Portrait recalls grandmother

18:09, Dec 17 2012
Mieke Hilhorst
Likeness: Artist Mieke Hilhorst’s winning portrait Douwe 1929 – 2009 (Josepha Hilhorst) is one of the paintings from the 2012 Adam Portraiture Award and Exhibition showing at the Millennium Art Gallery in Blenheim.

Eyes sparkle from a portrait of Blenheim grandmother Josepha Hilhorst, included in a new exhibition at the Millennium Art Gallery in Blenheim.

Douwe 1929 - 2009 (Josepha Hilhorst) was painted by her grand-daughter, Blenheim artist Mieke Hilhorst, and won the People's Choice Award in the biennial 2012 Adam Portraiture Award and Exhibition in Wellington. Douwe and other portraits from the exhibition can be seen for the next few weeks at the Millennium Art Gallery in Blenheim.

Gallery director Cressida Bishop describes the show as a fascinating mixture of New Zealand characters, both old and young, famous and family, serious and entertaining.

"It's also a great exhibition for studying the many techniques and styles that can be employed in portraiture. It may even inspire viewers to have a go."

Hilhorst's portrait was done from a photograph she took of Josepha in 2009, a few months before she had died.

"She was in her old chair, propped up on a pillow and she looked quite fragile, but she loved posing for the camera, so she had that look in her eyes, that she was ‘posing' for the camera."


The painting's red-orange glow mimics the colours captured through the camera lens. Josepha had been wearing red and the curtains behind her were red, as was the pillow near her head.

"And I love using red. It has that vibrant look for portrait painting.

"If I tried to create something with a deeper mood, I would use deeper colours, like blue."

Old art masters required to paint people in their exact likeness before the invention of cameras typically used light ochre colours, says Mieke.

Contemporary artists prefer to reveal something from a person's character, features not usually noticed by a camera lens.

The Adams Portraiture Awards are held every two years and Mieke is already thinking about likely subjects for a 2014 entry.

"When I was 19 or 20, I did my first portrait and that was a finalist in the Adams Portrait. It was Steve, a guy I randomly met on the street. I took his photograph and asked if I could paint him. I still catch up with him. He's a bit of a hippie, with dreads.

"He had so much character. That was my very first portrait."

She is unsure who her next subject will be. "I would like a lot of wrinkles, a bit of character."

A portrait sitting would probably be for several photographs, using different lights and angles, and a quick sketch so Mieke can see how the person's face moves.

"I can paint from one photo, but it's a moment in time and it may not be [enough]."

The Douwe title of her portrait in the Millennium is Dutch for "the old one", a word Josepha's grandchildren used to call her.

She moved to New Zealand from the Netherland's in the 1950s with her husband, Henk, a reporter, cartoonist and book reviewer for the Marlborough Express.

Josepha was an artist too and belonged to the Marlborough Art Society. Mieke's childhood memories include sitting so Douwe could paint her, but her grandfather's status as a professional cartoonist prevented Josepha from taking her own skills seriously.

Mieke has run a Creative New Zealand-funded secondary school student art class in Blenheim for the past two years.

Mieke will hold two children's workshops at the gallery next month: Drawing for Fun for 6 to 9-year-olds on January 22 and for 10 to 13-year-olds on January 24.

The Marlborough Express