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We have a digitised copy of the catalogue from Christchurch’s first art exhibition.

After New Zealand’s first fine arts exhibition in Otago was a success, various Canterbury residents called  for a similar event in Christchurch. A committee was formed, a prospectus issued and a venue found: the recently completed but as yet unoccupied Canterbury Museum. The fine art exhibition was duly opened on 9 February 1870 by Provincial Superintendent William Rolleston.

What was on show? The catalogue reveals a diverse selection:

  • Engravings by Hogarth and Cruikshank.
  • A typography section including old and rare books (including a 1520 book by Genoese bishop.
  • Tapestries, medals,  and jewellery (“The first silver trowel made in the provinces”)
  • A finger in ivory, stiletto, and pipes formerly belonging to Lord Byron!
  • Dryden’s snuff box.
  • Several Chevalier paintings and some by Giorgione.
  • A Fuseli portrait of Dr Johnson.
  • A watercolour of a French chateau by Victor Hugo.
  • Māori exhibits including  garments, walking sticks, one of the first Māori translations of the Book of Common Prayer, and (disturbingly) a portion of a skull of a man killed in Te Rauparaha’s 1830 raid.
  • Befitting Victorian interests, there was also a case of archaeological remains.

The Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 9 February 1870:

Canterbury Art Exhibition

CoverRead about it in A Concise History of Art in Canterbury, 1850-2000. You can download it as a 24MB PDF from the Christchurch Art Gallery website. It was written by a team of curators led by Neil Roberts. It is also available at many of our libraries.

This is part of a splendid collection of digitised versions of books published by the Robert McDougall Art Gallery and the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu? Very useful,  interesting, and beautiful – stuff.