Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki has acquired an important historical masterpiece which is believed to be the earliest oil painting of a haka. First exhibited in 1857, the painting is titled War Dance at Taranaki, New Zealand, Mount Egmont, in the distance, and was created by English artist William Strutt. The painting has been held in private collections since it was first painted and has rarely been seen in public. It is one of only seven oil paintings of New Zealand by the artist. It will go on view in its new home at the Gallery this weekend.

    Tātaki Auckland Unlimited Gallery Director Kirsten Lacy says, “War Dance at Taranaki, New Zealand, Mount Egmont, in the distance is an incredibly rare artwork and a major addition to the Gallery’s collection. A small painting with a huge story to tell, this work holds immense historical importance, and I am delighted to be bringing this into a public collection where all can enjoy and learn from it.”

    The Gallery purchased the painting from Art+Object by a private treaty sale for $885,000 with funding from several trust funds dedicated to supporting the Gallery’s collection, contributions from private individuals and the Gallery’s collection development budget.

    “Te Toi o Tāmaki is pleased to have facilitated a process that brings this significant taonga back into the public domain,” says Poumatua Head of Kaupapa Māori Joe Pihema. “The Taranaki iwi connected to this painting have been kind and generous in sharing their knowledge and mātauranga to provide a more fulsome historical context."

    William Strutt moved to New Plymouth in March 1855, buying a bush section at Mangorei which he intended to clear and farm. He was quickly defeated by the enormity of the task, returning to Melbourne in July 1856.

    Visitors will have the opportunity to view the painting from Saturday 15 June as part of the Gallery’s New Zealand collection display Taimoana | Coastlines: Art in Aotearoa.