Historic art and literature in Dunedin

With a rich history of artistic practice and benefaction, many private collections are now on public display in public institutions.

With a rich history of poets, artists, writers, collectors and connoisseurs, Dunedin has an exception artistic pedigree, which has been recently recognised as a UNESCO City of Culture: Literature.

For decades, collectors have been supporting the arts in the city, and today many of the city's private collections are now on display in various public institutions for the public to enjoy.

Owning its existing to Dr Thomas Morland Hocken, another great Dunedin collector and benefactor, Hocken collected widely - books, newspapers, maps, pamphlets, photographs, pictures and artifacts relating to New Zealand, the Pacific and early Australia - gifting his collection to the Otago Museum in 1897, the collection is administered by Otago University. Poet and editor Charles Brasch made notable bequests to the Hocken Library and helped establish the University of Otago's Burns Fellowship.

Other extended family members related to Brasch, David and Dorothy Theomin - who gifted their home, Olveston, complete with all their personal treasures to the city of Dunedin - supported many artists including Frances Hodgkins and Grace Joel, many public institutions in the local Dunedin art scene with gifts of artworks and financial support including to the Otago Art Society and gifted many artworks to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. 

The Art Gallery Collection includes an excellent selection of British and European paintings and works on paper, gifted by other benefactors or purchased by the Gallery’s founding organisation, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society. Many of the major figures in Western art since the 15th century are represented, with high points including paintings by Machiavelli, Claude Lorraine, Rosa, Monet, Pissarro, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Turner and Burne-Jones. Occupying a special place in the collection is the work of Dunedin born painter Frances Hodgkins who mainly worked in England where she gained a significant reputation in the context of Britain’s Neo-Romantic movement (works by Frances Hodgkins also adorn the walls at Olveston). Amongst others, Theomin Family relations Mary, Dora and Esmond de Beer gifted many works to the Art Gallery Collection. 

Gifting over 80,000 items to the Otago Museum, another member of the extended family - Willi Fels, another Theomin relation - was one of the most generous benefactors in the city.

Dunedin Public Library too contains many private literary collections as well as many artworks and other items on permanent display.

A visit to Dunedin should include a visit to all these institutions:

Olveston, 42 Royal Terrace, entry inside the house is by guided tour only - the gardens and gift shop are open free 9am - 5pm daily. The gardens have been listed by the New Zealand Gardens Trust as a Garden of National Significance.

Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Octagon and open free 10am - 5pm daily.

The Hocken Collection, 90 Anzac Avenue, open free 9am - 5pm daily.

Dunedin Public Library, Octagon, open free 9am - 5pm daily.

Otago Museum, 419 Great King Street, open free 10am - 5pm daily.

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