The $120k art mystery

CHRIS GARDNER
Last updated 05:00 13/10/2012
Chief Kewene Te Haho

FAMILY TIES: The Lindauer painting of Kewene Te Haho with direct descendants, 10 years ago. From left, Clinton Kewene and his son Joshua, 3, Mabel Kewene (the chief is her great, great grandfather), and Albert Kewene at Waikato Museum of Art and History.

Chief Kewene Te Haho
IMPOSTER: The fake painting of Tainui chief Kewene Te Haho, which ‘‘over a decade has successfully duped a range of experts’’.

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The authenticity of a supposedly 120-year-old Gottfried Lindauer painting of a Maori chief from the Waikato is in doubt after two forensic tests by experts proved inconclusive.

Trust Waikato paid $121,000 for the painting of Tainui tribal chief Kewene Te Haho, which has hung in the Waikato Museum of Art and History for a decade.

Auckland Art Gallery has conducted two tests on the painting, and is now in the midst of a third, after an unnamed member of the public pointed out the work had showed no sign of aging.

Dr Bev Gatenby, chief executive of the philanthropic Trust Waikato, said the painting had been bought at an International Art Centre auction in 2001.

She did not know when the third forensic test would be completed and the results available.

"They are quite technical chemical tests, there's quite a big effort," she said.

Asked what would happen if the Trust Waikato painting was proved to be a fake, Dr Gatenby said: "We will make a decision as to what the next steps are. The trust has been buying paintings for 10 years and the trust has a system in place."

Auckland Art Gallery principal conservator Sarah Hillary, who is conducting the tests, was not available for comment.

The painting was expected to sell for as much as $160,000 when it was auctioned in Auckland in March, 2001. After the sale, Trust Waikato's art buyer Stuart Stubbs said the painting was in "very good condition" considering it dated from the 1890s, although an exact date was unknown. Nineteenth-century Waikato paintings were scarce, he said at the time, because of the ferocity of the land wars.

The Times understands Roger Blackley, senior lecturer of art history at Victoria University's School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, expressed concerns with the authenticity of the painting but he declined to comment until after the results of the last tests had been shared.

Trust Waikato art adviser Ann McEwen also declined to comment.

The painting is one of two of Kewene Te Haho, a dominant chief of the sub tribes Ngati Naho, Ngati Whawhakia and Ngati Haua of Aotea Harbour near Kawhia, in public ownership. The other painting is in Auckland Art Gallery and is posed differently.

Yet another version of the painting is reported for sale online at artrecord.com, but you have to register for a fee. The Australian website could not answer whether it  was an original Lindauer.

The artrecord.com painting is one of 61 Lindauer paintings currently for sale.

Peter Wells, of Wells auctioneers in Auckland, said Lindauer was known to have made copies of previous paintings on demand, based on photographs.

Descendants of the chief were surprised to hear of the investigation.

"It's a pretty good fake if it is," said Teddy Kewene, a Whangerei-based great, great grandson of the chief. "He had a presence in the room. If it does turn out to be a fake and the price plummets I'd be pretty happy to hang it on my wall."

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Albert Kewene, a Kawhia-based great, great grandson of the chief, said the family had always wondered why his ancestor had sat twice for Lindauer.

"It's a magnificent painting, and it's got a different depiction to the Auckland Art Gallery one."

- Waikato Times

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