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Both sides of NZ history in major Lindauer portrait exhibition

The tobacconist, the artist and the Maori chief

John Daly-Peoples
Fri, 16 Dec 2016

The Māori Portraits: Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand
Auckland Art Gallery
Until February 19, 2017

Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand: The Māori Portraits
Edited by Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope
Published by Auckland University Press in association with Auckland Art Gallery
RRP $75

It seems odd that a Queen St tobacconist and a German artist without any government grants or state encouragement should be among the important individuals who played a major part in the investigating and preservation of Maori culture of the late 19th century.

But, thanks to the work of Henry Partridge who owned a tobacconist and sporting goods shop in Queen St  where he installed a gallery for the display of the artist’s work, as well as the endeavors of Gottfried Lindauer, the country has a huge collection of portraits that document the upper classes of European and Maori culture. This is unique in the world in preserving the dominant as well as the indigenous culture of a country.

Without Mr Partridge, Mr Lindauer would not have created so many portraits and, without the businessman’s support, the artist might have left New Zealand before completing his many portraits.

The artist was commissioned by both Maori and Pakeha to paint the images of their own and others' faces. For both Maori and pakeha there was a desire to preserve the notions of important family name and line as well as the person’s connections with the community. For Maori, there was an additional element in that the preservation of the face of an individual both through their own history and the metaphorical history inscribed in the tattoo provided additional mana.

Now in a major exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery of 120 portraits by the artist featuring prominent New Zealand historical figures and rangatira from the late 19th and early 20th centuries the full extent of his enterprise can be seen.

Among the individuals depicted are the Māori King, Tawhiao, of Ngāti Mahuta; Tamati Waka Nene; James and Isabella Dilworth and Bishop Selwyn.

Auckland Art Gallery Director Rhana Devenport says of the show, "This exhibition offers a very rare opportunity to experience in one place so many original portraits by Lindauer of Māori and Pakeha ancestors from all over the country.

"These unique paintings depict in vibrant – almost living – colour, a time in New Zealand’s history that was otherwise only captured in early black and white photography," she says. 

‘These artworks, although impressive in their own right, are more than just portraits, they’re living connections to the past,’ she says.  

‘As taonga, these paintings have priceless cultural value for New Zealand and even more significance for the descendants of the subjects,’ says Ms Devenport.

Guest curator of the exhibition, Ngahiraka Mason, says Lindauer’s Māori portraits reveal a long history of engagement with protagonists from New Zealand’s past when he started painting tipuna Māori in 1875. 
Mr Lindauer lived in New Zealand from 1874 to 1926 and travelled extensively throughout New Zealand, painting Maori chiefs and rangatira and the works in the exhibition are arranged by iwi, from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South. 

The exhibition presents the portraits in their geographical order the top of the North Island down to the South Island –  Te Tai Tokerau; Waikato, Tainui; Hauraki, Marutūāhu; Mātaatua; Te Arawa; Te Tairāwhiti; Te Matau a Māui; Taranaki; Whanganui;  Te Wai Pounamu and Ngāti Toa, Te Ati Awa.

The exhibition outlines Mr Lindauer’s personal history, from his art education in Europe and his migration to New Zealand, to his artistic developments upon arrival, bringing new insights to the relevancy of his life’s work in the 21st century. 

Alongside the exhibition, is a smaller show, “Identifying Lindauer: His Materials and Techniques” which examines Lindauer’s art techniques and provides insights by comparing a number of his original works with a known forgery. 

The exhibition also features aspects of Mr Lindauer’s commercial approach to his art with nine images of his “Heeni Hirini and child,” which was a popular seller in his day and continue to attract high prices at auction.

In the past two years there have been smaller exhibition of 50 Lindauer’s works at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin), and at Lindauer’s birthplace, Pilsen, in the Czech Republic,

‘The Lindauer portraits were the absolute highlight of all exhibitions in Berlin’, says Nationalgalerie (National Gallery) curator Britta Schmitz. ‘We often have up to 2000 visitors per day to the exhibition and, altogether, have had almost 65,000 visitors since mid-November.

“The exhibition of portraits has attracted a diverse audience of all ages. German visitors are not only interested in Mr Lindauer’s artworks, but in Māori history, arts and culture and are especially intrigued to learn more about the relevance of the paintings for Māori today.”

Ms Devenport says the" tremendous success of the exhibition in Berlin is testament equally to the artistic insight of Mr Lindauer and to New Zealand’s extraordinarily rich and varied history. This success demonstrates a passionate appreciation and fascination with Aotearoa, its people and culture."

Accompanying the exhibition is a new book edited by Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope, which features 67 major portraits and 8 genre paintings by Mr Lindauer.

Each of the portraits is given a full-colour page along with detailed accounts of the subject. There are also articles on a variety of topics by writers including Leonard Bell, Nigel Borell, Chanel Clarke, Jane Davidson-Ladd, Ngarino Ellis, Aleš Filip, Sarah Hillary, Ute Larsen, Roman Musil, and Kahutoi Te Kanawa.

John Daly-Peoples
Fri, 16 Dec 2016
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Both sides of NZ history in major Lindauer portrait exhibition