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Frontseat’s Search for Greatest NZ Painting

Frontseat’s Search for Greatest New Zealand Painting turns up Ten Big Ones

The top ten finalists in the Search for the Greatest New Zealand Painting have been unveiled on TV One’s arts show Frontseat (Sunday 2nd April), and members of the public are now invited to vote on which is New Zealand’s greatest painting.

The top ten span 102 years of painting in New Zealand and include four Colin McCahons and two by Rita Angus. Nine of the top ten are held in public collections. The oldest dates back to the 19th Century, the most recent is a 1993 Bill Hammond.

Over the past six weeks hundreds of New Zealanders – including art experts and enthusiasts such as Jenny Gibbs, Wystan Curnow, Gregory O’Brien, Mark Amery, James Wallace, Christina Barton and Marshall Seifert – have nominated works that they believe stand as a pinnacle of painting craft in our land. These nominations, and the finalists, can be seen on Frontseat’s website ( and on the websites of the public collections they are held in.

The only criteria for Frontseat’s Search For The Greatest New Zealand Painting were that it must be a painting by a New Zealander, or a painting created in New Zealand.

“It may sound like a daft idea given that no two paintings are alike, and we know it will create controversy, but we wanted to celebrate the Kiwi canvas and find out what it takes to make a great painting,” says Frontseat host Oliver Driver. Dunedin gallery owner Marshall Seifert and art critic and curator Wystan Curnow submitted a “top 10” and “top 11” respectively at the beginning of the search.

Upon hearing of the finalists, Curnow remarked “It’s a pretty timid outcome. Four McCahons is commendable I suppose, although in the company he’s been given to keep, it should probably be more than that and better McCahons. I have to say I’m really upset that the Frontseat audience endorsed only one of MY ‘top 11’; I don’t know what that’s going to do for my art boffin status.”

Seifert congratulated New Zealanders on showing good taste: “I’m sure you’ve surprised a legion of heavy-breathers.” He was pleased with the inclusion of Robin White and Bill Hammond in the top ten, but felt that the lack of a [Tony] Fomison and a [Toss] Woollaston was lamentable. “However, I’m sure that history will remedy that.”

Oliver Driver said the poll had “stimulated debates about what constitutes a great painting, and what these works say about our identity, the growth of art practice in our country, and what value we place on art in our own homes”.

Seifert agreed. “You can’t discuss something like this without being aware of the great sadness of going into New Zealand homes that contain no paintings”. He said the simplest start for remedying this was for New Zealanders to frame and admire their own children’s art.

The public now has four weeks to cast their vote to elevate one of the ten finalists to the number one position. Voting closes on April 27th and the results will be revealed on Sunday 30th April on Frontseat, TV One. Voting can be done online at, by email ( or by writing to Frontseat, PO Box 6185, Te Aro, Wellington.

Further queries about the Frontseat Search for the Greatest New Zealand Painting can be directed to Mary Parker, Research Director, Frontseat, Ph 027 2597537 or 04 3847789 or email

The 10 Finalists in the Frontseat Search for New Zealand’s Greatest Painting (in no particular order):

Title: A Waterfall In Otira Gorge Artist: Petrus Van der Velden Year: 1891 Collection: Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Title: Self-portrait Artist: Rita Angus Year: 1936-37 Collection: Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Title: Watching For Buller Artist: Bill Hammond Year: 1993 Collection: James Wallace Arts Trust

Title: Six Days in Nelson and Canterbury Artist: Colin McCahon Year: 1950 Collection: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Title: Fish and Chip, Maketu Artist: Robin White Year: 1975 Collection: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Title: The Promised Land Artist: Colin McCahon Year: 1948 Collection: Auckland Art Gallery

Title: Cass Artist: Rita Angus Year: 1936 Collection: Christchurch Art Gallery

Title: Northland Panels Artist: Colin McCahon Year: 1958 Collection: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Title: Rozzie at Pisa Artist: Grahame Sydney Year: 1978 Collection: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Title: Gate III Artist: Colin McCahon Year: 1970 Collection: Victoria University of Wellington


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