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Robert McDougall Art Gallery. 17 September - 22 November 1998 15 March,

1998 marked the death of New Zealand's most distinguished Victorian architect, Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-98). Mountfort contributed significantly to the shaping of the architectural character of Christchurch during the nineteenth century designing great structures such as Canterbury Museum, Canterbury College, Provincial Council Chambers, the Great Hall and the Clock tower on Victoria Street, not to mention his contribution to the building of Christchurch Cathedral. The Robert McDougall is celebrating the architect's anniversary with an exhibition of his work including architectural drawings, decorative arts, books from Mountfort's personal library and historic photographs of buildings he designed. As an architect he designed most of the public buildings in Christchurch and did so in the distinctive style of Gothic Revival. Some of which include the Canterbury Provincial Council buildings, built between 1858 and 1865, Canterbury Museum (1869-82) and Canterbury College, on which he worked for twenty years from 1876 until 1896.

Early beginnings Mountfort and his wife, Emily, arrived in Canterbury with the first settlers in December, 1850 where he hoped to design churches for the young colony. However, because there was little call for his professional skills in these early years he took on other occupations such as portrait photography, selling books and teaching drawing. His first major commission in 1853  the Holy Trinity Church in Lyttleton was declared unsafe after only four years and had to be demolished. This was largely due to his lack of knowledge about local building materials. This built into a distrust in Mountfort, his designs and local architects in general for some years to follow. Christchurch Cathedral The central focus for this exhibition is Mountfort's designs of churches, for which he is best known. This ranges from plans for small country churches built of wood through to City Cathedrals made of brick and stone.

The Christchurch Cathedral takes a prominent position in the exhibition and, although the cathedral was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott of London, an acclaimed ecclesiastical architect of the day, Mountfort played an important role in the project as supervising architect from 1873. His first application to become supervising architect of the Cathedral was rejected in 1863 and Scott was asked to send someone who was ‘more suitable’ out from England. Although Scott held a high opinion of Mountfort, he sent out Robert Speechly who, coincidentally, had trained in the same office as Mountfort in London, although under a different architect. Following the initial work on the foundations by Robert Speechly, there followed an eight year delay in construction due to exceeding costs and a shortage of capital. Speechly then left for Australia and Mountfort took over the supervision of the project when building finally resumed in 1873. He was responsible for the design of the spire and many of the Cathedral's furnishings, including the pulpit and font. The exhibition at the McDougall Art Gallery includes drawings for the Cathedral by Scott which have never been seen before.

The Victoria Street Clock Tower and the Provincial Council Chambers Originally intended to sit on the side of the Provincial Council Chambers, as can be seen in Mountfort's original design of the buildings, the entire Jubilee Clock Tower (which now resides on Victoria Street) never made it to the site. Instead, the clock itself, was placed in the stone tower in Armagh Street but, according the early accounts the face could not be seen, although the chimes could be heard up to two miles away. The tower for the clock had been made in England, according to Mountfort's design, and shipped in sections to New Zealand in 1860. The clock was removed from the Chamber buildings. The clock and tower were gifted to the Christchurch City Council by the New Zealand Government in 1879. It lay in a corner of a City Council yard until it was resurrected for Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1897 and placed on the corner of High, Manchester and Lichfield Streets. Due to increasing traffic concerns in the 1920s, the tower was extended in height and moved to its present resting place on Victoria Street in 1930.

The Robert McDougall Art Gallery, located in the Botanic Gardens, is the country's most visited public art gallery featuring regularly changing exhibitions of international and New Zealand historical and contemporary art. The McDougall Contemporary Art Annex, located in the Christchuch Arts Centre, features international, national and local contemporary exhibitions. Both galleries are open daily except Christmas Day and Good Friday. Hours are 10 am. to 4.30 pm. Free daily guided tours are available on request and admission is free.


September Floortalk Curator of the Exhibition, Dr Ian Lochead will give a floortalk on the exhibition 11 am, Saturday, 19 September. Free admission.

Lecture Curator of the Exhibition, Dr Ian Lochead will give an illustrated lecture on B.W. Mountfort. 11am, Sunday, 27 September. Free admission

October Lecture Curator of the Exhibition, Dr Ian Lochead will give an illustrated lecture on B.W. Mountfort. 11am,Tuesday, 20 October. Free admission.

Panel Discussion "The Architect's Debate". A panel discussion on Gothic in the second half of the 20th Century. 6 pm. Thursday, 22 October. At the Stone Chamber, Provincial Council Chambers Building. Bookings essential as places will be limited. Telephone 941 6973.

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