Academy Galleries

130 years: A long and proud history

The History of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts 1882 - Present


Established in 1882, the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts is one of the country’s longest-serving arts institutions and has supported the arts in Wellington for 140 years.  


Its opened its first art gallery in Wellington in 1892, a single floor room in Whitmore Street.  It exhibited the work of leading New Zealand artists such as Petrus van der Velden, James Nairn and Frances Hodgkins, purchasing their work for its collection and developing a national collection of New Zealand art that would eventually become the founding collection of Te Papa Tongarewa when it opened in 1999.


From the 1920s to 1940s the Academy supported the work of local, national and expatriate artists, including Sydney Thompson and John Weeks.  It also secured a suitable new building for its permanent collection and a larger space for its annual working exhibitions.  In 1936 it moved to its new Buckle Street gallery sharing the site with the recently opened National Art Gallery, following the gifting of its permanent collection of 299 paintings to the National Gallery - forming with the Government’s collection - one National collection.


NZAFA Selection Committee.jpg

The selection committee of the NZ Academy 1928


During the Second World War the New Zealand Army occupied the Academy’s building and instead held its exhibitions in the DIC building in Wellington.  By the early 1960s, modern art had finally made its presence felt and the Academy exhibited the work of a new generation of artists committed to contemporary and international influences.  Its programme expanded as it included sculpture, ceramics and craft, alongside painting and printmaking.  Exhibitions featured work by artists such as Pat Hanly, John Drawbridge, Melvyn Day, Ralph Hotere and Don Peebles. 


By the mid 1980s plans for Te Papa to move to the waterfront were well under way. As a result, in 1997, members accepted a settlement with Te Papa and vacated Buckle Street.  In September 1998 the Academy purchased three unit titles on the ground floor of the old Harbour Board offices at 1 Queens Wharf, on a 999 year lease.  Herriot + Melhuish Architecture designed and supervised the gallery fit-out into three galleries and facilities which subsequently won three NZ Institute of Architects design awards in 2001.

In 2012, Fine Arts functions as a non-profit organisation supported by its members and activities, including gallery hire and commissions on artworks to fund its operation. It is governed by a President and an unpaid Council elected by its members. A Director, Gallery Coordinator and Office Manager, together with a large team of volunteers, form a dedicated and highly skilled group with expertise in many areas from receiving and dispatching art works and installation, to event and gallery management, marketing and business development. 


The Academy retains its commitment to the arts and exhibitions, holding four annual members exhibitions, touring national and international shows for its 1,000 strong membership and the wider arts community in New Zealand, receiving 360,000 visitors each year. 



The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts Building: Queens Wharf Precinct


Standing as a sentinel on one side of the entrance to Queens Wharf in the heart of central Wellington the Academy’s gallery occupies a key location on Queens Wharf.

The Wharf Offices began life as a mix of office, wool store and display space and are a Frederick de Jersey Clere design, built in 1896. This stunning example of late Victorian architecture is now known as the Queens Wharf Apartments (converted in 1994), and since 2000, has also been home to the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. The Academy is sited within a cultural precinct and popular visitor and tourist destination between the Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Wellington.