Te Papa acquires two paintings from BNZ art collection auction

Robin White, Glenda at Tahakopa, oil on canvas, 1978.

Te Papa has acquired two paintings at an auction of one of the country’s most important private art collections.

The paintings purchased by Te Papa are:

  • Robin White, Glenda at Tahakopa, oil on canvas, 1978, purchase price $406,000. Pictured above.

  • A. Lois White, Design, watercolour on card, about 1944, purchase price $221,000. No image currently available due to copyright.

Te Papa Tumu Whakarae | Chief Executive Courtney Johnston said Te Papa would always encourage corporate and private collectors to consider donating artworks to public collections if they are dispersing a collection.

“We encourage any collector to think about the legacy they create when they put works into public hands, where they can be held in trust for future generations,” Ms Johnston said.

“There is a limit to what public institutions in New Zealand can afford to buy, and as the market becomes more expensive, the public will depend more on the generosity and vision of collectors who choose to donate works.”

Ms Johnston said Te Papa was delighted to secure the two works it purchased for the national collection.

“It is exciting for Te Papa to acquire two paintings of such stunning quality, by two important and beloved New Zealand painters,” she said.

“The response to a major retrospective of Robin White currently at Te Papa shows how popular her work is with New Zealanders, and Glenda at Tahakopa is one of her most iconic paintings.

“The Lois White watercolour is lush, sensuous work that evokes lesbian desire and love during a period when those histories were often hidden.

“Acquiring these two paintings, by women and portraying women, is part of our strategy to increase the presence of women in the national art collection.”

Te Papa’s Head of Art Charlotte Davy said the museum had closely scrutinised the works in the BNZ collection.

“While there were multiple works there that deserve a place in Te Papa’s collection, we need to work within our budget, and decided to focus on these two paintings,” Ms Davy said.

“These are works of fantastic quality, in great condition, and each holds an important place in the story of art in Aotearoa.”

Te Papa has an annual acquisition budget of $3 million. This includes collecting across all disciplines, from purchasing art and history items at auction, to funding field trips to collect flora and fauna, or travelling in the Pacific to work with communities and collect items from contemporary culture.

About Glenda at Tahakopa by Robin White

Glenda at Tahakopa is one of Dame Robin White’s most iconic paintings. Dressed in brilliant red, Glenda stands at the centre of the painting, arms crossed with her eyes fixed in the middle distance. Behind her is the corrugated iron siding of South Otago’s Tahakopa railway station. The work is large, and there is a calm companionship in the painting. As viewers, we are given a strong sense of the close relationships between artist, subject and place.

The painting is a wonderful example of White’s painting practice. White is technically extremely skilled, and her perfectionism as a painter is fully on show in this crisp, attention-grabbing canvas. The subject is Robin White’s friend Glenda, a primary school teacher and fellow member of the Otago Baha’i community.

About Design by A. Lois White

Design is an unusually fine example of Lois White’s watercolour painting. In the 1940s and 1950s White produced a number of varnished watercolours of this type, in which swirling compositions are combined with washes of translucent colour. This particular work is unusual for the complexity and density of its composition – despite being described as a design, there are no repeating motifs here. The painting is full of pattern, detail and delight: a scene of lush splendour.

Design joyfully proclaims women’s beauty and sexuality – in a way that is completely unlike any other work of this period in Te Papa’s collections. It represents women’s sexual desire, and lesbian desire and love, during a period when those histories have often been hidden or forgotten.

A. Lois White was born in Auckland in 1903 and grew up in a devoutly Methodist family. She trained at Auckland’s Elam School of Art from 1923-27 and spent most of the rest of her life both practising as a painter, and teaching at Elam. Te Papa holds 14 other works by A. Lois White.

About the BNZ art collection

The BNZ holds one of New Zealand’s most important private art collections. The collection was founded in 1982, when the bank commissioned Peter McLeavey – at the time the country’s leading art dealer – to buy artwork on their behalf. McLeavey built the BNZ collection between 1982 and 1988. He acquired paintings, prints, sculpture, textiles, ceramics and photographs by New Zealand’s most important contemporary and 20th-century artists. McLeavey’s deep knowledge of the New Zealand art world, as well as his privileged relationships with artists, meant that he was able to acquire the highest quality work. The collection has been held up, since the 1980s, as one of the best representations of 20th-century New Zealand art.

Media contact

Kate Camp, Kaiwhakahaere Whakapā | Head of Marketing and Communications
029 601 0180