Culture
Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

Polynesian Collections - Auckland War Memorial

Polynesian Resource Center

Website: www.aucklandmuseum.com
Collections Available online; Not in any helpful way, unworkable site with images so small as to be meaningless.


The Auckland Museum has a fabulous Polynesian collection mainly centred on North Island tribal art styles. Adding to its share of the Oldman collection it gained many items from local Maori as well as the bounty of serious collectors like Sir George Grey and Gilbert Mair. Highlights are many but some that I especially admire are the huge War Waka carved in the 1840's, the famous Kaitaia Lintel and strangely enough a collection of portraits painted by a European painter.

Polynesian Resource Center

The portraits were painted by Charles Fredrick Goldie between 1895 and the early 1930's, Goldie was the son of a wealthy timber merchant who showed prodigious talent as a young man, so much so that no less a personage that the former Govenor Sir George Grey pleaded with the boy's father to allow his son to study painting in Paris. Goldie thanks to the support of his father did study in Paris at the Academie Julian under William-Adolphe Bouguereau for five years, returning to Auckland in 1895 where he set up as a portrait painter catering for the wealthy citizens of the town. But it was not his paintings of the rich that gained him fame, but his portraits of male and female Maori who possessed facial moko or tattoos. Tattooing as an art form was practiced throughout the Pacific, but it reached its highest perfection in the Marquesas and in New Zealand. By the 1840's tattooing began to fall into decline, so by the time Goldie set about frantically recording the surviving possessers of facial moko most to these Maori were old men and women.

As he aged and his models passed away Goldie fell from fashion and turned to drink and depression. On his death in 1947 his widow tried to sell his own collection to the Auckland Art Gallery but the Trustees felt that they owned too many Goldie paintings not too few. Finally humiliatied his widow donated his remaining Maori Portraits to the Auckland Museum where they now reside amid the great Maori Art of the collection. This outcome is the perfect one for Goldie's memory and for local Maori who still visit regularly their ancestors at the Museum. The presence of the portraits adds a tremedous flavour to the collection. Goldie was probably the finest ethnographic artist that ever lived, though the term ethnographic artist was mostly used by Local Modernist painters and curators as a slur and term of abuse. Maori, however adopt a far more pragmatic approach feeling quite rightly that Goldie did much to increase their mana when their forturnes as a people was at its lowest.

Polynesian Resource Center

War Waka were the ultimate expression of artistic power and mana for Maori and the Auckland Museum example is the finest surviving example, it is beautifully displayed so the whole body of the waka can be viewed. The size is tremedous and gives a clear idea of the power a war taua radiated amid invaded enemy country. In the 1820's through to 1840, manned by one hundred warriors armed with muskets and full cartouche boxes these craft were the pocket battleship of their age and meant certain death or slavery for any person not of the attacker's tribe.

Polynesian Resource Center

The Kaitaia Lintel is along with the famous A'a god statue from Rurutu the Mona lisa of the Polynesian World. Found by a local Maori while digging a drain at Kaitaia Swamp in 1920 the carving has long since had its description as a lintel dismissed being carved back and front unlike all other lintels, it was then described as a roof ridge orderment which it is not and as part of a gateway which it could be. At two and a quarter metres long the Kaitaia Carving is just plain impressive, an artistic tour de force, probably the most singular, complete and perfect piece of design in all of Polynesia. It would be nice to say that the Auckland Museum honour this work of genius with its own room, not a bit of it, last time I saw it ten years ago it was stuffed into a glass case with six or seven other items.

However, we hope more imput from Maori people involved in the Museum profession true respect for works of Polynesian artistic genius will eventually see the Auckland Museum be what it should be; one of the must see Collections in the World of Polynesian Art

 

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