By Terry Ingram, on 31-Oct-2015

The financial esteem of the artist who first taught Australians to appreciate the pictorial values of our bush rangers and bush fires - as well as the local practice of little girls losing their way in the bush or at rocky outcrops - has blown out enormously.

This however is thanks to our friends across the ditch in New Zealand rather than the country where he made his biggest mark .

A New Zealand institution has paid approximately NZ1.5 million for a painting by William Strutt (1825-1915) in a deal that makes his past prices paid by Australians look extremely timid.

A New Zealand institution has paid approximately NZ1.5 million for a painting by William Strutt (1825-1915) in a deal that makes his past prices paid by Australians look extremely timid.

While the price was admittedly paid in a private treaty deal it still puts his previous auction prices in the shade. The top auction price recorded is $189,000 for a painting of a boy asleep on a donkey, at an auction held by Deutscher-Menzies. But then with a title like View of Mount Egmont Taranaki New Zealand Taken from New Plymouth with Maoris Driving Off Settlers' Cattle, a  64 by 84 cm oil painting, painted in 1861 and depicting an incident in the Maori wars there was one place that had to have it, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

With this important sale made by Christie's, in conjunction with an unnamed local player, the Mayfair auction house has continued to empty out UK attics of their Antipodean treasures by securing the sale for a family in the UK, which is said to have held it for more than a century and a half.

Christie's head of Travel in London, Nicholas Lambourn has continued his merit worthy work for both Christie's and the moveable cultural heritage of Australasia, returning art to where it is thought to belong.

He also returned $A7 million plus of Australian art treasures from one English country house alone, Knowsley Hall, now a zoo and wedding centre but once the home of a huge collection of early colonial drawings now in the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

Lambourn has made several journeys to this part of the world to considerably outflank Sotheby's International in the travel department and boost turnovers for Christie's in Australia in the years after it ceased holding auctions here.

Te Papa was given first offer on the work, the museum's executive Rick Ellis said in a press statement this week when it first went on view at the institution.

It would complement the watercolours by Strutt held by the Alexander Turnbull Library also in Wellington.

"I expect this new acquisition will become an icon of the collection," he added It is one of seven known paintings which Strutt is believed to have done of New Zealand subjects.

His most famous subjects are Australian, notably Bushrangers on the St Kilda Road and Black Thursday. Strutt did a lot of sentimental Victorian pictures that have probably detracted from his iconic Australian status although they have enabled him to go into collections of Australian art of the alphabetical kind built up by the late Joseph Brown.

Frank McDonald, Brown's chief competition in the 1970s was also a champion. Strutt also covered another important aspect of Australian subject matter - exploration, sketching the Burke and Wills expedition leaving Melbourne.

An oil painting of the burial of Burke appeared on the cover of a Joel's catalogue in 1973 and fetched the then substance sum of $13,000 when sold to a car dealer Denis Gowing so it cannot be said that Australia has neglected him. Indeed it could be said that in real terms New Zealanders are just catching up on his importance, thanks to the providential return to the market of an appropriate work.

Strutt was well rewarded for his fine drawings by publications of the day and in real terms the record might be challenged from his contemporary commissions and sales. Research has still to be done on that.

The Barkes brothers, John and Edward, and associated Bridget McDonnell Gallery in Melbourne, have also brought back works, notably studies for Australian pictures, selling to private collectors as well as art museums, sometimes helping to complete the understanding of works which long ago went into public holdings

Te Papas Historical NZ Art curator Dr. Rebecca Rice said that it was rare to find paintings that referred to disputes between the Maori and the settlers in the 1850s and 1860s. Painters tended to focus on the pristine landscape to encourage immigration.

It is a dramatic work with smoke pouring from guns and a homestead burning in the distance.

Strutt is currently enjoying some attention in Australia with an exhibition Heroes and Villains Strutt's Australia at the National Library in Canberra .

It is not the most expensive work bought by Te Papa as two works by Colin McCahon have been purchased for more than $NZ 2 million each.

Mr Ellis said that the price was arrived at after securing independent valuations and it "negotiated" the final sum.

With the exhibition at the NLA it shows that there is still work and business to be done with the art of the colonial period.

An exhibition of the work of S. T. Gill has is also being shared by the NLA and the State Library of Victoria.

Trained in the Paris and London academy and salon tradition, Strutt emigrated to Melbourne in 1850, spent some time in the mid 1850s in NZ before returning to Melbourne and then to Britain.

About The Author

Terry Ingram inaugurated the weekly Saleroom column for the Australian Financial Review in 1969 and continued writing it for nearly 40 years, contributing over 7,000 articles. His scoops include the Whitlam Government's purchase of Blue Poles in 1973 and repeated fake scandals (from contemporary art to antique silver) and auction finds. He has closely followed the international art, collectors and antique markets to this day. Terry has also written two books on the subjects