This article first appeared as 'Stormy weather' in The Press on 26 April 2013.
Often described in his day as the doyen of Canterbury painters John Gibb (1831-1909) was one of the first professional painters to settle in Christchurch, establish a studio and make a living from painting. A Scottish immigrant arriving in Christchurch in 1876, he positively thrived becoming a central figure in the city's art scene.
Gibb visited the Otira region at least twice in 1877 and 1885, and studies he made on these trips provided source material for his Otira paintings throughout his career. Flood in the Otira Gorge depicts the mighty Otira River in full flood, the white turbulent water contrasting strongly with the darkened forests covering the steep mountain sides and storm clouds above. Here Gibb has captured the Otira in the midst of a storm, that moment when the Gorge becomes a consumed by the incessant white-noise roar of torrents of water crashing down stream beds and waterfalls to the valley floor below. A mountain peak pushing its way through the storm clouds hints at the breathtaking scale of this landscape. But perhaps the small Cobb and Co coach making its way up the gorge road straight into the storm, the human element utterly consumed by the sheer scale of the mountains and flooded river, better illustrates the grandeur of this landscape.
Painted in 1895 Flood in the Otira Gorge remains one of Gibb's most moody paintings. The landscape is dark, threatening and gloom prevails. Parallels can be drawn with Petrus van der Velden's (1837-1913) famous paintings of the Otira region from the early 1890s. Both feature subdued, darkened palettes and convey the artist's sense of awe in the monumentality of nature. Former senior curator at the Christchurch Art Gallery, Neil Roberts, noted that the arrival of van der Velden in Christchurch in 1890 must have unsettled Gibb's position as the most senior artist in Canterbury at the time, but apparently the two got on well and van der Velden enjoyed visiting Gibb's studio.
Flood in Otira Gorge was first exhibited at the Canterbury Society of Arts in 1895 and was bequeathed to the Christchurch Art Gallery by Betsy Pearce in 2005.