The Partridge Correspondence

A fascinating series of Henry Partridge’s private documents relating to the Partridge Collection have now been digitised by the Auckland Art Gallery’s E.H. McCormick Research Library. These documents constitute the Partridge Correspondence.

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Tirohia te kohinga whakaahua View collection

The Correspondence1 spans from 1896 until 1930, with the richest information covering the 19 years from the start of the Correspondence until the gift of the Partridge Collection to the Auckland Art Gallery in 1915. Even though the Collection grew steadily during that period, the Correspondence has little information about Partridge's commissioning habits and there is in fact no direct communication between the patron and the artist. Instead, its strength is as a record of public opinion concerning the value of the Collection. Equally, the Correspondence shows Partridge's growing responsibility in managing the Collection as interest grew. From the documents, he emerges as an interested and altruistic collector.

Fig. 1 Unknown, Henry Edward Partridge c. 1899. Image kindly supplied by Bruce W. Graham.

Reserved amongst the Correspondence are many letters of praise written by prominent early Auckland and New Zealand figures. Such letters often came after a visit to the Partridge family home in Grafton where the Collection was on public display.2 Henry Partridge (Fig. 1) seems to have greatly valued such correspondence, especially in light of his own comparatively private life. In fact, the earliest document is a letter of this kind sent in October 18963 from John Logan Campbell and William Swanson (Fig. 2), a successful logging entrepreneur and politician.4

Fig. 2 Charles F. Goldie, The Hon William Swanson MLC, 1901 oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of the artist, 1920

The attitude reflected in that letter is common within much of the Correspondence: the Collection was prized as a record of important deceased Māori figures, its value was often mentioned, and the accurate likeness of the portrait sitters was marvelled at. Many correspondents also offered biographical information about the portrait sitters whom they had known, as Logan Campbell did for Tamati Waka Nene (Fig. 3).5 Partridge also actively researched the portrait sitters himself, approaching European individuals who had known them. In January 1897 he was offered short biographical sketches by Charles Nelson, the proprietor of the popular Geyser Hotel in Whakarewarewa, Rotorua. Nelson had been a staff member in the Native Land Purchase Department for 13 years previously and had a personal interest in Māori culture.6 Nelson also encouraged the photographer Josiah Martin to inspect Partridge's collection, as he knew Martin would appreciate it. In addition, Partridge received another 20 biographies between 1898 and 1905.7  These came from James Mackay, an influential former Government Land Agent in the Waikato. The two had met in the 1870s in Thames8 and Mackay apparently took Partridge to Māori settlements in the course of his work.9 The Partridge family later credited Mackay as being the catalyst for his interest in Māori culture.10

Fig. 4 Maori Portrait Gallery The Lindauer Collection' in The Auckland Star 2 September, 1901 p3. Image thanks to Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries.

In 1901, Partridge began exhibiting the collection free of charge on the floor above11 his business premises12 at 204 Queen Street (Fig. 4).13. The display area was known as The Lindauer Art Gallery14 and the Correspondence features an elegant invitation card that was distributed to tourists. Now that he had a dedicated space for display, Partridge continued to commission portraits from Lindauer but also increased his commission of large paintings showing Māori customs. The Correspondence records a discussion relating to this where between February 1902 and January 1903, James Mackay tried to arrange the performance of a war dance for Partridge. That event was to be photographed and potentially reproduced by Lindauer. Mackay appealed to Partridge to record the event as he felt that customary knowledge would be lost as the older generation of Māori passed away; Mackay stated 'So much for these degenerate days. O tempora, o mores!!!'15. At the time, Mackay was advancing in years and in a weakened financial circumstance.  Partridge's interest in this matter may have given him some relief.

The Collection was well known by March 1904 when Thomas Donne of the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts sent a telegram to Partridge to ask if he would loan the New Zealand Government several portraits for display at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair in Missouri, United States.16 The St Louis World's Fair was one of the major Fairs of its time, hosting 62 countries.17 Partridge agreed and chose 10 artworks to send; the portrait of Tawhiao, the Second Māori King, was chosen along with seven other portraits and two large scenes titled The Tohunga-ta-moko at Work (Fig. 5) and The Tohunga under Tapu (Fig. 6). 18 Partridge was later awarded a 'Gold Medal for Paintings of Māori Types' by the International Jury of Awards at the Fair.19 He accepted the medal and there was no mention of Lindauer as the artist.

In early 1906, Partridge looked to sell his collection as the lease was due to expire on his Queen Street store where the paintings were displayed. He offered the Collection to the New Zealand Government for ₤10,000, which they refused due to the high price.20 Partridge justified the amount in a letter to Augustus Hamilton, Director of the Colonial Museum in Wellington.21 He believed the entire collection was worth that figure and felt the value was maintained by his holding the intact copyright for many of the paintings.22 The matter of copyright plainly meant a great deal to Partridge as he showed persistence in applying for and gaining the copyright for 70 of his paintings over a period of 15 years. In doing so, Lindauer and Kennett Watkins, the only other artist represented in the Partridge Collection, were required to surrender their claim to copyright. The Copyright Certificates are also held by the E.H. McCormick Research Library.23

Concerned again in 1912 about another expiry of lease, Partridge loaned the Collection to the Auckland Art Gallery in 1913 at the suggestion of the Mayor of Auckland, James Parr. This loan was also encouraged by Thomson Leys, philanthropist and editor of the Evening Star.24 The Collection later came to reside permanently at the Auckland Art Gallery due to Partridge's own great act of generosity. He had been in Europe during the outbreak of World War I and was moved by the stand made by the Belgian populace against the advancing German forces.25 Upon returning to New Zealand, he offered to donate the Collection to the City of Auckland if the people of that district could raise ₤10,000 for the Auckland Belgian Relief Fund.26 The total amount was raised within seven weeks27 and Partridge was roundly thanked for this huge act of beneficence. After the donation, a draft text was written for a plaque that was to be displayed with the paintings. An unknown person stated in a hand-written note underneath the suggested text, 'It is desirable to clearly indicate that (the paintings) value consists in their representation of M(aori). customs- not as works of art'.28

With the donation completed, Partridge was released from the management of the Collection. As such, the Correspondence halts in 1915 and only continues again briefly in 1929. Discussion then relates to the publication by Whitcombe & Tombs of James Cowan's29 book, Pictures of old New Zealand: the Partridge Collection of Māori Paintings, 1930 (Fig. 7). Pressing for the publication of that book is the last record of Partridge's involvement with his Collection. He passed away a year later at the age of 83.

 

Stephanie McKenzie, Marylyn Mayo Intern 2009, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

  1. It is unknown when the Correspondence was donated to the Auckland Art Gallery, and by whom.
  2. Eileen Clayton, Grompy: The Story of a Pioneer (Eileen Clayton, 1959), p 19. Clayton states ‘For many years the pictures were housed at the large family residence’ but no dates are given. Letter from John Logan Campbell to William Swanson, 8 October 1896. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/1.
  3. Window on Swanson, http://windowonswanson.com/williamswanson.htm
  4. Letter from John Logan Campbell to William Swanson, 8 October 1896. Partridge Correspondence. E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/1.
  5. ‘Whakarewarewa’, The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]. New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. Victoria University of Wellington. 2008,
  6. James Mackay, Biographical sketches, 1898 – 1905. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/7.
  7. Clayton, Grompy, p.18.
  8. Clayton, Grompy, p 18
  9. Clayton, Grompy, p 18.
  10. Leonard Bell, 'Lindauer, Gottfried 1839 - 1926', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, 22 June 2007,
  11. Letter from Henry Partridge to Augustus Hamilton, 7 March 1906. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/45.
  12. There has been some confusion over the correct address of the store on Queen Street. It is believed to have been at either number 202 or 204 Queen Street, or possibly a site covering both locations.
  13. Clayton, Grompy, p 19.
  14. Letter from James Mackay to Henry Partridge, 31 December 1902. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/16.
  15. Telegram from T. E. Donne to Henry Partridge, 1 March 1904. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/26.
  16. ‘Louisiana Purchase Exposition’. Wikipedia, 1 September 2009,
  17. T.E. Donne, New Zealand Government Catalogue of Exhibits at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904, St. Louis, Missouri (St. Louis: Little & Becker Printing, 1904).
  18. Letter from T. E. Donne to Henry Partridge, 4 April 1906. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/38.
  19. Letter from Henry Partridge to Augustus Hamilton, 7 March 1906. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/45.
  20. Letter from Augustus Hamilton to Henry Partridge, 28 February 1906. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/44.
  21. Letter from Henry Partridge to Augustus Hamilton, 7 March 1906. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/45.
  22. The Copyright Certificates for the Partridge Collection, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/4.
  23. Letter from C. J. Parr to Henry Partridge, 13 December 1912. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/50.
  24. Clayton, Grompy, p 19.
  25. Clayton, Grompy, p 20.
  26. The Auckland Star, 22 May 1915. Article in page 50- 51 of Partridge Collection Newspaper Cuttings folder at the Auckland Art Gallery’s E.H. McCormick Research Library.
  27. Partridge Correspondence, E.H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery, RC2009/2/60.
  28. For more information on James Cowan see: David Colquhoun, 'Cowan, James 1870 - 1943'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007

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