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A new New Zealand art: 1920s - 1960s

The decades on either side of World War II were a period when New Zealand artists were looking both inward and outward.

From the 1920s, Sir Apirana Ngata promoted a revival of customary Māori arts in order to stem the loss of knowledge and strengthen the culture. This led to a rapid expansion in meeting house construction and restoration.

In the mid-1930s, many Pākehā artists felt New Zealand art had to start anew - acknowledging that they were now mostly New Zealand born and their work was rooted in a land far from Europe. Their solution was often to speak of this country through the painter’s language of nature and realism in a matter-of-fact way, using simple forms.

Artists also looked outward for revitalising new ideas from abroad. Abstracting the landscape was one response. Another was interpreting Māori art from the perspective of European modernism, an approach taken by both Pākehā and Māori artists. From this emerged the first generation of contemporary Māori artists seeking to express Māori knowledge and experience through Western art forms.

Click on the images below to find out more


The grey river and mountains

Toss Woollaston
The Grey River and mountains


Theo Schoon


Rita Angus


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