Maori Portraits

The Tattooed Spirit

Gottfried Lindauer's portrait of Paora Tuhaere. Source: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Gottfried Lindauer's portrait of Paora Tuhaere.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Gottfried Lindauer is one of the few 19th century artists to paint the likenesses of an indigenous people as equals to the Europeans. He painted them in a style reserved for the aristocracy and ruling class.

  • Facts


    • An exhibition of New Zealand’s indigenous people painted by German artist Gottfried Lindauer was unveiled in Berlin by a Maori elder.
    • Lacking work and hoping to escape military service, Mr. Lindauer immigrated in 1874 to New Zealand, where he discovered the country’s indigenous people.
    • The exhibition of his work will be shown at Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie through April 12, 2015.
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Perhaps there have been press conferences at museums that took place earlier in the morning than this one – but almost certainly this conference was the most unusual.

Berlin’s Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie) called the media together on Tuesday at exactly 7:34 a.m, the precise moment of sunrise. Being in Germany, the sun was hidden behind thick November gray clouds. Minutes later, a small elderly man with thick white hair came out wearing a mantle of brown kiwi feathers draped over his shoulders.

The museum’s foyer echoed as Patu Hohepa, a Maori elder accompanied by two women also in resplendent shawls, started the ceremony with singing. A man wearing only a black loincloth and two white feathers on his head, walked up the stairs brandishing his stone weapon while sticking out his tongue. His chest and face were adorned with geometric tattoos.

Eventually the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, headed upstairs with the country’s ambassador to Germany to a new exhibition. Elder Patu Hohepa stepped in front of all 48 paintings to establish contact with the spirits behind them and ask permission for the museum to show them.

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