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A Life In Ten Acquisitions

A Life In Ten Acquisitions
Treasures Talk with Nat Williams
Talks / Lecture

Earle, Augustus, (1793-1838), A bivouac of travellers in Australia in a cabbage-tree forest, day break, 1838, nla.cat-vn339097
Recording date: 
19 February 2020

The need for a grand narrative in the life and obsessive collecting of Rex Nan Kivell is telling. His collecting stories, invented or elaborated, are engaging and, when examined, often untrue.

Without doubt however, was the significance of the items he collected and frequently ‘boosted’ through imaginative tall tales. Examining key acquisitions made over decades, this illustrated lecture will test the stories surrounding them and what this can tell us today.

A Treasures Gallery Access Program, supported by National Library Patrons.

Transcript

Treasures Talk - A Life in 10 Acquisitions

 

*Speakers: Cathy Pilgrim (C), Nat Williams (N)

*Audience: (A)

*Location: National Library of Australia

*Date: 19-02-2020

 

 

C:    Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome. Welcome to the National Library of Australia this evening. My name is Cathy Pilgrim and I am the Assistant Director General of the Engagement Branch here at the Library.

As we begin I would like to acknowledge the first Australians on whose traditional lands we are meeting this evening. I pay my respects to their elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people past, present and emerging for caring for this land that we are privileged to call our home.

It is my pleasure to welcome you tonight to the Treasures talk by our Treasures Curator, Nat Williams. Whether you are here with us in the theatre or watching online welcome to your National Library. For those of you who are familiar with Nat’s Treasures talks you will know that he has been researching the life and collections of Sir Rex Nan Kivell for some time now and Nat always has a fascinating story to tell about this extraordinary man and his collections. 

Nat has posed himself quite a challenge for tonight’s talk. He has taken on the task of telling the fascinating and sometimes outrageous life of Sir Rex Nan Kivell through just 10 items acquired by Sir Rex in his lifetime. So please join me in welcoming Nat Williams tonight.

Applause

N:    Good evening, everyone. I want to open tonight with this quote from the French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne. It was written by Rex Nan Kivell into a notebook of self-improving and reflective quotations when he was aged in his 20s and living in England. I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own. 

One could argue that the thread referred to here could be the stories the collector created around some of his most significant acquisitions, the other men’s flowers or objects he bound together into a collection which he united through his storytelling and obfuscating. It is an interesting quote for him to memorialise as a young man. 

Tonight I want to communicate at least two things to you. The first is the capacity for storytelling and self-invention of Rex Nan Kivell, collector and benefactor extraordinaire. The second is a suggestion of the scope of his collecting and some of the associated storytelling embroidered around it through a few important acquisitions now held here. 

His remarkable collection was acquired by the Library between 1959 and 1977, the year of his death. I hope these acquisitions might work as cyphers to guide your understanding of him as a man and of his obsessive collecting, a phenomenon which lasted about 60 years, at least if you believe him.

Nan Kivell’s records here of acquisition stories are sadly somewhat limited and repetitive. I would love to have been able to sit down and put a tape recorder in front of him and ask him many questions about his fascinating objects and how he acquired them. Of course that’s not to say that he would necessarily have told me the truth, his fibbing was ingrained and inescapable. While appearing genial and composed on the surface I think Nan Kivell was always on the run from his problematic past and his obsessive collecting and storytelling gave him momentum to escape it.

Nan Kivell wrote the following in his notes to Lady May Casey, his friend and distant relative, when she was writing an article for Art in Australia in 1967. He says, over the years hundreds of the items in the collection have stories to tell. Found in the Portobello Road antique dealer’s stall, found in Paris in an obscure bookshop, went to Rome to buy, went to Spain having heard or overheard a conversation, went to Algiers to secure a superb collection of voyages, to Morocco, to Turkey, to Greece, often and often to Paris and Italy where I had good friends on the lookout for items for me. I asked for and had sent to me catalogues of all the booksellers and auctioneers of the world and many, many delicious rare items came to me this way. While regrettably though he did not commit these many stories to paper and only related those that he thought significant and they are the ones which I can begin to share with you tonight.

Nan Kivell also wrote in 1957 to Sir Alister McMullin, President of the Australian Senate and Chairman of the Library, the work has been long, I have been collecting over 30 years but it has never been tiring or tedious. I have loved every minute of it and probably shall be doing it until I die. And he did.

Nan Kivell was a man of great taste, a mandatory quality, especially if you were to successfully operate at the heart of the London international art world for decades as he did, running his Redfern Gallery in Mayfair. He had a great eye, as people say in the art business. He also had a discursive and democratic eye, one that roved over all kinds of antiquarian material which emanated from the Pacific region or from the postcolonial world which occupied or visited it, leaving inexorable traces.

Just quickly here, these pictures are the sort of material Nan Kivell was selling in his gallery to fuel his collecting of Graham Sutherland, Keith Vaughan, Picasso, Soutine on the top. There’s a copy of this in the current Matisse and Picasso show which you’ve probably seen. This very early Henry Moore, he gave him his first show and Picasso’s Minotaur. 

So he said in 1957, luckily I was born with a taste for the right things, an extraordinary comment to make, really, in that he learned everything he knew on the job and had no familial predisposition to being a worldly, art-savvy trader or collector. However while by day he sold Picasso or Matisse or Soutine or the prominent English modernists supported by the Redfern Gallery, after hours, on holidays or in between sales he purchased maps, manuscripts, water colours, rare books, oil paintings, prints, photographs and association objects, thousands of them and he did not ignore the little fish as he cast his net. The ephemera, the notes, pamphlets and curios which once seen as part of the continuum of his collecting radiated rays of light into the lives of the people of the Pacific and Australia and New Zealand.

He also commented on his acquisition program from the 1930s that for about 15 years I got almost anything I wanted. To some extent that was because others in London did not want what he did or because his deep pockets enabled him to outbid his competitors.

To use the term coined by the Pacific historian and author, Professor Nicholas Thomas, Nan Kivell aggregated numerous entangled objects, the bits and pieces, the flotsam and jetsam of Pacific life, objects which can stress the shared history of colonial entanglement. 

These pieces were the tapa cloth or commemorative objects, when studied in context reveal fascinating stories of exploration, colonisation and settlement and the dispossession of the original inhabitants. Entangled objects is a rich descriptor for such items connoting the multiple lives of things and how intersecting cultures influence one another on the frontier or beyond.

That said, the Nan Kivell, the New Zealander, remarked on the record that he could not collect Maori artefacts in any depth and elaborated, I have definitely not considered adding artefacts and their associates. If I had done so I would have ended up with Maori war canoes under my bed and he had to rent a dozen warehouses and everything would have just become a museum which of course given the modest size of his flat, which you can see here, seems only reasonable.

You may be aware of course that he did collect some Maori and other Pacific objects, some of which featured in Cook’s Wake, the tapa cloth exhibition I curated last year which focused on his bark cloth treasures. There’s a beautiful tapu which you can see on screen here, the mair panamu. The green stone one is in the Treasures Gallery at the moment. 

Pragmatically he had to admit the Pacific objects were largely beyond his collecting remit but he did still acquire such things episodically and representationally, to give a subtle flavour to the collection, you could say, just as a chef might add in assembling a rich dish. Here you can see a few objects giving you an idea of what made their way into his storehouse and I’d like to acknowledge Jo Kamira. I’m not sure if she’s here tonight but she’s a Maori colleague and friend who has been helping with giving advice on some of these objects and helping identify them better.

However you are here to listen to other stories of his collecting and I want to start at the beginning in the notes he wrote for May Casey about forming the collection. He asserted the following.

The collecting of Australiana commenced in 1916 when during my convalescence in London I went to the original Caledonian Market at Islington, a large open space with everything from Georgian silver to worn out boots strewn on the cobbles and there with a large gash in the canvas was what turned out to be the painting of Augustus Earle. I bought it and surely now it is an important addition to the Augustus Earles in Australia.

At a later date I bought the large collection of watercolours and drawings by Augustus Earle and there beautifully annotated is the original sketch for the painting, many other stories that tie up with the individual items in the collection. Well many other stories indeed. Sadly most unrecorded. It is not possible at this distance to entirely prove or disprove the veracity of this one so you can be the judge tonight.

Nan Kivell served his time in the New Zealand military forces ingloriously either in hospital, first ill with pneumonia, and then as an orderly. It would be unlikely therefore that during his convalescence he would be allowed to wander the street markets of 1916 London especially as he didn’t arrive there until 1917. 

He also claims that after a time he was temporarily discharged to study science at Imperial College, London. This is something not able to be proved, after examining their archives, and it seems unlikely but then many things about Rex Nan Kivell do seem unlikely but sometimes they are surprisingly true. He truly is the Churchillian riddle rapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

The Caledonian Market operated in Islington until world war two and its intervention closed it down temporarily. Interestingly until relatively recently it laboured under an infamous reputation as a place where stolen goods might change hands legally owing to an obscure medieval law known as marchet oeuvre which guaranteed a buyer title of ownership if an item was bought in good faith there between sunrise and sunset no matter the provenance. 

The law was abolished as recently as 1994 after which the market was said to have suffered a downturn in trade so it was probably a good place for the aspiring young collector to go looking for works of art or anything else during that period. Who knows? Ever the optimist he might just pick up a real bargain. But had he gone there and found the important Augustus Earle painting, a bivouac of travellers in Australia in a cabbage tree forest, daybreak. This was unquestionably a major acquisition wherever it was acquired so how would he have paid for it? Even gashed, as he says, it was a handsome painting in an original frame and would have commanded a decent Caledonian Market price. Young Rex cannot have had much income unless he had a patron who could have assisted him in various ways, financial among them, it seems an unlikely acquisition story, ‘though not impossible.

I was troubled about the gashing of the picture. It sounds dramatic and rather dire but conversely it is also a good detail to include in a story if you are purchasing something as a bargain at a buyer beware market place. It makes the purchase sound more probable at one level. So I examined the painting closely at the NGA on display and couldn’t see any obvious evidence of gashing. I then searched up our conservation department file here and guess what? There is no such evidence. It’s in good shape, never gashed, slashed, sliced or punctured in any serious way. Curious.

So where did such a landmark acquisition of an important artist come from? Sadly I’ve not tracked it down at this point but may in time. The painting’s early numbering in Nan Kivell’s cataloguing system featured at NK14 certainly suggests it was a favourite and probably purchased early in his career. I can say that however his assertion to May Casey about acquiring the corresponding Earl Watercolour is true and for him it was something of an understatement.

In 1926 Nan Kivell purchased almost the entire sequence of Augustus Earle’s Around the World watercolour sketches. Now here, these 165 drawings were originally held in an album and constitute perhaps Nan Kivell’s greatest pictorial acquisition alongside Captain John Hunter’s first fleet sketchbook of 100 renderings of the colony’s wonders in its earliest years. In fact as you can see here there is not one but two watercolours which are related to the bivouac painting but they are not heavily annotated as he suggests.

So, what can we deduce from this story? That he credits Augustus Earle with kindling his interest in Australiana collecting from the earliest period and that he later followed through by collecting numerous exemplary watercolours by the same artist. Interestingly Nan Kivell also went on to buy two more now famous oils by Earle which you can see here. Sorry, interestingly he went on to buy these paintings which are on display at the National Gallery today - they’re on loan – as key moments illustrative of the early days of settlement in New South Wales and of interaction between the artist and indigenous Australians. Perhaps Earle’s bivouac painting acquisition story does not suggest a huge leap of probability, rather it may have been more of a positing of the artist as an important moment in the trajectory of Nan Kivell’s collecting career.

His concentration of works by Earle suggest not only that he appreciated his Earle and range of subjects but also that as someone who visited key Pacific outposts of empire Earle represented a paradigm of colonial experience. His views of Australia and New Zealand made him an expert on places that transfixed Nan Kivell. The aspiring young collector departed New Zealand for the last time aged 18 on a troop ship in late 1916 from Wellington, 200 miles from Christchurch, his family home. Via a brief call at Perth and then Cape Town and then onto his future home in England Nan Kivell saw enough en route to further open his eyes, schooled early through his seafaring narratives, explorers’ tales and historical works as he read as a youth.

The collector had a box camera, the artist had a box of watercolours. Both men, one the callow youth, the other an independent adventurer tried to catch the moment as it passes before their eyes and then disappears into oblivion. The process of recording history as it happens though is archived in Earle’s watercolour essays, the story of colonialism is documented, warts and all, sometimes shocking, sometimes humorous but always of interest. His works inform us with his prejudices intact. 

Nan Kivell was on his own post-colonial adventure as he left to take part in a foreign war which he believed would and did provide him with a free passage and a paid escape into another dimension where his problematic heritage would not catch up with him. 

Once on the scent of a potential acquisition Nan Kivell was indefatigable. Like a bloodhound he would seemingly track and exhaust every possibility. Imagine for a moment his mid-20th century world without Google, Wikipedia, eBay, online mapping and auction houses and access to millions of pages of newspapers and magazines to assist him in his search for something of note. Instead Nan Kivell relied on word of mouth, gossip, friends, runners in the trade, dealers, auctioneers, Australia House staff including numerous National Library officers based there over decades and a network of antique dealers around Britain and overseas including in Australia and New Zealand. He would also advertise his interest as you can see here in magazines such as The Clique.

I just wanted to use these very briefly to show you from left to right an example of his rather tardy payments being reminded that he’s months and months behind paying off one set of bills to a dealer. You can see in the middle there, it’s a Bethune’s New Zealand book sale catalogue on which he’s written on the back all the items he’s bought just from that one sale and he did that over and over and over again and he went through these books and annotated them and then sent them off and got them sent over to him. Also how he fuelled it in the sense of there’s this one exhibit in his papers which is an invoice if you like sent to the Manchester Art Gallery for 233 guineas’ worth of works on paper, sold by The Redfern Gallery.

This little clique of images really just shows you the kind of volume of sales that he was doing. I don’t know if you can see it – it also marks when he purchases the extraordinary Rudolphine Tables of Kepler, paying £520 in 1960 which was an awful lot of money. I don’t know if you can see this but here it’s showing the running account over a period of time and he’s up to £4,781 and 18 shillings so he was spending an awful lot of money weekly, monthly buying stuff which we now have here.

Within his papers one can read the extenuated acquisition trails in his letters, documenting his efforts. Sometimes the correspondence extends over years before he bags his prize. This is a case in point. This story originates with the acquisition of the painting you see here, the Canterbury Plains from the Port Hills showing the coast of Pegasus Bay near Christchurch, New Zealand painted in 1861 by Dr J G Swain, a prominent medical man who normally practised as an obstetrician in Bristol. He was a talented artist and drew and etched his own images for a book on anatomy. He also may have discovered the Coloura Basilis before Robert Koch but that’s another story. 

As Nan Kivell told May Casey then there was the early painting of the Canterbury Plains from the Port Hills. I had heard of this painting for some time but had great difficulty in tracing it but eventually tracked it down as landing in the home of the bishop’s widow in Edinburgh. He continues, my first letter was obviously tactful, may I be allowed to see the picture if possible to photograph it? This brought a charming acquiescing reply which prompted my reply and quietly asking if possibly the painting might be for sale. This brought a distinct no but not for the reason of the beauty or associations of the picture but because if the picture was removed a nasty place would show on the wall and she, being so old, couldn’t be bothered to have the room redecorated.

Well of course what could I do but promptly reply that besides buying the painting I would pay the cost of the redecoration of the room. She was amused and said I deserved to have the painting and so it is now in the collection and we all loved one another afterwards. I’m not quite sure what that last bit means.

So why did Nan Kivell hunt and want this painting? He did it over years, there are letters spread over years trying to get it. An obvious reason is the landscape features a bird’s eye view of the sight of Christchurch, his childhood home and what later became known as New Brighton Beach on Pegasus Bay, formerly known as Cook’s Mistake. It was the locus of various childhood dreams and fantasies and it’s there so that’s where he grew up, on that beach there.

Nan Kivell relays in another source however that the work was painted by Dr Swain on his visit to Christchurch while the good doctor was staying at Nan Kivell’s family home. This needed further investigation. By the time of his youth the Nan Kivell family were certainly of rather modest means. Of course this does not preclude Swain, the celebrated English physician staying with Nan Kivell’s indomitable land-clearing forebears on his visit in 1838. What makes it less plausible however is the fact I uncovered that Dr Swain was travelling to New Zealand in order to hopefully improve his failed sight and that he had embarked on a very lengthy cruise for this purpose. Such were his means and the unknown duration of the voyage that Dr Swain prudently, if rather grandly, travelled with his own flat pack multiroom house. So the other factor that pops that bubble of belief is that the Nan Kivell family actually didn’t arrive in New Zealand ‘til 1840, two years after Dr Swain.

So these unfortunate factors would tend to explode Nan Kivell’s self-improving narrative, in this case rather conclusively. It was a good story, no doubt well told by the collector over years, the bishop’s widow, the travelling doctor artist, the painted evidence of his visit held in the collection. Unfortunately the damn truth just sometimes has to get in the way.

What adds another dimension to this story and the collection is the fact that Nan Kivell at some point also managed to buy the watercolour study for the oil painting which you’ve just seen. This of course was the actual work painted by Dr Swain in Christchurch in 1838, not the oil painting which he talks about. This rather inconveniently burst the narrative bubble of the story once again.

Nan Kivell seems to have happily strayed from time to time into the world of acquiring some three-dimensional objects, time capsules of a sort, objects which summed up visions of remote places or signal moments in exploration or of discovery, ultimately could not be overlooked in his quest for collection completeness. Perhaps such items transported him in time and place from his demanding work life and the bad weather of London into the ebb and tidal flow of Pacific life and beyond. 

The allure of association objects seems to have been a powerful one for Nan Kivell. The idea that no object may have been handled, used, consulted, worn or treasured by a person whom he admired or appreciated for their achievements seems to have been a compelling one for the collector. Nan Kivell collected items associated with Cook, Banks, Bligh, the Duke of Wellington, the queen and kings of Great Britain and of indigenous Australia and New Zealand and plenty of Maori chiefs. The list is long and the connections between the objects and the person fetished sometimes tenuous, sometimes perhaps simply obscured by the passage of time.

It would appear that Nan Kivell was happy to acquire objects through official and unofficial channels. Sometimes he would let the art and antiquarian markets filter and proffer items with known or possible provenances or he might acquire an object and burnish it, Aladdin-like, with illustrious previous life.

As you have already seen he would systematically track down the descendants of eminent people and ask them for pieces with which to bring them emblematically to life in his collection.

Navigator and writer, William Dampier, as you can see here was one. The range of his object purchases or reyalia, in library cataloguing parlance, was phenomenal, not huge in number but remarkably varied in type as you can see here from Captain Cook’s bamboo walking stick and instrument box to the entire façade of Joseph Banks’ famous 32 Soho square house. Nan Kivell bought items of all kinds. Sometimes the vendors carrying such objects simply walked into The Redfern Gallery in Cork Street and he happily received them and paid them on the spot unlike his irritatingly deferred payment regime to his patient artists. There was a lot of grumbling about that. These evocative lantern slides created by artist explorer, Thomas Baines, entered the collection in just this way, £80 in 1954.

Here you can see the range of objects Nan Kivell acquired directly from the famous Hood family, relics from their naval predecessor, Alexander, who sailed with Cook on his second Pacific voyage. He tracked them down and purchased the objects in 1954 and what interesting items they are. Perhaps the finest piece of early Hawaiian ceremonial carpet cloth in existence – you can see on the bottom. Hood’s first letter from his ship, Resolution, to his father in Dorset at the top, and a nautical instrument featuring a compass and protractor.

To return to the façade of Banks’ house this acquisition is redolent with Nan Kivell’s ambition as a collector, his potential generosity as a benefactor and with his occasional folly. The idea of acquiring such a weighty, large and difficult to store object and then potentially transporting it would have put the average collector off but Nan Kivell was no average collector, nor did probity seem to concern him. Commonsense would have intervened or financial limitations would have killed off such a scheme for the average collector. Nan Kivell sailed on regardless at least for a time. He appears to have purchased the remaining components from Banks’ house, at least the portico and door in 1950 from Bert Crowther from Sion Lodge, Isleberth in Middlesex. 

Crowther was a famous and sometimes rather infamous architectural salvage dealer whose clients ranged from aristocratic individuals like Lady Rothschild to large companies, to antique dealers, to film studios, to department stores such as Liberty and Harrod’s. The asking price for the façade was £125 which was quite a sum for what was in effect dismantled bricks and mortar, albeit with imbued symbolic status. Crowther’s invoice records that Nan Kivell found it necessary or chose to pay the sum off in several instalments over 12 months.

The presumption the collector was operating under was that he could buy and then offer the façade to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, his birthplace, where they could incorporate it into their new building seen here constructed in period style to mark its centenary. It opened in 1958 on the left-hand side. Nan Kivell felt associated with Banks through James Cook’s naming of the Banks Peninsula, the land on which Christchurch sits. Sadly Banks’ house, a museum, meeting place, library and archive was demolished in 1937. What the Nazis went on to do during the blitz they’d already started under the London City Council two years earlier.

Banks’ Soho house was the gathering place of a great many minds and was a testing place for ideas and sometimes whimsical inventions. The neoclassical building, a place of real significance in the formulation of knowledge in the sciences which later became the home to both Robert Brown, Banks’ executor, and The Linnean Society, was destroyed in order for the 20th Century Fox Company to build a neo-Georgian headquarters in London. Such is the price of progress.

Crowther’s networks in the film industry may have led to the acquisition of the Soho Square façade from 20th Century Fox. Nan Kivell’s acquisition idea was a mad one which began optimistically but as the negotiations with the Museum started to become protracted both sides became frustrated. It became apparent that the Museum could not afford to ship and install the façade at their expense and the collector came to think that having acquired and stored it at some considerable cost he’d contributed enough. It appears the façade may ultimately have been sold off for building material however a fireplace from inside the Soho Square house was souvenired by the Royal Society for incorporation into their building in memory of Banks, their President, who had presided over their meetings for more than 42 years.

As mentioned earlier the figure of Joseph Banks was a conspicuous one in Nan Kivell’s collecting. He acquired dozens of portraits of the Cook voyager, eminent botanist and venerable Royal Society President. The purchase of a significant piece of silver which had previously been owned by Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then given to Banks was a truly major acquisition. Nan Kivell catalogued it as NK29 and clearly numbered it amongst his key purchases and parted with it in his first shipment to Canberra.

The small tea kettle and the spirit lamp underneath it is known as the veilleuse which comes from the French for night light because of the glow emitted beside one’s bed. Banks’ kettle has taken a central place in our Treasures Gallery being the first item encountered when you come in the door. The veilleuse was made in London in 1807 by well known makers, Rebecca Emes and Edward Barnard, and acquired by Nan Kivell in 1941 from a Christie’s, Manson and Wood’s auction of the estate of the late Sir Lionel Faudel-Phillips, Baronet.

To give some background Faudel-Phillips was the 3rd baronet and was born in London, 1877. He descended from the very prominent and wealthy Jewish family and his father, George, attained high office in London as the High Sherriff and Lord Mayor. Lionel became a Lieutenant of the City of London and Trustee of the fabulous Cook-Wallace collection and was a major silver collection, owning pieces by Paul Store, Augustine Courtauld, Francis Nelm, an item from the reign of Charles II, Queen Anne and from the Georgian era.

The baronetcy died with Lionel in 1941, necessitating the sale. I just threw this as an interesting thing, you can see an image of him on the left, the notice I found for the sale and his great-great-great-granddaughter, Cara Delevingne, the actress and model. Might be not the right demographic for that but apparently she’s quite famous. Yes so the Christie’s sale was held at the Earl of Derby’s house, another great collector, cited at Stratford Place in Mayfair in June 1941, it was about a 10-minute walk from Nan Kivell’s gallery.

For a natural storyteller like Nan Kivell the Second World War and its exigencies provided an excellent opportunity for being able to energise and add drama to an acquisition story. He tells us a number of significant acquisitions were made it appears as bombs threatened to rain down upon a crowded auction room. These stories naturally require deeper investigation. 

Here with Banks’ veilleuse Nan Kivell again embellishes his acquisition story, communicating it to May Casey in 1967. He recalls the purchase of the splendid piece during a German air raid and being concerned about standing under a potentially life-threatening glass ceiling to get it. Although he concedes it did keep some collectors away. One can imagine the sudden rising panic bidding on a treasure, suddenly the alarming noisy siren, the police glancing about and fleeing the sale for a bunker somewhere or in the bowels of the London underground.

As it turned out it was however not at Sotheby’s as he’d told May Casey he’d acquired it but instead at Christie’s. It appeared it was not just enough to be able to acquire a first rate object, a cornerstone of his collection at auction, there had to be the threat of possible loss or even death thrown in to enliven the account and to add lustre to the singular object being acquired.

To further embellish the story Nan Kivell then recalled being asked to return the veilleuse to the royal household by the steward of Buckingham Palace as it was missing from the old inventory as Queen Charlotte had, as he noted, filched it from the royal silver and they wanted to reunite the piece with the rest of the collection. A curious interpretation. She was the Queen after all and presumably she could do what she liked with her own silver.

The kettle features an engraved inscription recalled by the collector as follows. A charming inscription on the kettle describes her visit to him when he was ill and her hopes that the present will enable him to make the nights easier for him. I have not got the exact word in, May, but you could get it off the kettle perhaps. Sure, May, just nip in and write it down.

Well the actual inscription is rather more formal and lengthy. It says this most judicious improvement for comfort indispensably necessary in a sick chamber was most graciously presented to Sir Joseph Banks by the Queen when Her Majesty, accompanied by their Royal Highnesses, the Princesses Augusta and Mary, honoured his family with a visit to Spring Grove on Monday, October the 4th 1813. 

As one can see from the image the prominent and rather [prolic] 36:53 inscription takes up most of the available space on the kettle. Also the inscription I think was added by Banks, not by the Queen. Apart from the silver hallmarks the veilleuse also carries the arms of the royal household and stamped insignia of the Order of the Bath which Banks had become a member of in 1795. However in the autumn of 1813 the 70-year-old botanist was failing and needed cheering up. In an effort to improve his gouty confinement, propped up in bed and still writing to his long list of correspondents, he could at least sip his warm tea.

Presumably he also reflected on the paradise he had encountered in the Pacific and on his patron, Queen Charlotte, and of their mutual passion for botany and a relationship founded in the promotion of Kew Gardens where she lived for many years as you can see here. 

In 1773 he had named the newly arrived species from South Africa, the striking Bird of Paradise flower, Strelitzia reginae, for his Queen, the Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a clear reference to her German heritage. To permanently associate the monarch’s consort with such a loaded but popularly understood epithet was a brilliant move. Banks in his youth was certainly a privileged, handsome, well endowed, capable and charming man and it’s unsurprising he made quite a lot of enemies.

Another ripping yarn crafted by Nan Kivell also concerns an air raid and surprisingly Nan Kivell’s trouser leg measurements. This time it was a largeish painting and involved him fleeing occupied France. He tells it this way, and those are just some contextual images of what he was faced with in London at the time. The large Charles [Meriam] 38:53 death of [Marian Dufrayne] 38:54 in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. I had previously bought this chalk and conte drawing in Paris but it was still there when the last war started. When the Battle of the Bulge became menacing I got a special permit to go to Paris and whilst there collected the rolled-up large drawing and also a number of paintings by Georges Rouault. I got to the railway station but there was panic and the order was given, no luggage allowed on the train. I went back to the gallery where I bought the Rouaults and arranged to have them taken to Calais by a chauffeur who was taking some people there in a car. I went back to the station.

I had only a small overnight bag and the Meriam. I wasn’t going to leave that behind so I put one end down my trouser’s leg and wrapped my coat over the top piece and got on. An angel must have helped me because have you ever tried to get on a French railway train normally? Then try and get up those two steps with your leg tied to a rolled-up canvas. Well sadly there was no news of his Rouaults worth at that time £1,500. In 1970 he claims they were then worth probably at least £80,000. Today they’d be worth £8m or more. The only thing he ever heard was that there’d been heavy bombing by the Germans at St Omer, the town where the chauffeur had said he would be staying the night. I still hope I and my Rouaults had no bearing on the disappearance of the chauffeur and party, he went on to say. Well it’s possible of course that the chauffeur saw the opportunity and just took off with 10 Rouaults or whatever it was.

The Battle of the Bulge of course refers to the Ardennes counteroffensive, the last major German offensive campaign of the western front during World War Two and it took place between December 1944 and January 1945 so not at the outbreak of the war but towards the end of the war. The German advance was contained bloodily but fairly quickly and Paris was not threatened. Geographically the chauffeur staying at St Omer near Calais doesn’t make sense. In any case it appears that Nan Kivell actually sailed from Bologna. What a muddle. 

So here we have a detailed but implausible explanation for the unfortunate loss of valuable Rouaults but also the gain of a major New Zealand icon which he catalogued as NK27. Here again we can see the intervention of convenient air raids and the chaos and panic of civilians fleeing the vicissitudes of war. Here Nan Kivell narrates yet another improbable story, this time with the embellishment of a foreign train journey, a dangerous channel crossing and later obstructive customs bureaucrats.

So to return to the collective trouser leg measurement. Nan Kivell was not a particularly tall man, he stood at five feet seven inches or about 170cm, something like that. The average six-foot-tall man, 183cm, has an inside leg measurement of about 70cm so while Nan Kivell acknowledges that the top of the rolled [Meriam] painting had to be hidden under his coat the extent of what must have been showing for this to be true would have been considerable. 

The amusing image of him attempting to stiff-leggedly clamber onto the French train from the tracks beggars’ belief. I have tried to ascertain whether the painting physically bears the traces of such an unlikely journey in Nan Kivell’s pants but it doesn’t seem to be unduly affected which is good news.

Is it then another instance of ripping yarn being craftily attached to a major acquisition? Was he attempting to add sheen to an important work which was to hold a key position in his collection? It would seem so and the loss of the large work clearly peeved him a little when it was chosen as a symbolic gesture, a gift by the Australian Government to cement relationships with their counterparts across the ditch. A major gift with resonance to the New Zealand audience was seen as a sensible idea to commemorate Prime Minister Holt’s 1967 visit. 

Nan Kivell’s rescued Meriam featuring a murdered French voyager, the unlucky Marian Dufrayne apparently neatly fitted the bill. It is curious, isn’t it, that PM Holt disappeared not long after that. Artist Charles Meriam’s life shares a common thread with the collector’s. Both men were born illegitimately and to both it was to cause grief as they grew up. Both men were to discover much to their discomfort that they had been formed from problematic unions and this news was given to them, shattering whatever adolescent equilibrium they possessed at the tender age of about 17.

While Nan Kivell was to flee, prosper and successfully reinvent himself on the opposite site of the world Meriam’s life was to end in hospitalisation, psychosis, self-imposed starvation and ultimately exhaustion. Dead at 47. Meriam was also believed to be homosexual by some contemporaries, a supposition neither proven nor disproven but uncomfortably lurking in the background of his troubled life. Nan Kivell however was much more open about his sexual proclivities.

It is worth noting that the other major, I bought it during an air raid story is that of the epic Death of Cook painting by George Carter seen on screen. It is oral history held here. Nan Kivell describes bidding while the bombs were about to fall and then getting a bargain. In fact the painting was sold as part of Lord Crawford’s estate on the 11th of October 1946 after the war to a London dealer called [Voken’s] 45:00 who acquired it for 100 guineas or £105. Nankivell then acquired it from him. 

Did Nan Kivell perhaps confuse the event with another acquisition during the war period? I don’t think so. It’s much more in character for him to conflate an acquisition story with another to impress upon anyone who might be interested that the game of trophy-hunting was filled with pitfalls and that acts of derring-do were required to secure a prize. Risking all including the painting itself was a much more satisfactory way of spinning the narrative and repeating whatever prizes he might accrue as a result of the telling of it.

The ambitions of the collector and the need for validation of his collecting strategies and stories were a key to his personality and his larger than life stories compensated for shyness and for discomfort in the spotlight even though his fibs cast him in the limelight in a starring role. Ultimately Nan Kivell’s collection evolved to fulsomely represent both the landscape, natural history and the lives of those who had lived in Australia and New Zealand from and pre-settlement. However it also dug into the European past. 

His capricious collecting of 200 plus English and European medieval manuscript fragments, which he referred simply to as his calligraphy collection, says little about Australasia but does say quite a lot about his capacity for picking the eyes out of the many sales and antique dealers he frequented. A bargain was a bargain at the end of the day and often too good to resist, it seems. He used to say to friends and fellow collectors never walk past an antique shop, which to some extent must account for some of his success. Nan Kivell was prepared to put in the time to look and to find items perhaps where others wouldn’t outside of London. He loved making a good find and a bargain to boot. His ingrained thriftiness was hugely rewarded when he could see something others had walked past but had not recognised and he could then swoop on it like a magpie on a worm and carry it off home and add it to his long list of such acquisitions. 

It was one thing to bid stiffly against competition at auctions or haggle over prices with fellow dealers in order to acquire a significant object but to test one’s wits and eyes against the junk shop owner or provincial antique dealer and wrest a prize from them was perhaps his most rewarding acquisition strategy. Though having somebody walk into his gallery and offer him something for a song was no doubt a close second.

Today programs like the ABC’s venerable the Antiques Roadshow or more recently Fake or Fortune and the ABC’s ill-fated Collectors series attest to how popular the idea of collecting is with the general public. Everyone it seems likes the idea of finding a Rembrandt in the attic or a fabulously valuable piece of [Myson Pawson] 48:03 in the cellar and perhaps realising its value through auction or simply by passing it down through the family. 

The number of people who say on camera that they won’t part with an item for sentimental reasons is remarkable unlike Nan Kivell who was acquiring an encyclopaedic collection to suit his passionate interests and exploration and who wanted to create a legacy in his name for the people in this part of the world for posterity.

Nan Kivell had no immediate family to share his collection with and acquiring it all had been a fairly singular activity spanning decades and his beloved friend and factotum Mizani Nwari was not at all interested in his Australasian collection. Nan Kivell’s business partner and dear friend, Harry Tatlock Miller, had more modern collecting interests and was to be well provided for in Nan Kivell’s bequests in any case.

Nan Kivell had made the decision decades before his death to part with his collection and to parlay this into a knighthood if at all possible. Nan Kivell was not averse to telling a downright lie rather than simply making something up when it came to acquiring prized objects in his collection. In this case perhaps embarrassment at his obfuscation and chicanery in the face of acquiring the rarest of rare Australian maps necessitated the glossing over of the truth. In a 1957 story in the Women’s Weekly on his epic collection the author, Bill Strutton, interprets Nan Kivell’s story about acquiring the first printed map of Port Jackson, created just months after settlement as follows.

This was Sydney, the earliest plan of Sydney Cove, a map drawn by a convict not quite three months after the landing was found and it was found among junk in an English bookseller’s. Mr Nan Kivell carried it home in triumph. It certainly was a triumph. Today still there are only three known copies, two in Sydney and the one we have courtesy of Nan Kivell. It’s a remarkable object and rich with detail of the early struggling settlement captured from a convict’s point of view.

The creator, F F Delineavit, it reads on the printed and hand-coloured map, was Francis Fowkes, a convict whose ability to record the necessary details of the encampment in schematic form must have been received with significant interest back at home in England. It was offered coloured for two shillings and plain for one. Fowkes was the son of a London merchant who entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman and would have received some training in drawing. He served in American waters and after discharge then worked successfully as a clerk, a collector of excise on hops, a lottery tallyman and as a personal assistant to Lord Mount Stuart and then Sir James Erskine.

In an effort to genteelly keep up with his fancy employers - he had financial difficulties, particularly working under Erskine and was forced to pawn his books and clothing and then stole a greatcoat and boots valued at one pound, 18 shillings. He was apprehended and then transported for seven years to Botany Bay. Apprehended, he produces this rather delightful Sydney view and possibly another in the Natural History Museum in London. As its title suggests it was taken by a transported convict not quite three months after Commodore Phillips’ landing there. 

The thing to this story was that Nan Kivell was offered the map, he said yes, he would love to have it. It was quite expensive ‘cause it was very rare. A week later he got a letter from the dealer and they said we’re terribly sorry to inconvenience you but we’d already promised it to someone else but the person you were dealing with didn’t know that so could you give it back? Nan Kivell said of course, I’d be delighted to give it back and it should go – it had been promised to the State Library of New South Wales so he said of course it should go to the State Library of New South Wales, it’s a marvellous place and I’d like to talk to them about what I might do with my collection one day but unfortunately I’ve already sent it out to my home in New Zealand and I won’t be out there until at least next February or March.

Now Nan Kivell never went to New Zealand after he left in 1916 and he clearly knew that he wasn’t going to be going back there in a hurry so he just held onto it and hoped that the mess would finally go away which it did, of course.

Nan Kivell’s antique shop-scouring, a process of bower bird-like acquisition, unstrategic but often profitable led to many finds such as this portrait of Betsy Broughton. A great favourite of Nan Kivell’s, this touching portrait and its acquisition story, if it is to be believed, suggests the possibility of acquiring truly memorable and significant items in unexpected places. It was also a story which united both Australian and New Zealand early colonial histories, something which Nan Kivell would have relished. Young Betsy was the remarkably diminutive survivor of the Maori massacre of the crew and passengers on the ship, Boyd, at Whangaroa in New Zealand in 1809. Of all the voyage stories collected by Nan Kivell Betsy Broughton’s is perhaps the most affecting and unlikely. 

Nan Kivell’s discovery of this portrait was almost as improbable. Betsy was the daughter of the hardworking William Broughton, the Acting Commissary General of New South Wales and his wife Elizabeth, a former convict. In the notorious Boyd incident the ship’s entire crew and passengers were slaughtered and most eaten, the only exceptions being Betsy, a fellow passenger, Anne Morley, and Thomas Davis, a cabin boy, aged 15. Davis was spared by the Maori due to his friendship with Te Ara also known as George who was on the voyage from Sydney. A Whangaroa Maori chief’s son, George was flogged and mistreated for an alleged theft on board the Boyd and revenge for his loss of face ultimately precipitated the brutal attack. After the murder the ship was accidentally burnt to the water when gunpowder ignited during its ransacking and the ensuing chaos led to a civil war in the area. 

Meanwhile having lost her mother at the age of only two Betsy lived with the Maori for three weeks. She barely survived on their unwholesome food, ie, fellow passengers, before being freed in a very emaciated state. Perhaps she even knew at the age of two it wasn’t kosher. After three weeks she was freed with Anne Morley by Captain Berry of the City of Edinburgh. Berry, a friend of Betsy’s father, captured and ransomed two Maori chief to engineer her release. She then travelled eventually to Lima and Peru with Morley who died there. Betsy was first taken care of by a local family but eventually returned to Sydney via Rio de Janeiro arriving in May 1812, two-and-a-half years after her departure, albeit without her mother.

Her arrival to the great joy of her disconsolate father led to this portrait which Broughton, her father, commissioned from the convict artist and forger, Richard Reid senior, and dedicated to Don Gaspar de Rico and the other Spanish gentlemen and ladies who nobly distinguished themselves by their humanity in their protection of Betsy. You can see here Betsy in old age at the Bong Bong Cemetery where she’s buried. Betsy Broughton stayed in New South Wales, married the wealthy Charles Throsby, had 17 children, died aged 84 and was buried at Bong Bong.

Nan Kivell recorded that the watercolour now believed to be the first commissioned portrait in Australian history was found in an antique shop in the mid-1950s in Salisbury, Wiltshire. He saw it as he was walking past one day and looked in the window. He said it caught his eye immediately and he knew there was something about the light in the picture, he said, which told him it was from Australia and important. No doubt he purchased it for a modest sum but on taking it home and opening up the frame he found tucked inside a letter from Betsy’s father to Don Gaspar thanking him profusely for minding his dear daughter. The detailed letter which is now part of the provenance for and history of this extraordinary work makes the whole thing even more of an extraordinary story.

As Nan Kivell says to end his 1970 oral history recording, to think all this was lying around in old boxes, on walls, in portfolios here in Europe just waiting for a young New Zealander to come and scoop it all. I like to think that acquiring Betsy in his Salisbury antique shop was one of his unadulterated acquisition stories. It’s such a good one and somehow seems to have the ring of truth about it. I suppose we’ll never know one way or the other.

For Nan Kivell collecting was all and how the items were wrangled into his care was something for elaboration after the fact rather than seeing the acquisitions as actual moments of historical fact. The Nankivell objects we can now enjoy in the Treasures Gallery or in exhibitions or in the many publications which have used them over the decades are of primary importance. How he acquired them has to an extent been unravelled painstakingly by the wonderfully longsuffering volunteers here at the Library who’ve worked for three years on the Rex Nan Kivell provenance project sorting through thousands of pieces of paper, invoices, notes, letters and accounts will give future researchers a much better idea of how many collection items made their way to him.

So to close tonight I want to tell you a story, a very brief story that I was sworn never to repeat. I’m only repeating it because somebody else told me the story completely separate to the other person and I thought oh alright, well at least two, possibly three people know and four, me and now 104. Rex Nan Kivell used to pop into antique shops, as I’ve said. There was one near his gallery that he used to walk past regularly and he used to go in and have a bit of a look around. He found this bust of Methuselah Tafio, the King of the Waikato in New Zealand, he was a really important and major figure. It’s made out of resin, gum resin, carved. Nan Kivell prevailed upon the dealer, saying I want to buy it, I want to buy it and he kept popping in and the guy probably just to peeve him wouldn’t sell it to him. This went on for quite a long period of time and Nan Kivell was getting really frustrated about it and he thought why won’t he sell it to me? I really want it. As far as I can see there’s two of these known in the world. 

Anyway one day he was walking past and a bombing raid had happened and the street had exploded and the shop was gutted and stuff was everywhere, glass and rubble was on the road and there he saw the bust and he quickly picked it up, put it under his jacket along with the Charles Meriam picture down his pant leg and wandered off to the gallery and took it back. I thought wow, that’s a great story and so I called up the object itself and that’s why I’ve shown you and when you look at it closely you can see on the ear, on the back of the head, around it, there are little pieces of abrasion which would suggest it might have been hurled thorough a window or something by a bomb blast at some time. So he really was a rogue but I think he was a well meaning rogue, he had a purpose for all this collecting and it was to send it here. I think we now have it today and for the future, for the rest of time it will be here, digitised, made available freely in this wonderful building and I hope you all are inspired to go on and look more of it into the future. Thank you very much.

Applause

C:    Thank you, Nat, for that thoroughly engaging and entertaining talk. It does make one wonder what stories can be told through the 10 million items in our collection. In fact many of us who work here at the Library often think that if you listen very carefully you can hear the collections whispering to each other in the stacks late in the evening, probably telling some very wild stories. But I’m sure none with the alternate facts that Nan Kivell could tell.

We do have some time for a few questions from the audience tonight so please do raise your hand if you have a question and wait for the microphone, we’d love to ensure that those who are using the hearing loop and that those who are watching through the livestream are able to hear your questions as well. So over to you.

A:    Thanks Nat, that was terrific. Having spent so much time with this material you must have formed some ideas about why he would tell so many fibs. I mean writing a letter to May Casey’s one thing and that’s an audience of one. I mean what was he trying to do with these aggrandizing stories or were they all just to individual people like that or did he tell them around the pub or something?

N:    That’s a good question, Max. I think he would tell people that were curious and interested so he may have told true stories to certain people. The only stories I can find, though, seem to be the ones that have no truth in them or moments of truth in them or you can’t tell one way or the other. As my colleague in the bio box up there said to me earlier this evening, he said well he used to sell stuff, didn’t he? He used to sell art and I said yes, that’s right and he said well that’s the sort of thing you’d do if you sold stuff, you’d try to make up a story about it to make it more palatable, to make it more sexy. This painted as the artist was on their last legs and they're starving and they need some money and we’ll get it to them etc. I thought well it is, it’s a kind of parallel universe.

So he’s working in two worlds at once, as a collector and as a seller and so he’s telling stories about selling stuff and getting it out there and he was incredibly successful at that and he was also very good at charming people and telling people. But I think there was a big hole inside him which was this terrible fear that one day somehow, unlikely but somehow it would get out that he was illegitimate – I don’t think he was so worried about being gay in the art world in London in the circles he moved in, that was probably manageable but to be gay, to be from a very modest family without much education, to be homosexual, all those sort of ducks lined up. He was mixing with the Queen Mother and the aristocracy who were buying works from him so he had this credibility about him. What I didn’t actually say is that in 1941 during the war he actually got locked up for receiving two stolen typewriters so how that then figures into the whole story, it makes him seem slightly slippery. Anyone else? Yeah.

A:    Like an Olympic torch. What was the evolution of his name? I knew someone who claimed to be related to him whose name was Nankivell, one word. I noticed you had a de C at one point in one of the slides that came up. How did his name evolve and what was his purpose in evolving it?

N:    Okay well he was born Reginald Nankivell, one word, not Nan Kivell and in fact his actual relatives that came out to New Zealand in 1840 I think were Nankevills, the other way ‘round but anyway that’s a minor point, the spelling of names changes over time. He very purposefully made this self-aggrandizing Nan Kivell to make it sound a bit more grand, I think and then his shotguns this kind of de Charembac into the middle of it which he says was to thank a French lady for a bequest that she was going to leave him. The extraordinary thing about the de in it, de C, de Charembac, is in the days before Google and Wikipedia and everything, search facilities online, there is no other de Charembac on earth.

So how he managed to pick a name – I thought it was an anagram for something for a while and played with it trying to think perhaps a coded message, he picks a name that nobody has ever heard of which is very clever because basically they couldn’t deny it and say well there was a Madame de Charembac who was going to give him some money, we never know whether that happened or not. I think he was advised by his old godmother, Fanny, who adopted him, she was a wise old woman and I think she thought if you make yourself sound more fancy you’ll do better in life and he did. I mean it sounds a bit pretentious to me but I mean it worked in the art world. Anyone else? Yeah.

A:    Thank you for a fascinating tale. I’m just wondering which – perhaps a little bit off-point but what was his connection beyond his collecting to Australia and the National Library? In other words essentially what's your take on the gift apart from this I guess proposition that he was trying to I guess effectively buy himself a knighthood? In other words why not New Zealand, I guess, or indeed somewhere else like that, some British institution which was closer to home in that sense?

N:    I think – I’m not sure what the word is – there’s a word for it but I can’t think of it – psychologically he was obsessed with New Zealand even though he couldn’t return there, he was obsessed with Australia because a branch of the family, which was the May Casey relatives, she was a distant relative, they had come and become enormously successful in Australia, his family didn’t. I think he genuinely loved this part of the world. He says in a letter to Menzies in I don’t know, about 1960 – no, in ’58, I think, before the collection’s acquired, he says – he’s describing Australia - he says I can still see the heat haze on the horizon and even by Nan Kivell’s standards that’s a fairly specific image to commit to paper to the Prime Minister of Australia. 

It was always believed that he never came here, he did come here on the way to the First World War, the troop ship stopped in Albany, I think he caught the train up to Perth. He went to Perth, he spent a couple of days there then back on the ship and back off to war. So he had connection, he had familial connection and really Sir Harold White was the Director General of the National Library, May Casey who was his friend who I’ve described the relationship there and Robert Menzies, between the three of them, and I won’t go into it, but between the three of them they managed to make it happen.

May Casey was the one that alerted the Library to the fact that this fabulous collection existed in London, she saw it with her husband, Richard, when they were there in 1941 so they got aware of it. Binns, who was the Librarian before, he wrote one letter, I hear you’ve got this collection, we’d be interested to know more about it and then he leaves then Harold White takes over and Harold White just writes to him, writes to him, writes to him, writes to him and they have this interchange of correspondence and friendship that goes on for 20 years pretty much. Eventually from 1940s to 1959 the acquisition happens and he didn’t really want to break up the collection, he said as I think I said or I may have cut it out but 85% of it roughly was Australian material and 15% of it roughly was New Zealand material. I’m not sure how true that is but it’s probably something like that and I think he thought well it’ll still be available for New Zealanders even if it’s in Australia. The New Zealanders could put in probably a good claim to say hang on, would you mind awfully and – we gave them one thing, we started that possibility as an idea, yeah so I think that was it, really.

I think also – sorry to extenuate this but he was more or less promised a knighthood by the New Zealanders in 1954 for the Queen’s visit, they had 12 or 13 knighthoods that they could disperse and he was more or less told you're going to get a knighthood so New Zealand are giving me a knighthood and then they didn’t. It might have been something to do with the typewriters but anyway whatever the reason was, they probably got their spies on it and they didn’t give it to him and he felt quite betrayed by that because he had been in dialogue with them as well. So then he shifted his focus to the National Library totally and Harold White made it happen, in the great days of collection-building when you could get collections of tens of thousands of items in one trove, put in a plug. Anyone else?

A:    I’m just intrigued by the fact, if we’re to believe his story, he’s just wandering through a bombed out site in London and he finds this magnificent artwork and he picks it up and tucks it under his jacket and walks off so he doesn’t actually legally own it. The previous owner of the gallery wasn’t going to part with it. Given that there are people who claim to loan the Elgin Marbles and would like them back, thank you very much, and we are starting to feel very ethically responsible for returning things that we pinched, should we perhaps be thinking about giving it back?

N:    It’s a very good question. Well there’s two levels to that question, one is Nan Kivell did such a strategically clever job of telling lies about his collecting that you could say oh no, it was all just made up and on the record a good barrister would be able to defend that one easily. The other thing is that who the dealer was we don’t know so it’s quite possible the person’s certainly dead now, this was in the ’40s so how you would track it down.

The curious thing was, when I was trying to do a bit of research on this was one of these came on the market recently and it’s the only other one that seems to have been known. If it was in New Zealand it would be quite a significant object because King [Tafio] was a very important figure. So yes, you’re probably right, if you knew who it was you’d probably think about returning it to them but I think the chances are you’d never find out candidly. I think in a way in the scheme of things it’s better that it’s surrounded by all this other material that gives it context which is probably why Nan Kivell was angry that the guy wouldn’t sell it to him in the first place ‘cause he could see a better purpose for it in his collection. This guy’s probably got a whole bunch of stuff which is nothing to do with Australia and New Zealand and he’s got this one object sitting in the middle of it all. Who knows? Sorry, I can’t help you any further with that one. Thank you.

C:    Thank you, Nat, we finished with a curly question for you. We have run out of time this evening but I do hope you have enjoyed Nat’s talk. We are grateful to the Australian Government’s Catalyst Australian Arts and Culture Fund for supporting our Treasures Curator. I also acknowledge the National Library patrons who generously support the Treasures Gallery Access program including tonight’s lecture. Thank you for spending your evening with us and please join me again in thanking our Treasures Curator, Nat Williams.

Applause

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