This morning we were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Peter McLeavey, the pre-eminent New Zealand art dealer.
Peter discovered New Zealand art as a young man in the early 1960s, soon after returning from his ‘OE’ in Europe. Meeting artists such as Colin McCahon, Toss Woollaston, Gordon Walters and Michael Illingworth, he was astonished by the power and confidence of their work, and galvanised by their commitment. As he put it, ‘They had a view of themselves and this island state and its place in the world and what we could do here.’
In 1966 Peter launched his gallery in Wellington, first in The Terrace and later in Cuba Street. Charismatic and persuasive, he shared his passion for New Zealand art, and helped to develop the local art market in the following decades.
Peter never rested on his laurels. He continued to seek out young artists all his life, and his support was crucial to many. Robin White, Jacqueline Fraser, Laurence Aberhart, John Reynolds, Peter Robinson and Yvonne Todd – these are just a handful of the artists who had their early shows in his gallery.
Interviewed by the Listener in 2009, after 45 years in business, Peter commented, ‘Every day’s a new voyage. My body is old but I still have imagination and in that imagination the same drive and ambition, the same hunger to survive and to do my best for the artist.’
A great friend to Te Papa, Peter and his wife Hilary gifted a number of works to the collection over the years, most recently Toss Woollaston’s marvellous portrait, Mr and Mrs LFM (1968-70). In 2013, Te Papa Press published Jill Trevelyan’s biography, Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer.
Today Peter’s gallery at 147 Cuba Street continues to flourish under the care of his daughter, Olivia McLeavey.
Peter’s passing marks the end of an era in New Zealand art, and he will be greatly missed. We extend our condolences and warmest wishes to his family.
Jill Trevelyan and the Art team at Te Papa