Historical Significance or Value
The original Gallery is of historical interest as an early example of a public art gallery in New Zealand. The Gallery in Nelson was the third to be built in New Zealand and the first to be designed solely for the display of art. The Gallery in Nelson is now the oldest in continuous use in New Zealand, having served as a high quality showcase for New Zealand and British art since its opening in 1899. It serves as a reminder of what was a bold innovation in late nineteenth century New Zealand.
The building is also of interest for its association with the Matthew Campbell School. This school was established in 1842 by the Nelson School Society, under the leadership of Campbell, to provide education and some religious instruction to Nelson's school-age children. Its approach to religion in schools was later adopted as the model for the New Zealand primary school system. The school continued to function until 1890, when it was converted into a school of mines to serve the gold and coal mining industries in the region. This school functioned until approximately 1900. The establishment of provincial government in 1854, who took over the responsibility of providing public education, and then a national education system in 1877 had left the Nelson School Society largely redundant and in 1895 it chose to donate the Matthew Campbell school building and the land to the Bishop Suter Art Gallery Board of Trustees. This donation was instrumental in bringing about the Gallery's construction, as it allowed the Trustees to sell their other land to fund the project. The school served as an extension to the Gallery for 78 years, when it was demolished to make way for a new gallery. The link with the School and its founder Matthew Campbell is now maintained through a portrait of Campbell commissioned by the Trustees, and a small memorial plaque that recalls the work of the Society.
Completed in 1899, the Gallery was designed by the noted architect Frederick de Jersey Clere [1856-1952] as a public showcase for art. The Gallery was one of the first permanent structures to be built solely for that purpose in New Zealand at the time. New Zealand's first public art gallery was the Auckland City Art Gallery. Opened in 1887, this building was a combined library and gallery. The second public gallery was built in Dunedin and was a temporary structure of timber and corrugated iron. Completed in 1889, it was replaced in 1905. Clere's design was a significant departure from these two buildings, being much simpler and smaller in scale. Clere's building appears to have drawn on designs established in the seminal gallery buildings in Britain, featuring high walls, and lighting by way of clerestory and skylights. Recently, the need for greater control over environmental conditions has led to alterations in the Gallery, including the construction of a false ceiling. The interior therefore appears modern and bears little resemblance to the original apart from the layout. Yet the majority of the internal work is reversible and the changes allowed the Gallery continue in its original use for over a century. The exterior of the building has been described as a New Zealand interpretation of the Queen Anne style, and was notable for its symmetry and its elegant eastern elevation. The north and west elevations, and the roof and skylight lantern, have retained high levels of authenticity of design, craftsmanship, and materials. However, the main elevation in the east, and the south elevations have been significantly modified, and Clere's original vision is difficult to discern. The Gallery now has less value as an original work by Clere, but is of interest as an early New Zealand example of a purpose-built, public art gallery.
As an institution the Suter is nationally important for its cultural heritage value. Including the oldest Gallery in continuous use in New Zealand, the institution has been a catalyst for the collection, creation and appreciation of New Zealand art for over a century. The fruits of the Gallery's construction in 1899 include the compilation of significant collections. The nucleus of the original art collection was the donation of Bishop Suter's collection by his wife Amelia of approximately 28 paintings by the noted nineteenth-century watercolour artist John Gully. The collection now includes over 40 watercolours by Gully and it is considered nationally significant, containing more than twice as many works by Gully as there are in any other collections. A second collection of national significance is the Austin Davies-Woollaston collection comprising 101 drawings, mainly from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. These were gifted in 1979 by the pioneering modernist artist Mountford Tosswill Woollaston (1910-1998). Woollaston, originally introduced to watercolour by a member of the Bishop Suter Art Society, lived and painted in Nelson and is recognised as a pioneer in modernism in New Zealand. He exhibited his works in the original Gallery in 1961, and in 1979 Woollaston donated 101 drawings to the collection. The Suter also holds significant collections by Lady Mabel Annesly, who served on the Bishop Suter Art Gallery Board of Trustees between 1949 and 1952, Nelson artist James Crowe Richmond, Petrus van der Velden, Margarest Stoddart, Mary Tripe, Gottfried Lindauer, Mina Arndt, Crook and Jane Evans. These works form an important historical reference, reflecting the development of New Zealand art over a century, as well as the changing influences of British masters on that development.
The original Gallery is of social importance as a memorial to Bishop Andrew Burn Suter (1830-1895), one of the most influential men in Nelson's history. Andrew Burn Suter was born in London, England about 30 November 1830. He was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge, completing a BA in 1853, an MA 1857, and doctorate of divinity in 1867. In 1860 he married Amelia Damaris Harrison. Suter was offered the bishopric of Nelson in 1865 and was consecrated at Canterbury Cathedral in 1866. He emigrated to Nelson in June 1867. Suter was instrumental in the growth of the Anglican Church in Nelson with large increases in the number of churches and clergy. He instigated clergy training in Nelson using his own residences as a theological college and at his own expense. He was an evangelical and encouraged this approach in his ministry. He helped establish a Board of Theological Studies for the Anglican Church in New Zealand in 1874 and he became its secretary. He was generous with his own funds, financing many projects on behalf of the church. He was president of the Nelson Philosophical Society, was interested in natural history and land conservation. He was passionately interested in art and as an amateur painter, he established the Bishopdale Sketching Club. He became chairman of the Nelson Education Board and president of the Nelson Harmonic Society. In 1878 he fought for a railway for Nelson and Marlborough, and in 1890 encouraged tolerance during industrial unrest. He suffered ill-health and resigned in 1891. He died in Nelson in March 1895. The Gallery commemorates a New Zealander of great significance and vision.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The Gallery is associated with persons of importance in New Zealand history. It was designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere, a noted New Zealand architect. Clere's design for the Gallery was one of the first created for a public art gallery in New Zealand. The Gallery was built in memory of Andrew Burn Suter, an Anglican bishop whose work was influential in the development of the Anglican Church in New Zealand and also on a wide range of cultural activities in Nelson. As one of the first public art galleries to be constructed in New Zealand, the Gallery also marks the development of the gallery in this country and prompted the founding of what has become an important collection of New Zealand and British art.
(f) The potential of the place for public education:
The Gallery has provided Nelson residents with art to which it would not otherwise have had access, and has provoked public discussion about art. The debate in 1952 over the merits of William Gear's abstract March Landscape, is an example of how the Gallery has brought art to the public's attention. With its close association to the Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, which as an institution receives approximately 30,000 visitors a year, there remains significant potential for the Gallery to be used to promote debate, and also to provide information about the establishment of art galleries in New Zealand.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
The Gallery was constructed in memory of Andrew Burn Suter, a New Zealander of great significance and vision, and houses art he collected during his lifetime.
(k)The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The Gallery is part of a wider historical landscape. It was constructed on a site that has now been used for educational and artistic purposes for over 160 years, being previously occupied by the Matthew Campbell School and School of Mines between 1844 and 1900. The Suter Memorial Art Gallery has also had a special relationship with the Gardens since it was first built. When constructed, the Gallery was set amidst the Queens Gardens, overlooking its principal water feature. Originally, the banks of the waterway were bare, and the front entrance of the Gallery could be clearly seen, as trees and shrubs had not yet been planted, and those that had been planted had not yet matured. However as the Gardens became more established they significantly enriched the Gallery by giving it a garden setting, while the Gallery added a decorative pavilion to the Gardens landscape. The grounds of the Gallery have been included in the Gardens and the trees on the Suter side of the Pond form a backdrop to the pond and continue the theme from the Gardens of a romantic natural world apart from the city. The Suter Memorial Art Gallery also forms part of a wider cultural complex, as one of the gallery buildings that makes up 'The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu'. The other galleries include the Sargood Gallery, the McKee Gallery, the Grabham Studio and the McKee Gallery.
In 1865, London-born Andrew Burn Suter (1830-1895) was offered the bishopric in Nelson, New Zealand. Two years later he and his wife, Amelia Damaris Harrison, travelled to Nelson to take up the position. Suter earned respect as a driving force behind the establishment and consolidation of the Anglican Church in Nelson. Yet he was also active in promoting cultural pursuits in the township. Suter, who had inherited an interest in art from his father, was an amateur artist and, in 1889, he founded the Bishopdale Sketching Club. During the long illness near the end of his life, Suter and his wife began searching for a suitable site on which an art gallery might be built for the benefit of the citizens of Nelson. Suter died in 1895, before a site could be found.
On 23 March 1895 Suter's successor, Bishop Charles O. Mules, chaired a meeting to discuss an appropriate memorial to Suter. Amelia Suter strongly supported the suggestion that an art gallery be established, and pledged 'to give works of art to form a nucleus of an art gallery and a site for the erection a suitable building' if the memorial took that form. Shortly afterwards Amelia Suter donated a section in Hardy Street, and the former Bishop's private art collection to the new established Bishop Suter Art Gallery Trust. Amelia Suter then left for England, where she died in 1896. At the time, the concept of a purpose-built, public art gallery was a bold innovation. Only two cities in New Zealand then had a public gallery and, even in Britain, the concept of a public art gallery was still surprisingly new. Although many of the Bishop's friends were taken aback by Amelia Suter's proposal, it was, as Mules noted, 'impossible to overlook her decision'.
In 1896 the Nelson School Society gifted land near the Queens Gardens to the Bishop Suter Art Gallery Board of Trustees. The land overlooked a curving stretch of water known as the Eel Pond. Since 1844 it had been occupied by the Matthew Campbell school building, which was used as a School of Mines from 1890. The Society considered a gallery would be an appropriate new use as 'such a gallery will be educational in its tendencies'. The transfer of this property was sanctioned by a private Act of Parliament, the Bishop Suter Art Gallery Trustees Act 1896.
The Hardy Street property gifted by Amelia Suter was sold to raise additional funds and in 1897 the trustees were able to engage Wellington architect Frederick de Jersey Clere (1856-1952) to design the gallery. Clere arrived in New Zealand in 1877 and had been practising as an architect since 1879. By 1897 he was highly successful and well known as the chief architect for the Wellington Anglican diocese, a position he held from 1883. His designs, although conservative, were particularly noted for their innovative building techniques. For the gallery project, Clere was given a budget of £1000. On inspecting the site he recommended retaining the old, 1844 school building as part of the gallery complex. By the end of April 1897, plans for the new building had been accepted and, in July, tenders were called for its construction.
The Gallery was to face towards the east, over the Eel Pond, 'so that its most pleasing aspect may be visible from the Queens Garden'. The Gardens had opened in 1892 to commemorate the jubilee of Queen Victoria. On the Gallery's opening, as trees and shrubs had not yet been planted, and those that had been planted had not yet matured, the banks of the waterway were bare, and the front entrance of the Gallery could be clearly seen from the Gardens. However as the Gardens became more established they significantly enriched the Gallery giving it a garden setting, while the Gallery added a decorative pavilion to the Gardens landscape.
The building was to be aligned with Bridge Street on the south side, and the Mathew Campbell School in the north. Rectangular in shape, the eastern elevation of the building was to be the most highly decorated and would feature a porch 16 feet wide and 6 feet deep. The roof was to feature a skylight lantern that would run from east to west, and provide natural light to the interior. The interior picture chamber was to be 55 feet by 34 feet and 14 feet high, and access to the School was to be provided through the centre of the northern wall.
After some negotiation, the firm Robertson Bros.'s tender of £997 14s was accepted in September 1897. However, construction was delayed due to a lack of funds until local businessman Thomas Cawthron (1833?-1915) advanced a loan of £500 in 1898. The foundation stone was laid on 14 October 1898. The formal opening on 31 May 1899 was attended by a 'large and fashionable crowd' who were entertained by a choral concert, slide lectures, and the inaugural exhibition that was mounted by the Bishopdale Sketching Club and the Nelson Camera Club.
After the opening, the trustees focussed solely on the maintenance and repair of the property. The caretaker of Queens Gardens, Mr Edward Christian, was appointed to look after the building and he and his wife were responsible for opening and closing the building each day. Exhibitions and fund-raising activities were largely managed by the Bishopdale Sketching Club. Yet maintenance and repair proved time consuming. The roof leaked badly and had to be replaced after just six years, while a variety of methods had to be employed to cut down the glare of natural light entering through the roof lantern.
Acquisitions were largely a result of donations. The foundation of the art collection was Suter's donation of 23 works by leading New Zealand water-colourist, John Gully (1819-1888). Other important donations were made by people such as landscape artist James Crowe Richmond (1822-1898) and members of the Bishopdale Sketching Club. The Trustees themselves commissioned works on rare occasions, including a portrait of Bishop Suter by Mary Elizabeth Tripe and portraits of Matthew Campbell and Huria Matenga by Gottfried Lindauer. Financial bequests, such as the £1000 donated by manufacturer William Besley, allowed the trustees to make strategic additions to what was becoming a significant collection of New Zealand and British art. By the 1930s, the Gallery's hanging space was almost full and it became clear that extensions would soon become an issue.
Although the Second World War slowed acquisitions and funding, efforts to expand the collection and restore the Gallery were made. Butterworth notes, for instance, that the purchase of March Landscape, an abstract by William Gear, prompted considerable interest and debate in the press. Key changes to the Gallery included the replacement of tiles on the Gallery's south side with tiles from the demolished Nelson College, and the opening up of the old Matthew Campbell School as a display space in 1941. Despite these changes, rising standards for galleries meant that the building was becoming increasingly inadequate.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, efforts were made to find new sources of funding for the necessary improvements. By 1965, plans for extensions at the end of the Matthew Campbell School had been designed by Nelson architect Alex Bowman. However, construction was delayed for several years, in order to finance the project. During the building process, the eastern brick wall of the Matthew Campbell School building was replaced. The new extensions were opened on 1 October 1973 and were named the McKee Gallery, in honour of one of its principal sponsors.
The drive for increasing professionalism in art galleries, combined with growing Government support, prompted the appointment of the Suter's first director in 1975. On his appointment, Director Austin Davies approached Miles Warren, then one of New Zealand's leading architects, to help realise his plans for the Suter. Austin Davies conceived of running the Suter more as an arts centre than an art gallery. He wanted it to be a peoples' gallery, a place where all the art forms could be enjoyed, not a place for the select few. This concept was groundbreaking at the time and would contribute to a trend in future years towards 'arts centres' that made art more 'mainstream' and incorporated facilities for art, music and drama. Between 1977 and 1979, funded by bequests and financial support from Government and private business, the first stage of the new developments took place. The then 135-year old Matthew Campbell School was demolished, as were the porch and steps on the eastern façade of the original Gallery. In place of the School the Sargood Gallery, complete with office and storage space, was constructed. The Sargood Gallery included a sound system and theatre lighting to provide for live performances, as well as a café that would attract more people to the Suter. The café was the concept of Director Austin Davies and was, at the time, a huge innovation for any gallery, with Auckland City Art Galley and the Govett Brewster Art Gallery having snack bars but nowhere for anyone to sit over a cup of coffee. Quite sure the Trust Board would not approve of a café Davies asked Miles Warren to mark the café on the plans as a 'members lounge'. However, it opened as a fully-fledged self-service café and was an instant success. In addition, a new foyer was created where the original entrance to the original Gallery had been, to draw in more people from the street. The interior of the original Gallery was also modified, with the installation of a suspended flat ceiling. This ceiling blocked the view of the roof lantern but allowed more control over lighting conditions.
In 1987, the second stage of the redevelopment, funded partly by the sale of assets, commenced. Difficulties using the Sargood Gallery for live performances prompted the construction of a theatre building, with seating for up to 159 patrons. Built to the east of the new foyer, its shape evokes that of the original Gallery. The following year the interior of the McKee Gallery, which had proved fundamentally unsuitable as a display space, was subdivided into two smaller galleries; the McKee Gallery and the Grabham Studio. The Nelson Suter Art Society also helped fund a basic, concrete block extension to house workshops, offices and storage space. The final redevelopment phase took place in 1992, when a conservatory-like structure was added to the Suter café, making it more commercially viable.
In 1994, after 19 years leading the Suter through a period of reinvention and redevelopment, Austin Davies retired as Director, and Helen Telford was appointed in his place. The Suter has continued to thrive and reinvent itself despite financial hardship. In 1999 it celebrated its centenary under the logo 'Remember, Experience, Dream' which, as Butterworth noted, brings the past, present, and future together at the beginning of a new cycle of the [Suter's] history'.
The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu complex, which includes the original Suter Memorial Art Gallery, is located on 2948 square metres of land wedged between two large public spaces. Immediately to the east are the Queens Gardens, a Victorian-style park. The park is formed around a large, horse-shoe shaped pond, which springs from the residual bend of the nearby Maitai River. On the western bank of this pond is the Suter complex. When the original Gallery was constructed in 1899 trees and shrubs had not yet been planted, and those that had been planted had not yet matured, as such the banks of the pond were bare, and the front entrance of the Gallery could be clearly seen. The western edge of the water is now lined with mature trees. Trees on Suter land of particular note are a mature Oak and a London Plane tree, part of a group of four London Plane trees which were planted along the western boundary of the Gardens in the 1890s. Though this mature lines of trees now separates the Suter complex from the water and partially obscures the building from view, the Suter may be glimpsed through openings in this woodland. To the north of the complex is Bridge Street, which is located along an east-west axis, with the centre of the Nelson township to the west, and the Maitai River to the east. On the western side of the Suter is Albion Square, a large public space that was occupied by the Provincial Council between 1854 and 1878. Much of the land is screened off from the Square by a single line of trees. However, part of the original Gallery can be seen from the car park that now serves the government buildings located in Albion Square. A pathway runs along the north side of the Gallery, connecting the Gallery, Albion Square and the Gardens.
The original Suter Memorial Art Gallery, designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere in 1897, is located immediately adjacent to Bridge Street. The building is rectangular in shape, measuring 55 feet long (16.8 metres) and 34 feet wide (10.4 metres). A brick base elevates the building 18 inches (45.7 centimetres) above ground level. The walls are 14 feet (4.3 metres) high and are made from timber clad in rough cast. The sloping roof is clad in Marseille tiles and features a raised skylight lantern that runs the length of the building. The roof and skylight rise 11 feet high (3.4 metres) above the top of the walls. The skylight lantern consists of two rows of vertical, clerestory windows with timber frames along each side, and is capped by two rows of sloping windows with metal frames.
The use of decorative timber framing is an important feature of the exterior. The framing is arranged throughout to create a repeating pattern of vertical panels topped by square panels. It is most noticeable on the northern and western elevations. These elevations feature upright timber studs at regular intervals, which divide the roughcast walls into flat, vertical panels. These panels are capped by a narrow piece of timber placed horizontally above them. On the northern elevation, the strong vertical lines are continued up to the roofline by decorative timber brackets, which effectively create 'squares' over the vertical panels. On the western elevation, the squares are created by the vertical framing timber and two pieces of timber placed horizontally along them.
The Gallery's principle elevation originally faced east, over the pond in the Gardens. This elevation was the main entrance between 1899 and 1977. The symmetrically designed façade featured central steps that lead up to the entrance porch and a large, ironbound double-door. On either side of the porch, immediately above the brick base, were two vertical, four-paned windows. Above the porch, the slope of the roof is broken by an ornamental front to the lantern. This front features a bracket shaped archway with the words 'The Suter Memorial Art Gallery'. Directly above are four vertical leadlight windows. The gable, whose bargeboards feature elaborate woodwork, is capped by a metal weather vane.
The Gallery has been altered to accommodate new additions and is now part of a large complex. When it was first constructed in 1899, it was built across the north end of the former Matthew Campbell School (1844). Access to the former school, a simple brick building, was via an opening in the south wall of the, at this time, new Gallery building. The former school building was demolished in 1977 and the site is now occupied by two new galleries, the Sargood Gallery (1979), and the smaller McKee Gallery (1973), which was substantially modified in 1987. At the southern end of the McKee Gallery is concrete-block workshop extension (1987). The Sargood Gallery is entered through the south wall of the gallery building. It includes a small chair store and loading bay that backs onto the driveway between the Suter complex and the Albion Square car park. The Sargood Gallery is rectangular in shape, and overlooks the Suter café. To the south-east are two narrow, rectangular rooms used to store the collections.
The porch on the eastern elevation of the original Gallery was demolished in 1977 to make way for a foyer, leaving intact only the decorative gable of the clerestory lantern. This foyer cups the eastern façade up to the height of the ornamental front of the lantern, and extends out past the original northern wall to create a new entrance on Bridge Street. The plain, functional foyer is built of brick and has aluminium entrance doors.
Extending off from the eastern wall of the foyer is a plain, brick theatre building (1987), its shape evoking that of the original Gallery. Immediately to the south of the foyer and in front of the Sargood Gallery, is a café with a glass conservatory, while the original Gallery stood some 30 metres from Eel Pond in the Queens Gardens, the café approaches to within a few metres of the Pond. These extensions effectively block all of the original elevation from view, apart from the ornamental front of the lantern.
The interior of the original Gallery is now accessed from the foyer via modern timber steps. The walls, which were lined with tongue and groove boarding, have been covered with painted plaster board and chipboard skirting boards. There is a doorway opening into the Sargood Gallery on the south wall. The floor appears original and is made of clear-coated timber strip. A false ceiling has been installed to provide controlled lighting conditions. This is made of painted plasterboard. The original skylight and roofline is still extant above the false ceiling, and features decorative Gothic-style trusses and ox tongue chamfered members.
1898 - 1899
Replacement of roof and repairs to roof structure
Electric light installed
Gas lighting removed
South side of roof refurbished
Gas heating installed
Mathew Campbell School building, the original Gallery entrance porch and steps demolished. New entrance constructed.
The exterior walls consist of painted rough cast over timber framing with painted timber brackets and a brick base. The brick base features painted cast-iron vents. The roof is constructed from Marseille tiles and cement mortar. The skylights are framed with metal and the clerestory windows with painted timber. The finials are of painted timber and the weathervanes are made from metal.
The interior features a timber floor, and walls of painted plaster board and lino over chipboard skirting boards. The false ceiling is made from painted plaster board. The clerestory and skylights consist of wrought iron and timber trusses, painted timber framing, painted timber match lining, and painted timber sarking.
21st February 2007
Report Written By
Bishop Suter Art Gallery
Bishop Suter Art Gallery
Bishop Suter Art Gallery Trustees Minute Book No. 16 May 1896 to 2 Oct 1928
S Butterworth, The Suter; One hundred years in Nelson, Nelson, 1999 [Nikau Press]
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Maclean, Susan. 'Clere, Frederick de Jersey 1856 - 1952', updated 7 July 2005 URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
Orr, Katherine W. 'Suter, Andrew Burn 1830 - 1895' updated 7 July 2005, URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
M Wraight, 'Resource Application for the Redevelopment of The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu Landscape Assessment', Nelson, July 2003
Mann, Shonadh Frederick Giles Gibbs: his influence on the social history of Nelson, 1890-1950, MA Thesis, Victoria University College, 1954.
J Taylor, 'A history of collection development at the Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, 1896-1997', unpublished MA dissertation, Massey University, 1998.
Ian Bowman, Bishop Suter Art Gallery conservation Plan', Nelson, 2002
Journal of the Nelson Historical Society
Journal of the Nelson Historical Society
McKay, J., 'The beginnings of education in Nelson settlement', vol, 1, no.5, December 1961.
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.