Schoon Theo

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Theodorus Johannes Schoon 1915 - 1985

Theo Schoon was born in the Dutch East Indies, recieved art training in Holland and migrated to New Zealand in 1939. He lived much of his life here after that.

In 1946 he commenced fieldwork in the South Island recording Maori rock drawings and continued periodicaly until 1950, latterly in the North Island. His recordings were initialy oil paintings on board but later included photographs. His work was sponsored by Canterbury Museum and the Department of Internal Affairs. Roger Duff took part in some of the fieldwork. The sponsorship covered little of the cost. Coney[1] ascribes the period of the South Island fieldwork as 1945-48. The fullest account of his work is that of Roberts.[2] There is one contemporary account by Schoon himself though written in part in the third person. [3] Another account based on an interview with Schoon is by Vaassen.[4]

Schoon stands accused of having retouched the drawings during this work. Fomison[5] reviews the evidence for this - which is clear. Schoon has described his methods as being restoration dot for dot and never adding any interpretation, and also made some self defence: 'I am being blamed for bad retouching work which was done long before I ever saw a cave drawing.'[6]

Some of the records he made are the only surviving records of features now gone, but the use of greasy crayon in retouching some of the pictures is hard to forgive.

Schoon's personal art was in painting, photography, carving of gourds [7][8] and carving of nephrite. His publication on the latter shows an interest in reproducing traditional Maori items but has few insights as to their art[9]. He is a relatively minor figure in New Zealand art, perhaps best known for his influence on others, including Len Castle[10], Dennis Knight Turner [11] Gordon Walters [12], Rex Fairburn who made fabric prints utilising Schoon's rock art records and Rita Angus [13], who painted a portrait of Schoon, and he of her.

Occasionally nephrite carvings by Schoon appear on art markets, some replicating Maori forms, e.g. Art and Object 2012

Schoon has an entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography:

Wikipedia has an article about:


  1. Coney Hamish, 2013, From Rotterdam to Rotorua. Content the magazine by Art+Object 1:24-30.
  2. Roberts, N 1985 Maori rock drawing and Theo Schoon in Christchurch Art Gallery 1985 Maori rock drawing: the Theo Schoon interpretations
  3. Schoon, T 1962 An early exploration of N.Z. shelter drawings. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 5(2) 124-16.
  4. Vaassen, S 1963 Became a cavemen to study Maori rock drawings. The N.Z. Womens Weekly, May 6:17. accessed 2010 at
  5. Fomison, A 1987 Theo Schoon and the retouching of rock art. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 30(3):158-160.
  6. Schoon, T 1962 An early exploration of N.Z. shelter drawings. New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter 5(2) 124-16.
  7. Gunn, A 2007 Picturing Space: Theo Schoon, Ross Crothall and Visual Art in the Pacific. On Space,7, The Australian National University, accessed 2010 at
  8. Dunn, M. 1982 The Art of Theo Schoon Art New Zealand 25, accessed 2010 at
  9. Schoon, T 1973 Jade Country. Jade Arts Sydney.
  10. Art Encyclopedia: Len Castle accessed 2010 at
  11. Anon, 2010 New Zealand Art form Cook to Contemporary. Te Papa Press. p115.
  12. Gordon Walters. Fisher Galleries, accessed 2010 at,135,Walters/
  13. Dunn M, 2003 Rita Angus & Theo Schoon An Unlikely Friendship. Art New Zealand 107, accessed 2010 at