118-year-old art mystery

Maurie Daly in front of an oil painting of Stirling Point which was painted in 1901.

MAURIE Daly wants to solve a mystery… an art mystery.

He has a large 118-year-old oil painting on his wall by a Emily Moffett, and would like to find out where a similar scene painted by his grandmother Sarah Daly was.

About 1901, two artist friends, both of Invercargill, painted the same scene at Stirling Point, Bluff, then exchanged the completed artworks, Mr Daly said.

One of the artists was Mr Daly’s paternal grandmother – Sarah Ann Mary Daly (nee Gavin), and the other was Emily Moseley (nee Miller), who had been born in England in 1866, and became Emily Moffett when she married in Invercargill in December 1901.

Invercargill-born Sarah Gavin married Edward Thomas Daly in October 1900, and one of the theories for the exchange of the paintings, the Daly family have suggested, was they may have been wedding gifts.

“Those finer details of the story are lost in the mists of time,” Mr Daly said.

“Our grandmother died in Christchurch in 1949, aged 79, and the painting [we currently have] passed to the next generation.”

Mr Daly said he last saw the Stirling Point framed painting was about the time of his mother’s funeral at Blenheim, in November 1983.

“Unfortunately, it was looking a bit sad then as the canvas had been damaged.

“My brother Pete took ownership of it, as our father had always said he was to inherit it in time because he was the only one in the family (of nine children) to show any interest in the work.”

Pete took the painting to Christchurch to have the damage repaired by the art restorers H. Fisher & Son, Mr Daly said, and eventually took the painting with him to his home in Karratha in Western Australia.

There it remained for 35 years until his recent retirement.

Early March last year, the painting was bought back across the Tasman and eventually returned to Invercargill 118 years after Emily Moseley created it, Mr Daly said.

Answers sought

Mr Daly has spent many hours researching the stories behind the paintings.

Emily eventually became the grandmother of well-known Stewart Island identity Sheila Natusch, Mr Daly said.

“In August 2007, Southland Museum & Art Gallery held an exhibition – Next of Kin – which showed works by Emily Moseley (Moffett), her daughter Dorothea Traill (nee Moffett) and grand-daughter Sheila Natusch.”

In the small booklet, Emily & Dorothea, Two Southland Artists’ 2006, published by Ms Natusch, she described it as a “folio I’ve been putting together of my mother’s (Dorothea Traill) and grandmother’s (Emily Moffett, previously Moseley) paintings, with some background”.

Mrs Natusch described Emily and Dorothea’s lives.

“Both women derived much pleasure from their painting.

“There are sketchbooks of Australian and Southland scenes, and some very beautiful flower studies by Emily.

“Clear washes of vibrant colour – glowing light, rich dark shadow – characterise Emily’s art.

“Emily gained awards for her work.

“Both artists however are represented in southern museums and art galleries.”

Mr Daly said there was plenty of information to be found about Emily Moseley, the creator of ‘Pete’s painting’ as the family has named it, and her place in Southland’s art history… “but our Southland art mystery remains unsolved”.

“Does the other exchanged painting still exist? And if so, how far has it travelled?”

“Somewhere out there, if this often told tale is accepted to be true, there is a similar painting (of Sterling Point), possibly signed M Gavin or perhaps S or M Daly.”

Mr Daly said the Invercargill Public Art Gallery had a similar work, a seascape signed W Corbett, 1902, in its collection.

“Maybe more than just those two artist friends painted that same scene all those years ago.”

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