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.
- See our digitised copy of the exhibition catalogue.
Read 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.