Record price expected for portrait of Ngāti Kahungunu chief

By James Perry

An oil painting of one of the Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 could bring a record price at a sale of important and rare art in Auckland next week.

Harawira Te Mahikai was chief of the Ngati Kahungunu tribe when he signed the Treaty and when he died in 1886 he was the last tattooed chief of Waimarama.

Czech artist Gottfried Lindauer, painted the oil on canvas piece in 1883, three years before Te Mahikai died. 

Lindauer retained the portrait he painted of the Maori kaumatua (respected elder) wearing an ornate Maori cloak and holding a taiaha (long fighting staff) until 1908 when he gave it to his son Hector on his 21st birthday. Most recently it has been in a private collection in Auckland.

The painting is the feature of the sale o at the International Art Centre in Parnell, Auckland, and Art Centre director Richard Thomson said it was “a beautiful painting which has everything.

'One of Lindauer's best'

“It’s a powerful painting and has all the hallmarks of a top Lindauer work. It has everything that someone would be looking for. It’s a top painting and a top subject.  It’s a beauty and the interest that has already been shown in it already is quite amazing.

"Lindauer along with Charles Goldie both produced remarkable portraits of Maori kaumatua and this would have to rank as one of Lindauer’s best."

The sale also features works by several highly respected and sought-after New Zealand artists, including Ralph Hotere (Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa), considered one of New Zealand’s most important artists. Works by Buck Nin (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa) also feature in the auction.

Prominent Kiwi artists

Works include Dunedin-born Frances Hodgkins and Peter McIntyre, also Dunedin-born, who was appointed by Victoria Cross winner Major General Bernard Freyberg as the official New Zealand war artist in World War II.

McIntyre studied art in England before the war and continued to paint New Zealand scenes after the war ended in 1945 and he returned home. One of his works, Waiting for the School Bus, features three school children waiting for the bus to take them to school, and may bring up to $120,000.

One of Hotere’s works, Kyrie Eleison No 5 is also expected to bring up to $120,000.

Hodgkins spent most of her working life in England where she earned a reputation as an influential painter when she painted many still life and landscape works.

“There has been significant interest in many of the works in the catalogue for this sale and we believe the Lindauer work, in particular, could sell for a record price, based on the interest we have experienced,” Mr Thomson said.

The auction will take place next Wednesday night, in Auckland.

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air