Jane Evans


Jane Evans - a joyful artist

Jane Evans was born on New Year's Eve, 1946.  Her father, Dr George Evans, was a community minded old style family GP, and her mother, English-born Beatrice had a vivid personality and strong principles."My parents loved me in a very unconditional way. It was enough for me just being myself."2

Jane Evans [in her studio 1985]. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Mail Collection: 970A
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Evans' love of colour and drawing manifested itself early when, aged four, she drew a menagerie of people and animals on her bedroom walls.3  She drew incessantly at Nelson College for Girls4 and won the South Island Secondary Schools' Cup in 1961.5

'Jane Evans, a new working member of the Nelson Suter Art Society, with one of her works, "Lost". Jane was described to us as a lass with a lot of talent.'  Photo and caption from Nelson Photo News, 1964
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While art school was the obvious choice, her art teacher, Ruth Dean, was concerned her individuality might be lost.  When she enrolled at the University of Canterbury's School of Fine Arts in 1965, Evans was already an excellent draughtswoman and a painter with a vigorous, immediate approach.6

With the world of a young artist at her feet, aged 19, she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a debilitating disease affecting the joints and surrounding muscles, with symptoms similar to rheumatoid arthritis, which had an immediate and lifelong impact.7

In 1966, Evans entered Waltham Forest Art School, near London, where at the end of the first year, her principal said she would have learnt more without ‘the obstinate pursuance of her own ideas." She left and began a programme of self-education in England.8

Evans returned to a flat in Deans Ave, Christchurch in December 1967. By this time, her hands and feet were distorted and she was having trouble manipulating paint brushes and materials.9 A painting trip through Central Otago saw her produce 12 expressionist canvases, which sold for $14 each in 1969.10

Evans was often in pain and close to death several times, and chose to express the exhilaration of survival with joyful, colour-saturated paintings.  "Suddenly there was life in front of me and I had to grab it with both hands.  It was a compulsive thing for me to express the joys of life," she said.11

Encouraged by her parents, Evans moved back to Nelson in 1971 to be close to family support.  The advance and retreat of SLE could be plotted by the number of works she produced in a year: three paintings in 1970 and 57 in 1975.12

Jane Evans [in her Nelson garden 1997. She cultivated specific flowers to use in her paintings]. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Mail Collection: C39932
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In 1972 Evans spent some time in Sydney and Melbourne, painting the colourful characters of Kings Cross and setting up a studio in Melbourne.13 In 1974 she spent three months in the UK and was intensely interested in watching and painting the people thronging London's galleries and markets.14

Evans bought and renovated a cottage in Tasman Street in 1975.  She established a garden and began a series of flower paintings, which satisfied her love of colour and instinct for decorative painting.15  At this time she experimented with gouache, a less physically demanding medium than oils and acrylics, which she also liked for aesthetic and technical reasons.16

"The garden was an extension of my life in those days. When I turned to watercolours I found myself in touch with this wonderful, loose, spontaneous medium that was really exciting," she said.17

Jane loved the lyrical, full bodied colour of the early Expressionists such as Matisse, Bonnard and Chagall.  "I am drawn to the painters who express the joy in living," she said.18   The public also loved her optimistic paintings and, from the 1990s, there was a waiting list of up to 70 for her work.19

As she became better known, Evans would not allow reviewers or journalists to refer to her illness.20  In fact she would not allow a 1984 New Idea article to be published, as she said it was ‘sentimental and dwelt on her illness.'21 By the 1990s, multiple surgeries and a new drug regime dramatically improved the quality of Jane's life.22

Jane Evans (1978) Saturday Afternoon. Oil and acrylic on board,
Collection of The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū: Presented by the estate of Amelia F. Roe in 2004
Click image to enlarge

Evans' popularity ran parallel to the heated art market prior to the 1987 stock market crash.  She understood the artist's problematic relationship with the art market- she wanted an adequate income but was concerned that a work she sold 12-13 years previously for $300, was re-sold for $10,000 in 1974.23

Evan's work can be found in collections throughout NZ and worldwide. However, with the exception of Nelson's Suter Gallery, her work is not well represented in NZ's public galleries.24 "For three decades her paintings have received widespread public acclaim- and an almost total lack of critical response," said John Coley, author of her biography and former director of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. 25

Retired art critic and professor emeritus from Victoria University, John Roberts said Evans was marginalised by the art world as her paintings did not fit within the current preoccupations of the modern and postmodern movement.  Evans, who was described by Roberts as being as ‘fey as a Mack truck', claimed indifference to the critics and said she had never pandered to the market.26

Jane Evans [with her newly published biography in 1997]. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Mail Collection: C43785
Click to enlarge

The 1990s were rich years for Jane.  She rebuilt a 1878  sea captain's cottage overlooking Nelson's port, where she lived with her partner David Furniss, who was her secretary and minder until his death in 2001.27  She was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to painting in 1997.28

Jane Evans (1982) Summer Siesta. Acrylic on canvas. Collection of The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū:  Gifted by the Goodman Group in 1984
Click image to enlarge

When her biography was being written in 1997, Evans realised that, while she refused to be: "the little arthritic struggling against the odds... Ironically having made that one of the things I didn't want to get out of control, it proved in the end to be the most impacting thing on my life. It dictated the time that I spent in hospital and dictated the amount of time I had to paint and what I painted.''29

On Friday 8 June 2012, Jane Evans died peacefully, aged 65.  Not long before she died, she dictated the following: "I've lived a very charmed and blessed life due to my friends."30  About 400 people attended a memorial service at Nelson's Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday 16 June, 2012.31

North and South described Jane as someone who ‘thinks globally and acts locally'.32  Her community involvement included: protesting about urban developments around Nelson,  patron of the Nelson Arts Festival, judge of the World of Wearable Arts Awards, honorary life member of the Suter Art Society, Suter trustee and ambassador and a key force behind the Suter 2000 project 33


Edited February 2021

Sources used in this story

  1. Coley, J. (1997) Jane Evans. Christchurch, N.Z. : Hazard Press, p13-17
  2. Kemp, J. (1990) The art of Jane Evans, 1965-1990. Thesis (M.A.--Art History)-Auckland, N.Z. :University of Auckland
  3. Coley, p 15.
  4. Coley, p 23-25
  5. Kemp, J
  6. Coley, p 23- 25
  7. Coley, p 26-28
  8. Coley, p 33
  9. Coley, p 34- 35
  10. Coley, p 37
  11. Brett, C. (1995, Jan.) Kiss of the painter woman : the joy of Jane Evans North and South, n.106:p.106-114
  12. Coley, p 44
  13. Coley, p 47-48
  14. Coley, p 53-54
  15. Coley, p 60-62
  16. Kemp, J
  17. Brett, C
  18. Brett, C
  19. Coley p89
  20. Coley, p 35
  21. Kemp, J
  22. Coley, p 85
  23. Coley, p 82-83
  24. Brett, C 
  25. Moore, C. (1997, December 17) Feeling for colour Press, p.17 
  26. Brett,C
  27. Bell, J (2012, June 16) A life as bright and passionate as her art Nelson Mail, p 15 (obituary); Coley, p73-74
  28. 'Amazing present' for Jane Evans (1996, December 31) Nelson Mail,  p.1
  29. Brock, H. (1997, November 1) A life of art-and arthritis. Nelson Mail,  p.15
  30. Neal,T. (2012, June 11) Evans rose above illness to lead her ‘charmed and blessed life'.  Nelson Mail, p 3
  31. Kidson, S (2012, June 18) Over 400 farewell artist. Nelson Mail, p2
  32. Brett,C
  33. Bell, J

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  • The exhibition at Woollaston Estates until 31 August is a fascinating selection (only 15 works) showing the range of Jane Evans' work, far broader than I had realised. Well worth a visit!

    Posted by Susan Ledingham, ()

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Further sources - Jane Evans



  • Amazing present' for Jane Evans (1996, December 31) Nelson Mail,  p.1
  • Ambler, C. (1989, March 4) Portrait of an artist in a "room of her own". Nelson Mail. p.7
  • Bell, J. (2012, June 16) A life as bright and passionate as her art [obituary]. Nelson Mail, p.15
  • Brett, C. (1995, Jan.) Kiss of the painter woman : the joy of Jane Evans North and South, n.106:p.106-114
  • Brock, H. (1997, November 1) A life of art-and arthritis. Nelson Mail,  p.15
  • Cape, P. (1979) The painting of Jane Evans. Landfall, 130, p.139-142
  • Lawry, M. (2012, June 14) Joyful Jane Evans to be farewelled. Nelson Leader, p 2
  • Moore, C. (1997 December 17) Feeling for colour Press, p.17 
  • Neal. T. (2006, March/April) Magical mystery tour.  Third age New Zealand, 12, p.21-26
  • Neville, P. (1992, August 3) Art from the heart New Zealand Woman's Weekly,  p.38-39
  • Powerful attachments (1998) Pacific Wave, 113, p.20
  • Speedy, B. & Gerritsen, N.(1997, Winter) Art forgery : time to take it seriously. Art News. 17 (2)p.30-31

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