The Gallery of Helen HitchingsTe Huarewa Toi o Helen Hitchings

Helen Hitchings’ vibrant dealer gallery was ground-breaking in its presentation of modern art and design in New Zealand.

When | Āhea

24 Aug 2016 – 26 Feb 2017

Where | Ki hea

Level 5

Cost | Te utu

Free exhibition


All ages

In 1949, a glamorous trailblazer opened the first modern art-dealer gallery in New Zealand. Helen Hitchings (1920–2002) was just 28 when she began promoting future icons of New Zealand art and design including Rita Angus, Toss Woollaston, Colin McCahon, and Len Castle.

Hitchings created an informal, welcoming atmosphere in her Wellington gallery. She encouraged visitors – who had seldom seen modern art and design outside of magazines – to ‘look at and feel everything’.

Arthur Rex Dugard Fairburn, Curtain, circa 1950. Purchased 2015. Te Papa (GH017983).

In her gallery, Helen Hitchings wanted ‘to stimulate an awareness in a simple, practical way of the principles of good domestic design’. She spent a year searching for the country’s best modern works, such as the textiles, furniture, and art to your left.

She enlisted poet A R D Fairburn to supply hand block-printed fabrics. Inspired by Theo Schoon’s photographs of Maori rock drawings, Fairburn introduced a bright palette into the designs. Viennese-trained architect Ernst Plischke’s light, portable furniture encouraged flexible living. His harmonising of furnishings and architecture mirrored Hitchings’ integration of design and art.

Unknown, Interior of the Gallery of Helen Hitchings, 1949-1950, silver gelatin print. Te Papa (CA000124/001/0032).

Photo News Ltd (Wellington, N.Z.), Helen Hitchings with work by Margaret Garland, R.N. Field, Timaru Potteries to Hitchings design, First work of Leonard Castle, circa 1950. Te Papa (CA000124/001/0048).

The first Len Castle ceramic exhibited by Helen Hitchings is in the foreground of this photograph. Hitchings holds a jug she designed.

Helen Hitchings, 'Bean pot' casserole dishes, 1949. Purchased 1993 with Charles Disney Art Trust funds. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (1993-0037-3/1-2).

Hitchings supported local potters, but also designed her own functional pieces. She commissioned Timaru Potteries to produce ovenware that was both attractive and affordable.

Bristow Mawley, Portrait of Helen Hitchings, about 1950, gelatin silver print. Te Papa. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (CA000124/001/0066).

Photo News Ltd, Helen Hitchings inspecting a self-portrait on display in her gallery, about 1950. Te Papa (CA000124/001/0060).

I’ve simply furnished an extremely large room, landing, and stairway with articles mainly designed and made for the project … the room has a yellow ceiling, white painted brick walls, two partition walls, of which one is dull blue and the other buff. It has grey doors, windows, and beams, and some terracotta shelving.

Helen Hitchings, 2YA Women’s Session interview, 1950

Ernst Plischke, Zealandia Chair Company, W Kilby, Easy Chair, circa 1949. Gift of Dan and Emma Eagle of Mr Bigglesworthy, 2013. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (2013-0010-1)

Douglas MacDiarmid, Papa cliff pool with bathers, Taihape, 1947. Purchased 1993 with Harold Beauchamp Collection funds. Te Papa (1993-0037-7).

Sir Mountford Tosswill Woollaston, The red shed, Jackson’s orchard, Mahana, 1943/48. Gift of Mrs M A Hall-Kenney, 1968. Te Papa (1968-0011-1).

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