Te Uira

ROBERT ATKINSON (b.1863,d.1896)

Te Uira
525 x 720

Te Uira was the daughter of Te Heuheu Tukino V, paramount chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe of Lake Taupo. Her grandfather, Tukino IV, was the chief who in 1887 gifted his traditional tribal lands including the mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu to the nation. Her portrait at the age of six was painted in 1889 at Tokaanu on the southern shores of the lake by Robert Atkinson, an artist who spent only six years in New Zealand from 1884. He settled in Auckland as a professional artist and maintained a studio in Victoria Arcade. In 1890 he moved to Sydney where he eventually died at the age of 33. In 1891 he sent two paintings to the Royal Academy, London where they were exhibited for sale and bought. One of them was this portrait of Te Uira. The painting appeared in a Christie's art auction catalogue in 1986 and after purchase by a New Zealand dealer was repatriated. Te Uira spent a good deal of her childhood in Wellington where her father was a member of the Legislative Council. She frequently accompanied her father at official functions in the capital and took part in the lavish entertainment he hosted at the family home called Tongariro at Lyall Bay. She was also a repository of much ancient Maori knowledge, an accomplished musician and an artist. Te Uira was a devoted supporter of the King Movement and was for a time married to Taitu, son of the Maori King Mahuta. This arranged marriage was not a success and Te Uira eventually returned to her Tuwharetoa people. Princess Te Puea recognised her unique qualities as one who was capable of bridging the gap between the Maori and Pakeha worlds. It was Te Puea who ensured that Te Uira continued to play an important role in political affairs. Te Uira was a woman of intense conviction, a fact which is perhaps observable even in Robert Atkinson's portrait of her as a child. During her period of residence at Waahi Marae, the centre of the King Movement before the development of Turangawaewae at Ngaruawahia, she publicly aligned herself with Tainui against her own Tuwharetoa people in opposing conscription at the time of World War I. Writing her obituary in the Evening Post of January 12 1948 the Pakeha journalist Eric Ramsden described Te Uira Te Heuheu as a chieftainess of wide and varied gifts, a woman who would have been outstanding in any society. This is a painting of national historic importance. It is a very fine example of the work of an artist highly skilled in watercolour.

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