New Zealand's largest private art collection, the Les and Milly Paris Collection, is going under the hammer in September.
About 200 pieces will be auctioned from the Wellington couple's collection, which began in earnest in the early 1960s with the purchase of a Peter McIntyre portrait, Maori Boy.
Mr Paris, a lawyer who died in 2000, would spend his lunch breaks in auction houses nearby the courts, and it was there that he started picking up artworks, at first historic pieces from dead artists, and later more contemporary works.
Mrs Paris, 77, who continues to live in their Strathmore home, said yesterday: "I much preferred collecting paintings by living artists because I felt it was more of our time, not just a pretty picture of a lovely sea . . . I was more interested in paintings that made you think."
Together they would buy what work they could afford.
They went on to build one of the country's largest private collections, containing some of New Zealand's most important artists, including Ralph Hotere, Michael Smither, Colin McCahon and Gordon Walters.
It was never their intention to choose art that would become so valuable.
"You buy art because you like it," Mrs Paris said.
"We never bought it because of the signature . . . I think it was more than appeal, it had to talk to us, had to say something to us."
The collection grew so large that they extended their home to add more wall space.
Until recently, the walls in every room were covered floor to ceiling with works by Hotere, Richard Killeen, and Theo Schoon.
After her husband died, aged 72, Mrs Paris continued to buy a memorial work each year, from contemporary artists including Ronnie van Hout, Shane Cotton, Michael Stevenson and Seraphine Pick.
She had hoped to stay in the house with the collection until she died, but is moving to Sydney to be closer to her son.
So she is selling about half the collection and taking the other half with her.
"I didn't want to sell any of them, but it's necessary. I tried to choose an apartment that had wall space rather than lots and lots of windows, so I do have some wall space but not nearly enough.
" I'd take the whole collection if I could, but it would be wishful thinking."
Auckland-based auction house Art + Object is producing a catalogue encompassing the Parises' entire collection - close to 500 items including sculptures, photographs, paintings and pottery.
The auction will be at Art + Object on September 19 and 20.
THE PARIS COLLECTION
Les and Milly Paris began collecting shortly after their marriage almost 50 years ago.
Mrs Paris's favourite pieces are by Ralph Hotere, particularly the Sangro Series, a commentary on war inspired by a visit to the grave of his brother, a member of the Maori Battalion who died in Italy during World War II.
"It was extremely poignant, it always got to me when I looked at it, these men cut down in their prime."
They bought Rita Angus's AD 1968 after telling the owner they could not afford the asking price. Eventually they negotiated a more modest price and kept the painting until it was sold to the Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery in 2004.
Shortly before Mr Paris died in late 2000, he bought the only item Mrs Paris did not like: a sculpture by Rose Nolan in the Russian Suprematism style. "A week later he died and left me to pay it off."
- © Fairfax NZ News