Te Papa displays iconic Rita Angus works in landmark exhibition

Te Papa’s summer exhibition Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist | He Ringatoi Hou o Aotearoa opens to the public on Saturday 18 December, bringing together more than 70 works by one of Aotearoa’s most iconic 20th-century artists, Rita Angus (1908-1970).

The exhibition runs until 25 April 2022 and entry is free. The works on display span Angus’ life and career as an artist, drawing out the themes of pacifism, feminism and nature, which shaped much of her work.

Te Papa has created a large-scale digital interpretation of Rita Angus’ 1953-56 painting Central Otago, which sits in Toi Art’s Threshold Gallery. Supported by a soundscape featuring natural sound and music composed by Douglas Lilburn, the projections invite visitors to enter the artist’s world – exploring the landscapes that Angus captured in paint, her fluid watercolour studies, and her vivid palette of colour.

The exhibition features four recent acquisitions. Self portrait (nude, seated) is a nude self-portrait painted in 1942, when Angus was staying with her parents in the Hawke’s Bay. This remarkable work demonstrates the artist's uncompromising view of herself, and of her life as a woman and artist.

Self-portrait (with moth and caterpillar) (1943) combines the most distinctive features of Angus’ practice, including self-portraiture, landscape painting and an interest in the natural world.

Douglas Lilburn (1945) and Self Portrait (1947) are among Angus’ most important watercolours. Both were painted during a particularly significant and prolific time in her life. The portrait of Lilburn records her close relationship with the composer – a man who she saw as her artistic soulmate. The 1947 self-portrait is a wonderfully direct, closely observed painting, done when the artist was 39.

All four works have been acquired from the Rita Angus Loan Collection; a collection of over 700 works that are held and cared for at Te Papa. The works came into the national art collection in 1972, shortly after Angus’ death.

The Angus family have generously donated two works to Te Papa from the Rita Angus Loan Collection. Self portrait (nude, seated) is donated in memory of Melvin Day (Director of the National Art Gallery, 1968-1978). Self-portrait (with moth and caterpillar) is donated in memory of William McAloon (Curator Historical New Zealand Art, 2005-2012).

Te Papa Head of Art Charlotte Davy says, “We are extremely grateful to the Angus family for these generous and important donations, which will bring two of Rita Angus’ most evocative and significant works into Te Papa’s collection.”

Douglas Lilburn (1945) and Self Portrait (1947) have been acquired with assistance from the Te Papa Foundation.

Dayle, Lady Mace, Chair of the Te Papa Foundation, says “The Te Papa Foundation are thrilled to support the acquisition of these important works, by one of New Zealand’s best-loved artists. We offer a huge thanks to our donors for their very generous pledges, which have helped to ensure that the artworks enter the national collection.”

Te Papa Head of Art Charlotte Davy says Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist is an exhibition for the whole family to enjoy this summer.

“This exhibition will introduce a new generation of New Zealanders to Rita Angus’ work,” she says. “It is remarkable how much power and relevance her paintings still have today.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a full catalogue, Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist, featuring all the works in the exhibition and anchored by two major essays by Angus’ biographer Jill Trevelyan and Chief Curator at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, Dr Adrian Locke.

Te Papa Press also published a new edition of Trevelyan’s award-winning book, Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life in April.

The exhibition is on display at Te Papa’s Toi Art. After Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist closes at Te Papa, a smaller exhibition will tour a number of regional galleries around the motu (country).


Notes to Editors:

Public events

Art Narratives Tour: Rita Angus and New Zealand’s World of Art: Celebrate New Zealand’s world of art on this guided tour of Toi Art at Te Papa.

Rita Angus: High Tea: 11am & 2pm daily, 18 Dec 2021–25 April 2022, Espresso, Level 4.

Open Day: Rita’s garden: 5 Feb 2022, 1–4pm, Rita Angus Cottage, 194A Sydney Street West, Thorndon, Wellington. Free entry.

Talk: Rita Angus’ Eyes: Sun 13 Feb 2022, 11am–12pm, Toi Art, Level 4. Free Entry.

Images and credits

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Media contact

Sasha Borissenko, Communications Advisor