Rare Māori portraits on display

22 rare watercolour portraits of Māori will be on display at the National Library’s Turnbull Gallery in Wellington from January 21 to March 16. Entrance to this exhibition is free.

The exquisitely detailed portraits were painted by Isaac Coates (1808-1878), a Quaker from the North of England. He moved to New Zealand in around 1843, arriving in the New Zealand Company settlement of Nelson. Coates spent only a few years in New Zealand before moving to Adelaide, Australia where he later chaired the New Zealand Club. Ten years later he returned to England.

AWNS-19150610-44-5, Quaker girls, Sir George Grey Special Collections
There is little information about the Head and Shoulders: Portraits of Māori (1808-1878) series painted by Coates during his brief time in New Zealand. Handwritten notes offer snippets of information from a tumultuous time marked by change.

“The people painted by Coates were living through a time of fundamental transformation, as the Māori and European worlds bumped up against each other. You can see this in the portrait of Pikiwati, who has a partially tattooed face, drawn in exquisite detail, but is also wearing European dress: a blue jacket and neck scarf.” says Alexander Turnbull Library Māori Curator, Paul Diamond.

Ref: 4-1592, the bowpiece of Te Rauparaha's waka (canoe), Sir George Grey Special Collections
The subjects are from around New Zealand and include: Te Rauparaha, Ngāti Toa; Tino, Te Ati Awa and Hingatu (with child), wife of Iwikau, Ngāti Toma. Research to date has revealed 52 portraits in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. Including 5 in the Bett Collection at Nelson Provincial Museum and 17 at Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Multiple copies were made of some of the subjects and comparison has shown small differences. Don't miss this opportunity to see these stunning portraits.