Entertainment | Art

Māori artist’s works sell for eight times auction estimates

Two artworks by artist Pauline Yearbury (Ngāpuhi) have sold for eight times their predicted maximum at auction this week in Auckland.

The International Art Centre auction of art exclusively by women artists featured more than 100 works, including art pieces by nearly a dozen Māori artists.

“The interest was so great that many works sold for a lot more than the predicted maximum figure,” art centre director Richard Thomson said.

Yearbury’s St Francis, Tobias and Friends was expected to sell for up to $3,000 but went for $24,000 ($30,045 including commission and GST), while her Wake Up Saint Francis which was also predicted to go for a similar figure sold for $25,000 ($31,296).

The collection of art spanned several decades, from the early twentieth century through to the modern day, and sparked “significant interest” even in the days before the first bid at Wednesday’s auction in Parnell, said Thomson.

The highest price was $145,000 ($181,500) for a 1982 oil painting, Young Woman In A Bay Window, by late Christchurch artist Evelyn Page.

Thomson said many of the artists who featured in the auction had made significant contributions to New Zealand art history, including alongside Yearbury artists such as Fiona Pardington (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Ngāti Kahungunu), Star Gossage (Ngātiwai, Ngāti Manuhiri, Ngāti Ruanui) and Emily Karaka (Waikato, Ngāpuhi).

Other Māori artists to feature in the auction were Dame Robin White (Ngāti Awa), Ayesha Green (Ngāti Kahungunu, Kai Tahu), Hannah Kidd (Ngāti Toa) and Hariata Ropata-Tangahoe (Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Atiawa).

Also in the mix were works by Tira Walsh (Ngāti Wairere, Ngāti Hauā, Tainui), Hannah Ireland (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi), and Peata Larkin (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Tuhourangi).

Pauline Yearbury

Yearbury was born in Mātauri Bay, Te Tai Tokerau in 1926 and, alongside Dame Kāterina Mataira, was one of the first Māori women to attend Elam School of Fine Arts in Tāmaki Makaurau, a Toi Iho bio says.

“Yearbury’s artistic focus centered on Māori mythology, conveyed through incised wood panels featuring abstract and stylised figurative scenes. She became a leading practitioner in Māori modernist art, and her impactful work is held in prestigious institutions like the Whangarei Museum, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, and Russell Museum.

“In 1976, Yearbury showcased her dedication to ancestral knowledge with the publication of “The Children of Rangi and Papa,” an illustrated book illustrating the Māori story of creation. Her painting “Papatuanuku and Ranginui” was honoured on a New Zealand Post postage stamp in 2014.”

Yearbury died in 1977, aged 50.