Portraits tell many thousand words
Portraits of some of our history’s most intriguing characters hang on the walls of the Auckland Art Gallery and yet few know who they are beyond the brush strokes.
The stories of Maori painted by the artist Gottfried Lindauer are being brought to life by their descendants in a new Maori Television seven-part documentary series Behind the Brush.
Auckland Art Gallery indigenous curator Ngahiraka Mason says these are tales which need to be told.
‘‘I think people will be wonderfully surprised. It’s very special – they’re human stories that are passed on by families and they are actually knitted together forever.’’
It is hard to imagine that in the 19th century the artist or patron would have considered the significance of these stories to their descendants who would pass them on all these years later, she says.
A portrait of the Mt Albert curator’s own ancestor adorns the gallery walls.
‘‘I really believe that they’re ready for this kind of exposure. It is time for these stories to come through their ancestors and to make their histories living,’’ she says.
Each episode of the series documents three ancestors through a combination of dramatisations and interviews with experts and the descendants.
of Lindauer and the patron who gifted the works to the gallery are also told.
Lindauer was born in the Czech Republic in 1839. He was professionally trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna before migrating to New Zealand in 1874.
A wish to avoid compulsory military service and the decline in portrait commissions as a result of photography are among the reasons
to be behind thought move.
In Auckland in the mid1870s he met businessman Henry Partridge who commissioned portraits of both living and deceased eminent Maori over the next three decades from Lindauer.
His aim was to create a pictorial history of Maori at a time when it was widely believed they were dying out.
Ms Mason says Lindauer
his was the people’s painter – an artist who had real relationships with his subjects and set a precedent for portraiture of Maori.
The gallery is home to 76 of his paintings.
Treaty negotiator John McEnteer is one of the subjects imparting the stories of his ancestors in the series.
A portrait of his greatgreat-aunt Pare Watene was painted by Lindauer in 1878.
The Mt Albert businessman says as the eldest member of his family after his father’s death he has a responsibility to pass on the stories of his ancestors.
‘‘As a young person you don’t know of that generation. I see that as my responsibility to be able to impart knowledge and the things I might have learned.’’
It is also an opportunity for the public to learn about these great people, he says.
‘‘In some sense the portraits are the physical representation of the person but on the other hand where’s the flesh upon the bones of the stories that bring these people to life.
‘‘It is the stories behind them that you can connect with.’’
Behind the Brush shows on Tuesdays at 8pm on Maori Television.
Behind the brush: Treaty negotiator John McEnteer and Auckland Art Gallery curator Ngahiraka Mason are helping to bring the stories of Maori painted by the artist Gottfried Lindauer to life in a new documentary series.
Imparting history: The portrait of Mt Albert businessman John McEnteer’s great-great-aunt Pare Watene as painted in 1878 by Gottfried Lindauer. The photo is courtesy of the Auckland Art Gallery. (Gottfried Lindauer, Pare Watene, 1878, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Mr H E Partridge, 1915.)