Year born
Place Of birth
Taihape, North Island, New Zealand
Known as
“I regard myself as an expressionist painter, one who expresses the visual rhythm of things.”

Douglas Kerr MacDiarmid was born in Taihape on 14 November, 1922. From a young age he was inspired by sensuality and the beauty of the human form, and passionate about the ancient world around the Mediterranean as our source of civilisation, culture, language and thought. These are influences that imbue his work.

He was educated as a boarding student at Marton and Timaru. During World War II, he graduated from Canterbury College, Christchurch, around home force military service, with an arts degree in Music, English Literature, Languages and Philosophy. Douglas actively avoided art school training, instead he “came alive” at Christchurch in an older circle of creative thinkers, his self-taught appetite for painting fired by mentors such as Evelyn Page, Rita Angus, Theo Schoon and Leo Bensemann.

In 1946, MacDiarmid left New Zealand to “devour the world”. He returned to Auckland and Wellington in 1949-50 before settling permanently in France to dedicate his life to paint. During his desperate years when struggling to find a professional foothold in Europe, he largely survived on the generosity of loyal New Zealand friends who acted as voluntary art agents, operating below the Customs radar to sell paintings privately to keep him afloat. These champions included art patrons Dr Ian and Elspie Prior, composer Douglas Lilburn and his university music teacher Professor Frederick Page.

Gradually Douglas forged an international reputation but came home regularly to show his work and catch up with family and friends. His parents, Dr Gordon and Mary MacDiarmid lived at Piha and Takapuna for many years. Between 1949 and 2018, there were 41 solo exhibitions in New Zealand alone...including solo shows for Auckland Art Week 2013 (Jonathan Grant Gallery) and University of Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery (2017).

The last of his creative generation, he painted every day and exhibited regularly well into his nineties. Now in his 98th year, he continues to live in Montmartre, Paris and remains fascinated by the world beyond his door.

Refusing to be categorised, his work is diverse, colourful, evocative. Douglas has worked in oils, watercolour, acrylic on various surfaces, and experimented with new textures, surfaces and sculptural mediums. He is also a published writer, novelist and poet.

The painter’s illustrated hard cover biography Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid by Anna Cahill, published by Mary Egan Publishing, Auckland was released at the Wallace Trust’s The Pah Homestead, Hillsborough on 18 July 2018. He calls it his “divine brick”.

Two years before, in a letter to Ms Cahill, Sir James Wallace said: “I am very happy with the works we have in the Collection but only wish that we had more because I believe that Douglas is greatly underrated, especially in New Zealand.”

Biography by Anna Cahill
Biographer – Colours of a Life: The life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid (2018)
Director | MacDiarmid Arts Trust


Works by this artist