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About our war art

The National Collection of War Art began during World War One. War artists were selected to create a record of New Zealand’s involvement in the conflict. New Zealand’s first official war artists were given the role in 1918 and by 1922 the Dominion Museum register recorded an 86-piece Fine Arts War Collection.

The artworks were kept in storage, and some remained there until the 1980s. Attempts were made to exhibit the collection but never succeeded, and the artworks remained unseen.

The role of war artists was recognised early in World War Two with artists and art groups requesting positions. The collection grew during the post-war period, as the British government presented New Zealand with artworks by British war artists. The collection was further enhanced by the additions of works by “unofficial” war artists.

After 1945 the Second World War part of the collection was used to help create the official histories of that war. The Army Department also had each artwork photographed. These photographs and their negatives were later stored at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

The collection was recalled to the National Art Gallery in 1952 for a major exhibition. About one third of the collection was lent to the Auckland Institute and Museum, and one third remained in the control of the National Art Gallery. The remaining third was loaned out to a variety of institutions around New Zealand.

We took over the care of the collection in 1981, and a nationwide recall of the artworks was undertaken. More works, some of which had not been exhibited in 1952 were still being discovered up to 1987.

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