Duncan Darroch - the "Hermitage Artist"

The apperceptive powers of Duncan Darroch were considerable. The moods of nature were closely examined and recorded, often brilliantly and always consistently. Subtle changes of light in forms, handled with tenderness stemming from his own innate love of the world around him, indicate an insight beyond just surface appearances. A mountain flower, a tree, a rock form, a mountain slope—these through an inherited vision led Duncan Darroch to real discernment. His painting can be broadly classified as impressionistic, but one misses the significance of his work if we ignore three vital things. Firstly he had a deep sensibility to the effects of light. The rapidly changing kaleidoscope of colour tones of mountain and sea, so convincingly rendered, reveal clearly the strength of his vision. Secondly, his sense of form produced real anatomical structure in his paintings. His rendering of mountains, rock masses, the swell and movement of the sea always has something beyond the obvious. Thirdly, his colour sense is a remarkable one, and so often sincerely beautiful. His use of colour emphasis, particularly in his more spontaneous work and
sketches, is indeed skilful. And so often one is conscious of a masterly use of superimposed glazes.

Duncan Darroch in his Scottish inheritance had strong powers of perseverance. His persistence in the development of a theme reveals his appreciation of the painters' problems. It is said he devoted his life to a mountain—Mount Cook. One feels sure that this was mainly because he was determined to come to a real conclusion with the moods, so dramatic, of Aorangi. Certainly health reasons first took Duncan Darroch to the Cook area, but he was soon absorbed in the artistic problems it presented. Each of his works, while showing sometimes a superficial similarity, is on examination a complete and unique work of art. There is no trace in his painting of working to a formula or recipe, and this is as true of his seascapes as it is of his paintings of mountains. The subtle variations in his small sea sketches are an artistic delight that all can appreciate, but only an artist fully. It has been said that Duncan Darroch was the first of the tourist artists—those who deliberately set out to cater to the tourist trade. This is quite to misjudge the man and his work. His absorption with problem solving, his refusal to formalise his painting and his lack of interest in selling his finished work indicates that here was an artist of integrity. In sorting out the contents of his chalet "Tighana Bruaich" at Mount Cook a surprising number of names appeared on the back of works—names of intending purchasers who never were allowed to receive works they had reserved. Duncan Darroch would never sell a painting unless it was completely satisfying to himself. There were other factors involved here, depending on his likes and dislikes, which were extreme on occasion, but he was above all else an honest painter. He could be extremely generous and gave away many fine works during his lifetime, particularly to those who could not readily afford to buy works of art. Duncan Darroch's ancestors came from Kochrome in the Isle of Jura, and the family settled in Otago in the early years. Duncan was born at Milton. His Scottish background shows itself in many ways in his work. Jura was S. J. Peploe country and the paintings of Duncan Darroch show a surprising affinity with those of the Scot. The richness of colour of the peat-bogs, the butts and bens, the contour of the hills, the delicacy of the skies, the facility in the painting indicates that Duncan Darroch was in receipt of a birthright during his sojourn in the land of his fathers. As one of a large family who early had to make a, living he never had opportunities of extended study. He, however, did study at the Canterbury School of Art for a period, and his abilities were considered highly by many discerning teachers and collectors. He made an excellent job of his own art education and his dependence on inner resources was one of his great strengths. In the middle period when health problems had been solved his work reached an exceptional  standard.

August 2020. Remains me of the Duncan Darroch paintings. Not much snow in the mountains this year.

Which are his best works? I believe these to be his Canadian studies, his Scottish landscapes, and in New Zealand his paintings of Mount Cook and "The Pamir." Duncan Darroch has a unique place in New Zealand art. No-one has painted the mountains of the Cook range or the sea so well. The infinite variations and inflections, the gentle colour superimpositions, the creative uniqueness of his many interpretations of the same subject place him in the category of a very able artist. I like him best in his "Pamirs"—an artistic contribution that will remain synonymous with his name. The collection of his Pamir paintings, now with a permanent home in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, due to the generosity of the beneficiaries, has been one of the finest acquisitions of recent years and will be a permanent memorial to the name of the Darroch family.

Looks like the roof of the old Hermitage at the Whitehorse campground.

His paintings reflected the spirit of the man.
Artist, botanist, mountain guide.


Duncan Darroch (1888-1967) was born in Otago to Margaret and John Darroch, raised in Milton, and was a sailor in the 1920s working on Union Steam Ship Company coasters visiting every port in New Zealand and travelling to Canada and Britain, painting during his journeys. He studied at the Canterbury School of Art in 1922 under Archibold Nicoll although he was largely self taught. 1928 was a farrier (blacksmith) and then a ranger at Mount Cook. He lived at Mt Cook from 1926 until his death. He painted mountains and seascapes in an impressionist style and is represented in the Aigantighe (Timaru), Dunedin, Forrester (Oamaru), Hawkes Bay, Hocken (Dunedin), McDougall (Christchurch), University of Canterbury Christchurch), Sutter (Nelson), Te Papa (Wellington) galleries, at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, Hermitage and the South Canterbury Museum has one of his paintings and so does my cousin. He painted in oils. He bequeathed his chalet, Tighnabruaich, at Mt Cook, to the New Zealand Forest and Bird Protection Society.  Do a Ctl N and compare with recent photos.

Duncan was a excellent smithy and looked after 25 to 35 horses at the Hermitage. He graduated from anvil to one of the foremost landscape painters. He loved the alpine scenery and had no formal training when he started painting and little money so he used old corrugated iron as his canvas and his fingers for brushes. He did have to buy the tubes of oil paint. His first efforts were crude and would paint out his first efforts and try again and gradually developed his own style. He was assisted by Cecil Kelly, director of the School of Fine Arts in ChCh and others to improve his technique and to make greater use of brushes but he still used his fingers when painting." wrote Harry Wigley in 1979 in The Mount Cook Way page34.



Fine art is listed as hxw in centimetres or inches.

Mt Cook from the Hermitage     		14x18" 		oil
Mt Cook and Mueller Glacier    		14x18" 		oil/board 
Mt. Cook & Mueller Glacier  		36 x 46 	oil on board
Mountain lake scene                   	 9x10" 		oil/board 	
Mountain lakes scene                 	 9x10" 		oil/board 		
Mount Cook                              15x19" 		oil/canvas/board 
Mount Cook 				12.2x14.6in 	oil 
Mt Cook 				16 x 23cm 	oil/canvas 
Mount Cook				75 x 100cm      oil on canvas
Mount Cook 				21.5 x 26.5cm	oil on board
Mount Cook				30.5 x 40.7cm 	oil on board
Mount Cook				22 x 27cm	oil on board
Mt Cook					15.5  x19.5"	oil on masonite
Mt Cook					24" x27"	oil. South Canterbury Museum
Mount Cook                              65x83cm 	oil/canvas Est. $300-500
The Reflection of Mount Cook 		16.5 x 22 	oil/canvas/board 
Pukaki and Mount Cook 			48 x 39cm	oil on canvas
Lake and Mountain Landscape 		44 x 59 cm 	oil/board 
Hochstetter Icefall 					oil on canvas 
Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook fresh snow      82.5cm x 58.5cm
Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki								Price $650 in 2009
Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki 				oil on board 
Mt Cook "Tighnabruaich"            	28x23cm signed and dated 1.4.59
The Reflection of Mount Cook 		16.6x22cm 	oil/board 
The Reflection of Mount Cook 		16.5x22cm 	oil/canvas/board 
The Reflection of Mount Cook 		19 x 21.5cm 	oil on board 
Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki 		17 x 21 	oil on board 
Mt Cook, Lake Pukaki 			22 x 27		oil on board
Mt Cook 				16x23.5cm 	oil/canvas 
Mount Cook				39.5x49.5cm 	oil/canvas/board 
Mount Cook  				65x83cm 	oil/canvas 
Mt. Sefton
Mount Sefton and the Footstool - Late Afternoon 48cm by 40cm 
Snow capped Peaks 			20x23 		oil/canvas 
Lake and Mountain  			44x59cm 	oil/board 
Mountain Lake Scene 			23x27cm 	oil/board 
Mount Cook and Mueller Glacier 		36x46cm 	oil/board 
Mt. Cook & Mueller Glacier  		36 x 46 	oil on board 
Southern Alps				44cm x 34cm 	oil			Price $565 on Trade me June 2012
Glacier scene				33.5cm x 28cm 	oil 			Price $850.00
Glacier  	 			25x28cm 	oil/board
Mountain Lake  				23x27cm 	oil/board 
The erosion of landscape by flooding 	85 x 60 cm	oil on canvas		Mt Cook area. A large painting
Lake Mathieson and Mt Tasman 		170 x 210mm 	oil on board   
Rotten Tommy from the Hermitage 	1932
Eternal Snows 				1932
Sunlight and Shadow, Hooker Valley 	1932 		alpine scenery being painted in all its grandeur
Hooker Valley 				40 x 45 cm 	oil
Lower Burkes Pass 			37 x 42 cm 	oil
Road to Mt Cook 			40 x 45 cm	oil
The Three Sisters, Ben Nevis 		27.5 x 36 	oil on board 
The Earnslaw, Lake Wakatipu		35x42cm 	oil 			Price $895.00
At the Going of the Sun 
The Bow, Pamir				46x60cm 	oil on board 
Pamir End of Voyage                 			oil painting 	Aigantighe Art Gallery, Timaru
Pamir under full sail			36x54cm 	oil
Pamir sails reefed			25.5x22cm
Pamir Deck Scene 			33x26.5cm 	oil on canvas
Pamir in Heavy Seas			14 x 19cm	oil on board
On deck					40.5 x 31	oil  Trade-me July 2017 sold for $535
Pamir off Godley Head, Lyttelton	53 x 35 cm      oil
Turbulent Seas off Godley Heads		41x56		oil on board
Beach scene with figures		23x27.5		oil on board
Hills and Cloud, Hawaii 		31x38cm 	oil/board 
Coastal Scene 				24.4x37cm 	oil/board 
Coastal Scene 				9.75x14.75in 	oil 		sold in Jan. 2005 $US201 
Maori Chief "retinana Te Rua Poutu" 	21.7x16.1in 	oil 		Portrait sold May 2007 $US95 
Unloading sulphur boat 			25cm x 18cm 
Turbulent Seas 				40cm x 56cm 	oil on board	Opposite Godley Heads, Lyttelton Harbour 
"Winterholm"				33cm x 40cm 	oil on canvas	sailing ship  Sold on trade-me in 2010	
Wild seascape Ocean cloud		19cm x 13cm
From Port Hills 			23cm x 28cm 	oil 
Seascape Rabbit Island			12" x 16"	oil Ebay Jan. 2021 Hawaii Asking price $US779. Shipping $US 35.

Mount Sefton and the Footstool

Charm of Mt. Cook, New Zealand / ... paintings by Duncan Darroch.
Publisher : Timaru [N.Z.] : Mount Cook and Southern Lakes Tourist Co., [1934]  8p chiefly col. ill. ; 23 x 29 cm pamphlet

Timaru Herald 5 Dec. 1967
Mr Duncan Darroch died in the Oamaru Hospital yesterday. He was 79. Mr Darroch, his picturesque chalet Tighnabruaich and its novel umbrella (set up beside his chalet, and where keas were fed by him night and morning) on the Glencoe Fan, near the Hermitage Hotel were as much part of the Mt Cook scene as the Alps themselves. He painted the extremes of nature - mountains and the sea, and in his lifetime he produced a multitude of canvases. He caught the moods of the mountains and he portrayed the sea as he found it during his many voyages round the coast of New Zealand, and to Canada and Scotland.

Press, 19 July 1933 page 16
"Mount Cook at Eventide" presented to University of Illinois by Professor William Trelease, professor emeritus of botany.

12 June 1933 Daily Illini. Mount Cook at Eventide Given to University
Mount Cook at Eventide, an oil painting by Duncan Darroch of the celebrated Mount Cook in New Zealand, an ice-clad peak which is the highest mountain in the South Seas, has been presented to the University for the collection in the Architecture building by Prof. William Trelease, professor emeritus of botany, and Mrs. Trelease. The painting was secured by the Treleases during their recent stay at The Hermitage, New Zealand, near the foot of the famous mountain . The artist, Mr . Darroch, is a native New Zealander of Scotch Highland stock, a guide whose avocation is painting the mountains around him, according to the Treleases. He is almost self-taught, and has painted in the Canadian Rockies and his native Southern Alps.

12.2 x 14.6 in

Duncan's little Scottish terrier in 1951


One painting - a scene of Mt Cook with the alpine after glow illuminating it- was bought by a tourist and subsequently donated to an art gallery in New York. The Aigantighe gallery in Timaru has 20 of his paintings which were gifted to the city by him. He turned his art on occasions to practical purposes, and part of a series depicting erosion caused by tussock and bush fires hangs in the office of the South Canterbury Catchment Board. Mr Darroch was born in Milton and was a descendant of the seafaring islanders of Jura, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. He lived most of his life in the mountains or on the sea. He joined the staff of the Hermitage in the 1920s to assist with the horses used on the tourist trip to the Ball Hut, and with the various changes of administration his work developed into taking parties of tourists out on the mountains. another painting

His knowledge of botany and his powers of observation, together with his established reputation as a painter, were invaluable qualities for his work as a guide and companion. He always carried a sketching outfit in his pack  Passing generations will remember his sparse kilted figure tramping the Tasman Glacier and the various tracks or stilled before an easel as he painted one of his mow famous mountain scenes. Mr Darroch was practically a self-taught artist. When he played his guitar keas would mob him. He also shoed horses at Mt Cook. His address was The Hermitage.

31 x 41 cms painting only. Sold on trade-me Dec 2 2007 for $NZ 300.  

For a period he worked for the Union Steam Ship Company aboard its coasters. He was fascinated by the Pamir and he followed it around New Zealand, painting it on several occasions but never once sailing on it. Mr Darroch, never married, was appointed an honorary ranger of the Mt Cook National Park Board in 1954. Duncan loved New Zealand, its native birds and its native bush.

A painter of mountains, seas and ships.

Timaru Herald 9 Dec. 1967.
Duncan Darroch, Man of the Mountains by W. Vance.

Thousands of tourists photographed him on the glaciers with his tam-o-shanter, kilt and alpenstock. Duncan came to the Hermitage in the twenties, during the regime of R.LK. Wigley, whom he admired. Whenever I went to the Hermitage , my first port of call was Duncan's chalet [postcard by Gladys Goodall] to hear his dissertation on the evils of smoking, the dangers of fires, and the future of art. Then he would show me his piles of unfinished paintings, his new bird-feeding trough, then came a grand finale of piano-accordion playing. Duncan preferred solitude. Neither a grand home nor elegant clothes had any appeal. He went his own way, thought his own thoughts, and spoke his own mind, fearless of any man. The affinity with the mountains found expression in his paintings. With profits from his paintings he made generous donations to disabled seaman fiends and was especially interested in financially helping the building of lifeboats for the Goodwin Sands, England. He did a great deal in trying to conserve the Mount Cook vegetation. He cared for the bush, fed the birds, especially the keas, put up notices warning of the danger of fires, and spent his time in ceaseless activity trying to keep Mt Cook area as much as possible, in its native state. And in all his labours, he was attended by his companion - his faithful little dog. He was aware of the growing threat from deer and chamois and would often point out where natural regeneration had been destroyed by animals causing loss of tree cover and accelerated erosion.

TH - another article.
Conservationist and tree Lover by R. St. Barbe Baker.
Visitors to Mt Cook must be grateful to Darroch for the stalwart stand he took when there was threat to build in the line of the famous view of the mountain.

Print of Duncan Darroch held by the Hocken Library, Dunedin. Exhibited in 1968, a year after his death by Franz Barta. The Hocken Library as thirty oil painting by Duncan Darroch including three studies of Mount Cook ca. 1940 and one "In the rigging, the Pamir" (ca. 1940).

"Pamir End of Voyage" in Wellington Harbour, oil painting by Duncan Darroch. photo
The Pamir was a four-masted steel barque built in 1905. He never sailed in her.

Bearings 1992 Volume 4 Number 3 Pages 12-14 Article : Duncan Darroch and the Pamir ( Caldwell, Elizabeth ) Biographical sketch of New Zealand painter Duncan Darroch and his fascination for the Pamir.

Memorial exhibition of oil paintings by the late Duncan Darroch. "Mountains, Sea and Lakes" commencing 23rd June, 1969. McGregor Wright Gallery...Wellington. [catalogue] Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

Timaru Herald 17 February 2004
A survivor of the second Hermitage fire half a century ago has returned to Mt Cook. The painting of Mt Cook, by then resident artist Duncan Darroch, was saved from the 1957 fire, but a hole was punched through one corner in the rescue effort. Darroch was so upset by the damage that he refused to allow it to be hung in the rebuilt Hermitage, and kept it under his bed for a couple of years before selling it to an American visitor in 1959. Hermitage general manager and Mt Cook Museum Trust trustee Denis Callesen said Darroch only allowed the woman to buy it because she reminded him of the nurses during the war. The one metre by 75cm painting has been in Hawaii ever since, but with its owner now moving to a smaller unit, she offered it to the Mt Cook Museum Trust. Her daughter Stephanie Kirkpatrick was in Mt Cook this week to hand over the painting to the trust. The painting will hang in the hotel until the trust gets its own home. Darroch lived in a cottage behind the Hermitage from 1920 until three months before his death in 1967. A kilt and hobnail boots were his usual form of dress. Mr Callesen said Darroch, whose work has developed quite a following, was very particular about who he sold his paintings to. He would never sell a painting to a person who smoked, and refused to allow the hotel to hang any of his works in the rebuilt Hermitage as guests were allowed to smoke in the building. Most of his work featured ships, especially the sailing barque Pamir, or landscapes of the Mt Cook area.

Timaru Herald 24 June 2006
Hochstetter Icefall, oil on canvas by Duncan Darroch (1888-1967)
Given by the artist in 1963
Duncan Darroch was born in Milton, Otago, to parents newly arrived from Scotland. He moved to Mt Cook in 1915 where he was a farrier (he shod the horses) for the Mount Cook Company. In the early 1920s Darroch worked for the Union Steam Ship Company visiting every port in New Zealand and travelling to Canada and Britain, painting during his journeys. He trained at the Canterbury College School of Art in 1922, but was largely a self-taught artist preferring to go back to sea and painting what he saw. When he returned to New Zealand in 1928, Darroch went back to Mt Cook where he worked at the Hermitage, later becoming an honorary ranger for the National Park and a well-known local character. He built a home and studio in a cottage called "Tignabruaich" (the little house on the rise) which was designed to resemble a ship's cabin. Mountains and the sea were the main subjects of Darroch's work and he was well known as the "Mt Cook painter" for his many versions of Aoraki. Also the huge sailing ship Pamir (one of the last of its kind, as commercial shipping moved to propeller driven vessels) was almost an obsession for Darroch, who followed the ship around New Zealand's ports between the years 1939-45 and painted many canvasses of it. Darroch was not included in South Canterbury painting circles at the time, being considered a bit of a self- taught "rough diamond" but he was a highly accomplished artist and is long overdue for a revival of appreciation. His work is Post-Impressionist in style, portraying vivid colour and dramatic light. The Hochstetter Icefall is part of the Hochstetter Glacier in the Mt Cook region, descending from the Grand Plateau to the Tasman Glacier.

Stock footage of lodge and artist Duncan Darroch painting

Twentieth Century Artists
South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project

Buy something you like. You don't have to be rich to be an art collector.
Buy it when you see it as you might not have a chance to go back.
Buy what you enjoy.

hand coloured

Unidentified man in kilt inside Ball Hut, including photographs and snowshoes on the wall, Mount Cook National Park, Canterbury Region 24 Aug - 6 Sep 1929 "Edgar Williams Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library".

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project