

Marcus King (Potton & Burton, 2015) is a lavishly illustrated and comprehensive celebration of the much-loved artist, painter and graphic designer, who did so much to promote New Zealand to the world through the middle years of last century. King’s bright, bold poster designs for the New Zealand Tourism Department delighted New Zealanders and enticed tourists the world over through the middle years of last century, with their striking compositions and exuberant, idealised imagery.

Artist Marcus King standing with a palette in front of his painting. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/4386-FArtist Marcus King standing with a palette in front of his painting, 20 Dec 1958. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/4386-F

Besides his prolific commercial work for the Government, King (1891-1983) also produced more ambitious paintings. One of his most enduringly popular works is The Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (1938). The large painting in oil on canvas, which recreates the scene of the historic signing, was exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939-40, and acquired by the Alexander Turnbull Library from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1990.

The publication of Marcus King required new, high-quality photographs to be made of the work so that it could be shown in its full splendour alongside reproductions of hundreds of other spectacular images by the master.

Thomas McQuillan checking the composition before capture. A number of conservation and imaging staff were involved in order to carefully move and photograph the painting. Photograph Mark BeattyThomas McQuillan checking the composition before capture. A number of conservation and imaging staff were involved in order to carefully move and photograph the painting. Photo Mark Beatty

The photo above by Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, Alexander Turnbull Library, shows photographer Thomas McQuillan checking the composition before capture. The image was shot in the Library’s special collection storage facility. A custom-built L-frame trolley was constructed especially for the shoot, avoiding the need to move the fragile painting into the Library’s lower ground photographic studios. A laser level was used to ensure that the camera was aligned correctly to the painting, and the painting was shot in a number of sections to allow for required resolution, and to avoid shadows caused by the frame. The final image was processed in Adobe Photoshop CS6. The camera used was a Phase 645DF+ with IQ180 Digital back, 120 f/4 Macro lens.


Marcus King and his painting recently featured in the New Zealand Herald where Peter Alsop examined the artist's place in New Zealand culture: Portrait of the Treaty artist .

By Oliver Stead

Oliver is Curator Drawings Paintings & Prints at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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