Inspired by the grand institutions of Europe, New Zealand's 19th-century colonists set about building a treasure trove of early European art for the nation's enjoyment.
From religious iconography by Machiavelli to landscapes by Turner and portraiture by Gainsborough, Angels & Aristocrats showcases their acquisitions in a celebration of New Zealand's premier public art collections.
Drawn from Senior Curator Mary Kisler's acclaimed 2010 book, Angels & Aristocrats brings together artworks from the collections of five New Zealand galleries: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Whanganui's Sarjeant Gallery.
In a fresh informal manner, Kisler reveals the changing meanings of artworks from the 13th to 19th centuries, bringing their stories alive for today's audience.
'Angels & Aristocrats is an exciting culmination of a very long project celebrating the rich variety of early European art collected by New Zealand's public art galleries since the 19th century', says Kisler. 'Initially, these collections were made through the generosity of private individuals who were eager that the nation's emerging museums should reflect the great institutions of Britain and Europe.'
Also included will be a recent Gallery acquisition never before exhibited in New Zealand: the 17th century portrait of Margaret Hughes, the first professional stage-actress in England and mistress of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, cousin to King Charles II.
Thanks to Auckland Museum, a selection of artefacts, including examples of private collections of beetles and butterflies, porcelain and Staffordshire dogs will add intriguing insight into the collecting practices of earlier centuries.
The touring exhibition has completed successful seasons at Dunedin Public Art Gallery and at Te Papa in Wellington. With each host gallery adding from its own collection, Angels & Aristocrats at Auckland Art Gallery will be the largest with an extra 38 paintings and sculptures.