Goldie’s treasure


Dear Artist,

In 1898, 28-year-old Charles Frederick Goldie returned to his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand after studying painting at the Academie Julian in Paris. He moved into his former art teacher’s studio in Auckland and the two began co-working on a large-scale, historical painting – like The Raft of the Medusa – depicting the arrival of the Māori people to New Zealand.


“Peeping Patara” 1914
portrait of Chief Patara te Tuhi
oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches
by Charles F. Goldie (1870-1947)

After receiving some praise for the scope of the work, and swayed by the popular Victorian attitude that the Māoris were a dying race, Goldie set to painting a series of Realist portraits of the Māori Chiefs and elders. He moved into his own studio and made trips to befriend and sketch the Chiefs at their homes, inviting those who were visiting the Native Land Court in Auckland to sit for him in his studio. By 1900, over 3 million hectares of Māori land would be acquired, titled and sold by the New Zealand government on behalf of Queen Victoria. The Native Lands Act of 1865 and the forcing of Chiefs to collectively attend court in person to defend their communal land rights is what many historians now characterize as an “act of war.”

The avant-garde Auckland art world was hard on Goldie’s Realism. In 1934, Goldie defended himself in the Auckland Herald, writing that Cubism and Impressionism were “cloaks for incompetency.” Sixty-three years later in 1997, The Auckland Art Gallery held a retrospective of Goldies, where a second generation of critics complimented his draughtsmanship and likenesses, but still described him as a “complete conservative” lacking in “originality or invention.”


“Memories” 1906
Ena Te Papatahi, Chieftainess
oil on canvas by Charles F. Goldie

The modern public, however, seemed to recognize the deeper mysteries and magic of the Goldies. Sixty-six thousand museum-goers came to see the Māori portraits – thirty percent of them Māori. The gallery contrasted this with the average Māori visitor rate of about three and a half percent. The wizened, tattooed faces and delicately threaded, draping robes of Goldie’s Chiefs and elders had become to many a kind of treasured, ancestral record.

When he was 70, Goldie stopped painting after a decades-long, on-and-off struggle with lead poisoning — he had a habit of licking the end of his brush in order to get a finer tip. After numerous accolades, Orders and medals, exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London and the Salon of the Societe des Artistes in Paris, and with his paintings fetching stratospheric prices during his lifetime and beyond, the Auckland Herald conceded that Goldie was “easily the best-known and most-admired painter in the history of art in New Zealand.”

Charles-F-Goldie_Thoughts of a Tohunga_1938-version

“Thoughts of a Tohunga, Wharekauri Tahuna”
1938 version oil on canvas
by Charles F. Goldie



PS: “Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei – Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain.” (Whakataukī, or Maori proverb)

Esoterica: In 1984, after being arrested, fined and sentenced to community service, small town real estate agent Karl Feodor Sim legally changed his name to Charles F. Goldie. He’d been forging Goldies and selling them from his antique shop in Foxton, New Zealand. Sim signed his fake Goldies “CF Goldie,” wrote a memoir about his escapade in 2003 and called it, Good As Goldie.

The 2017 exhibition, “Charles F. Goldie, Revealing The Painter and The Subject,” is on view at the Auckland Art Museum until May, 2018. “Whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua – As man disappears from sight, the land remains.” (Whakataukī, or Maori proverb)


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Ko taku reo taku ohooho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria – My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul.” (Whakataukī, or Maori proverb)



  1. Your article illustrates a deep understanding of how art can reach out and teach. I Googled some of the other works of Charles F. Goldie and found his work to be so very beautiful and compelling as well as sad. I had the good fortune of seeing his paintings at the Aukland Art Museum and found myself responding to the artist’s admirable artistic ability to portray a noble people.

  2. Thank you for sharing that story. Just reinforces the concept that creating what the heart wants is more rewarding that creating what the public wants.

  3. Sara, You restore artistic spirits in all of us who are struggling with their art. And your “P.S.” is worth its weight in gold.

  4. Jamuna Snitkin on

    thank you for introducing many of us to this artist and his work.How can the heart not respond to these noble portraits.

  5. How uncanny. We just got back from NZ and while there just happened to go into the gallery to see the small selection of Goldies on display upstairs almost hidden away. There is a long history of these paintings some of which include the Gallery stripping the works of their original frames and almost trashing them in the basement. BUT They were absolutely STUNNING. I was completely mesmerized at this man’s skill and also his love of his subject shown in the delicacy and veracity of his work. They do not reproduce at all well in the books or catalogues. Standing in front of one of his works launches you into another time where you can feel the emotion of an almost sublime art studio. Thanks Sara. This art is WORLD CLASS!!! Never miss an opportunity to see it in person.

  6. Doreen Porter-Shann on

    Thank you for this, Sarah, I was born and grew up in New Zealand and did not know this story but I do remember seeing paintings of the Maori elders. This was so interesting to me to learn about this great painter.

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I am a self taught artist, I work in oil, Acrylic and watercolour also in Pastels. Started painting In Ashcroft with Mr. Campbell. I taught my self how to paint by studying professional artists’ work through reading, TV programs, educational DVD and work shops.


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