Collection History

The Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) Art Collection was initiated by university staff in 1947, who voted to set aside funds to enable original works of New Zealand art to be purchased and hung in the University common room. Since then the VUW Art Collection has grown to become a nationally significant collection of modern and contemporary New Zealand art. This is now managed by the Adam Art Gallery, which works with the VUW Art Collection Trust to care for and develop the Collection for the benefit of staff, students and the wider public.

The VUW Art Collection is largely a display collection. It consists of paintings, sculptures, photographs and works on paper which can be found in the public spaces of all five university campuses. Key artists in the collection include: Mark Adams, Don Binney, Julian Dashper, Don Driver, Jacqueline Fahey, Brett Graham, Fred Graham, Louise Henderson, Frances Hodgkins, Ralph Hotere, Emily Karaka, Vivian Lynn, Colin McCahon, Niki Hastings McFall, Evelyn Page, Fiona Pardington, John Reynolds, Michael Smither, Yuk King Tan, Gordon Walters, John Weeks, and M.T. Woollaston, amongst others.

Numbering more than 550 items it comprises the VUW Art Collection, the Staff Club Collection, the Hall Collection, the Wellington College of Education Collection and the Gordon H. Brown gift.

Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection
In 1958, Victoria’s Council made an annual grant of £100 available to establish a collection of pictures that would ‘eventually constitute a valuable historical record of the graphic arts in New Zealand’. A Purchase of Works of Art Standing Committee was formed to suggest and approve acquisitions. As the first staff representative, Douglas Lilburn oversaw the purchase of a number of significant works including Colin McCahon’s North Otago Landscape (1950) and Toss Woollaston’s Landscape with fire (1960). Such purchases laid the foundations for a collection that was committed to acquiring works by contemporary New Zealand artists.

Staff Club Collection
Following their first purchase of Sam Cairncross’ Daffodils (1946) in 1948, the Staff Club continued to acquire original New Zealand pictures. In 1955 they bravely decided to buy a work by expatriate artist, Frances Hodgkins. The acquisition of Kimmeridge Foreshore (c. 1938) stretched funds, but provided a stunning addition to a collection that was fast becoming representative of twentieth-century New Zealand art. The Staff Club maintains a fund for the purchase of works of art to this day.

The Hall Collection
In 1961, Mr and Mrs T. D. H. Hall gifted 29 works of early twentieth-century New Zealand art to Victoria. T. D. H. Hall was a law graduate of Victoria and later Chief Clerk of Parliament and his wife, Kate McKenzie, was the daughter of Professor Hugh MacKenzie and also an alumna of Victoria. Their generous bequest featured works by Petrus van der Velden, Sydney Thompson, D. K. Richmond, Harry Linley Richardson and Nugent Welch among others. This more historically oriented collection complemented the largely contemporary focus of the VUW Art Collection, although attempts to continue in this direction and backfill the collection were quickly abandoned due to market realities.

Wellington College of Education Collection
This collection is notable for its focus on acquiring works by local and regional artists as well as those by current and past staff and students. It evolved from a number of initiatives over the years: a yearly fund allotted to the Art Committee; gifts made by staff and students; artist residencies resulting in the production of works in collaboration with students and staff; and the use of library fines as a kitty to be spent on works of art to enhance the campus spaces. The collection features works by Robyn Kahukiwa, Robin White and Brent Wong and is particularly strong in photography, holding works by Peter Blackman, Robin Morison, Anne Noble and Ans Westra.

Gordon H. Brown Gift
A number of modest works of a domestic scale were gifted by art historian Gordon H. Brown in 2010. This generous bequest consists of drawings and paintings by Joanna Braithwaite, Philip Clairmont, W. D. Hammond, Jeffrey Harris, Mary McIntyre, Don Peebles, Philip Trusttum, Olivia Spencer-Bower and Toss Woollaston.

Victoria’s Art: A University Collection (edited by William McAloon) was published in 2005. It contains a history of the collection and short essays with colour illustrations on over 30 works. You can purchase a copy of this publication here

Essay: Victoria’s Art The Story of a University Collection by William McAloon [pdf]