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Charles McPhee


This piece is titled “Bora Bora”.

I was surfing the internet and came across a piece of art that I was drawn to. It was a piece done on black velvet by Charles McPhee like the one above. I have always been attracted to velvet art, or I should say good velvet art. I have yet to acquire a piece of velvet art but I felt the need to learn more about this artist. Here is some insight on him:


This was the only photo I could find of him. Obviously this was towards the end of his life.

Charles McPhee was born in Australian and went to Western Samoa in 1939 as a muscular young signwriter and mandolin player in search of adventure. There he married a lady named Toila and took a wartime job as a police officer. But he wanted to be a painter. He practiced his painting skills on American servicemen and warships, and the couple named their son, Paul Gauguin McPhee. The marriage ended and McPhee moved to Tahiti, where he learned the difficult and painstaking technique of painting in oils on velvet from American expert Edgar Leeteg. He fell for one of his mentor’s models, Elizabeth. She became his model for a series of Tahitian Girl, which he continued to paint for an eager public after the couple settled in New Zealand in 1951. Those who have seen versions of Tahitian Girl over the years find it romantic that the girl in the painting never seemed to age along with the model, Elizabeth. In his eyes, she retained her youthful beauty. His son, Paul McPhee, was unable yesterday to cast light on the mystery. “It’s a hard one. Yes, Elizabeth posed for father on several occasions and, yes, the look of the women stayed the same. “Elizabeth was beautiful … but we can’t infer he used her as a body for all his paintings.” Paul McPhee said he had a collection of his father’s paintings. “I had to buy them off my father because he never had any … If he kept one it would be sold. Someone would come to the house and say, ‘I’ll take that one’ and he would sell it to them.” McPhee died in November 2002 at the age of 92.


I know but we are all adults here! Anyways, he seems to be able to make his paintings look soo life-like. This one is called “Dusky Maiden”.

He was such a prolific artist and produced such cool pieces. I guess I am really keen on his work because of our efforts in our Tiki Room. We would love to have one of his pieces in our collection but they are not that common and can be kind of expensive.


The black of the velvet really makes the imagery jump off the canvas. It is obvious he was an artist who was a master of his technique, and showed a fine eye for the human form in sensual portrayals of women and athletic warriors.


He mostly painted Samoa natives but occasionally painted other things like landscapes and clowns.


Velvet art was pretty common in a lot of the trendy Tiki restaurants during the 50’s.

    I know but we are all adults here! Anyways, he seems to be able to make his paintings look soo life like.

It was interesting learning about Mr.McPhee and to see a sampling of his work. It would really be something to be able to paint like him. I will look upon the piece I found on-line with a little more interest.


19 responses »

  1. Our Catholic elementary school just rec’d a Charles McPhee entitled, “A Maori Joke” — A beautiful oil painting donated for our school auction. I would like to find out more about this and see if it would be better to hold it for online auction rather than try to sell it in Ketchikan, Alaska at a small-town auction.


  2. Hey!! Im writing the biography on Mcphee. I have his full estate amd will finsih the book this year. I have 22 of his original paintings…. THey are very cool…


    • Heath..I envy you. I would love to have just one Mcphee piece. I don’t feel that velvet art gets enough credit. There is a depth to velvet art that you can’t capture with other canvases. Mcphee was one of the masters. Best of luck with your biography.


    • Would you want to purchase another for your collection? I think we still have “A Maori Joke” available. I can check if you are interested.


      • I recently came into one of his painting titled “Bora Bora” and would like to know if it could possibly be an original. It has a plaque on the front with his name as well as signed by the artist in the piece itself. Does anyone know where the original is and if this is a print, what would it be worth? Having a hard time getting an estimate.


    • Hi Heath,
      I knew Charles in NZ. My wife and her husband were very close to both Charles and Elizabeth. He gave them the only self portrait he did plus there’s a matching portrait of Eliazabeth. I also have a number of other Maori pieces. All are on velvet. Love to see the book.


    • Hi,
      I recently inherited the Bora Bora painting and would like to sell. It is framed and signed with a plate on the lower front of frame. Could it be the original? Can you direct me to someone who can appraise? I live in San Diego.



    • Hello – would you be able to tell me who ‘Nani’ was ?
      I relation has a painting and would like to know who she is and where she was from – thankyou


  3. i have a painting from charlie that i would like to know if it is worth something it is the one of the girl aasd 346×466


  4. Hi. I have 2 Charles McPhee paintings. One of A Maori Joke and one of Tahitian Innocence. Am looking to possible sell. Anyone know where I should start as far as selling? Thank you!



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