Selwyn Te Ngareatua Wilson

Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Hine

Considered one of the founding figures of Māori modernism

Selwyn enrolled at the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland in 1945. He became the first Māori graduate from a New Zealand art school.  

In a hiatus from art school, he transferred to Auckland Teacher’s Training college, later teaching art to inmates at Mt Eden prison.  Wilson was entirely dedicated to the transformational power of art on disaffected youth.

In 1948 and 1950 two of his figurative paintings were the first Māori artworks to be acquired by a public gallery.

In 1957, Wilson was awarded the Sir Āpirana Ngata Memorial Scholarship to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, upon his return he dedicated himself to remote teaching positions in Northland under a new scheme to widen the scope of education to include Māori arts and crafts in mainstream curricula.  

“One doesn’t teach art just to make artists and art teachers. What I always aimed to give to all students was an awareness of the place where they live . . . and an eye for design of all functional things around us. “

Study of a head  1948

In this playful and gestural portrait Wilson paints his nephew Ponga Pomare Kingi Cherrington at their family homestead in Taumarere. Pomare recalled, ‘I would come home from school and Uncle Selwyn had set up the sitting. I sat in a chair and he stood at his easel with his paints. The sitting took two days . . .’ 

The portrait was a successful piece, winning first prize at an Elam School of Art and Design competition in 1948, and was purchased by Auckland Art Gallery the same year, all before Wilson graduated with a Diploma of Painting in 1951.

Materials: Acrylic oil on board, Oil on board. Collection of Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand.

Visit this artwork: Main Pavilion at the Giardini