Lindauer: Gallery of Memories

For Māori, the paintings of Gottfried Lindauer and his contemporaries Charles F. Goldie and Thomas (Darby) Ryan, are taonga tuku iho, treasures of an earlier time.

They resonate with the mana of those ancestors; their strength, their resilience, and their nobility. Each one is a poignant reminder of another time and place, and another series of dynamic relationships; each one is the record of a particular series of encounters, and memories.

What makes Lindauer different, and in many ways more intriguing, is that many of the  Māori people whom he painted were actually commissioning him. Many of his portraits occurred through the visionary patronage of Henry Edward Partridge, but not all of them.  Aristocratic Māori recognised his considerable gifts and chose to move beyond the photographic process of the day, and into a medium much more status-conscious, and much more enduring. They approached him.

Māori families and hapū do possess original Lindauer portraits; but for obvious reasons, they will not be identified in this essay. Some are displayed in the whare whakairo context, safely installed and constantly admired; one such house has four superb examples, including a massive canvas of a well known iwi leader. Local elders recall how this had sat in someone's shed for years, until rediscovery; two other pieces on the same marae were put away for decades, and found by a cleaning crew. Others continue to occupy pride of place above the mantlepiece or in a welcoming position before the descendant's front door. That they are originals is rarely disclosed.

Fig. 1 Tangi of Hema te Ao at the Raukawa Meeting House, Otaki, 1932, Silver gelatin print, ref. no. PA1-f-009-34-241, Timeframes

These images are also viewed as living beings; they are comforting, they imbue power and confidence, they also oversee ceremonial events. Many photographs of early twentieth century tangihanga feature significant Lindauer and Goldie portraits close by the casket (Fig. 1). As the deceased is addressed by an orator, often the korero turns to the portrait, reviving and remembering the portrayed. Even today, many Māori admit to quiet conversations with such images, seeking the advice of loved ones long since gone.  In modern times, commercial prints also line the walls of Māori homes, and they too are elevated as important attendants at tangihanga ritual. They are effective memento mori, remembrances of the chiefly dead; and yet also recent enough to be in the memories of many living today. As part of the whakapapa, the lines of ancestry, they present a focus of identity and pride.

In the Māori world of the third millennium, this focus is most refined in Lindauer's graphic  representation of  moko. The rangi pāruhi of men, and the moko kauae of women, are precisely delineated, indicating the level of trust he achieved with his sitters, and also the quality of the photographic material he was working with (Figs 2, 3). Many descendants refer to these images in the designing of their own facial moko; and once again the ancestral emblems of ngutu pūrua, darkened lips, and tīwhanawhana, swooping forehead lines, colour the living skin. Lindauer is a reliable and exacting source, and today moko wānanga, tā moko practitioners, and commercial moko studios have his images on hand, either as prints on the wall, or as reference books for ongoing work.

A further notable feature of Lindauer's opus is his meticulous attention to dress; the elegant fall of kaitaka, korowai, and kākahu, specific classes of cloak (Fig. 4); the diagonal construction of piupiu or pihepihe; the wondrous eccentricity of an aged veteran with not one huia feather but an entire bird adorning his shoulder (Fig. 5). Through this detailed record, we meet the personalities of the sitters; their vanity, glamour and wealth, for example three hei tiki, four huia feathers, a single giant mako tooth and three greenstone pendants adorn one stately dowager wrapped in a creamy kaitaka edged in deep polychrome tāniko (Fig. 6). A few prefer European dress; they are expensively attired, confident, formally besuited, fashionably gowned; or severe in military uniform and dress brocade (Fig. 7). Some rarer examples reveal young Māori women whose laughing open faces reflect both innocence and sensuality (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8 Gottfried Lindauer, Pare Watene, 1878, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mr H E Partridge, 1915

Their gaze is direct, and engaging; they are not romantic, archaic and residual, wistfully recalling a fading world, or conquered reality. The people of Lindauer's pictures are still fierce, defiant, assertive, proud, and in control of their own lives; their grasp of a future for their mokopuna is at least as firm and uncompromising as their grip on their dazzling array of traditional weapons. They are not haunted warriors dreaming of past battles, and wise elderly women sadly pondering twilight; they are undefeated, taking on the world around them on their terms. For me, this is what makes these images so powerful; they predicted the multifaceted, polyglot, adventurous, unstoppable Māori of today. These images are thus admired and loved by all of us, not just their actual descendants; although it is always an immense privilege, and deeply moving moment, to be there when a mokopuna sees the original portrait, and not a print from a book, for the very first time. This encounter, however, is best described by another writer. It is much more than tears and awe; it is ownership, bloodlines, inspiration.

Fig. 9 Here Hunia reproduced with the permission of the Metekingi whānau, Whanganui

Actual physical ownership of such taonga is limited to only a few Māori families and communities - most of Lindauer's works are in private and public collections, here and overseas (Fig. 9).1 This raises the issue of relationships, and the responsibility, and responsiveness, of institutions to Māori sensitivity, and the expectations of the descendants.

Over 20 years ago, conversations took place, engaging the tireless work of the late Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu,  as well as Mina McKenzie of Manawatu, Maui Pomare of Hongoeka, and Tā Kiingi Ihaka of Taitokerau.  They were all involved in strategic discussions with the key policy and action people of public institutions, particularly concerning portraiture, their display, management, and access protocols.  When the hugely successful Te Māori exhibition was mounted in Auckland in 1987, the Partridge Collection generated an outpouring of emotion as intense and extraordinary as the show in the main galleries; people met and cried with their tūpuna (Fig. 10). Museum and gallery staff on site had to review their practice, reassess their own biases, and listen to the descendants' voices; and most, if not all, of them did.

For the mokopuna of a celebrated nineteenth-century chief, or a formidable matriarch, their relationship is organic, motivational, affectionate, and often visible; the framed face often becoming a mirror image of the living grandchild four or five generations down the line. As proven taura tangata, does this validate or reinforce a claim of ownership, of belonging? In Māori terms, a clear relationship is declared. How many institutions understand this, or attempt to? And on whose terms?

Access should be a right, not a privilege. Institutions experience the authentic opportunity of being offered a mass of information both interpretive and historical by the Māori involved; the trade-off is access, and ideally the capacity to borrow, on conditions mutually negotiated. Public stewards of these taonga are ideally aware of their responsibility to the mokopuna of the sitters; who are ideally aware of the boundaries and heaviness of this stewardship, and most accept them, before access is appropriately, and sensitively, arranged. The conversations continue. It is those who remain captured in private collections, shut off from Māori and mokopuna, that may cause concern and grief; but that is another story, for another time. Now, we celebrate this opportunity to share, to view, to question, to marvel; and to consider, as well, the phrase:

Mā wai hei kawe taku kauae ki tawhiti?

Who will carry my face to a faraway place? Who will remember me? And in what way?



Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Professor, Centre for Māori and Pacific Development Research, University of Waikato Te Whare Wananga o Waikato





Further Reading

Cultural Conservation Advisory Council, Taonga Maori Conference New Zealand (Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs, 1990).

Elizabeth Edwards ed., Anthropology & Photography. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1992).

J.C. Graham ed., Maori Paintings by Gottfried Lindauer : Pictures from the Partridge  Collection  of Paintings Auckland Art Gallery (Honolulu: East West Center Press, 1965).

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Linda W. Nikora, Mohi Rua and R. Rolinda Karapu, Mau Moko The World of Maori Tattoo (Auckland, Penguin Viking, 2007).

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, 'Ta Moko : Maori Tattoo', in R. Blackley, Goldie (Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery & David Bateman, 1997).



  1. A recent example of a Lindauer portrait returning to descendants is contained in this article in the Wanganui Chronicle printed with permission of the author, Merania and Karauria:
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