European Master Prints: Bishop Monrad's Gift to New Zealand

A selection of European fine prints from the collection of Bishop Ditlev Monrad, Danish statesman, who lived in New Zealand between 1866 and 1868, bringing much of his library and art collection with him. On leaving New Zealand, he gifted much of his collection to this country, and it forms the founding collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. For much of his New Zealand sojourn, Monrad lived at Karere, in Manawatū.

The Monrad Collection has delighted New Zealanders for 142 years. This important collection of European fine prints is the founding art collection of Te Papa. It is also distinguished by being the earliest European print collection to be donated to a public institution outside Europe.

Bishop Monrad

Ditlev Gothard Monrad (1811–87) was a prominent figure in 19th-century Denmark. He was a bishop in the Lutheran church and also a noted scholar and politician. Privately, he was a connoisseur of art, collecting fine prints by European old masters and paintings by contemporary Danish artists.

Monrad was Prime Minister of Denmark during the 1864 war against the German Confederation. The Danes were defeated and lost considerable territory, and Monrad’s premiership ended in disrepute.

Monrad's move to New Zealand

In March 1866, Monrad arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand, with his family and five young Danish men who also wished to immigrate. Monrad eventually purchased land at Karere in the Manawatu, where he built a house and developed a farm. The family brought with them a large library of books and works of art, including Monrad’s collection of prints.

Donation of the collection

Other family members settled in New Zealand permanently, but Monrad and his wife Emilie returned to Denmark in January 1869. Two days before leaving New Zealand, Monrad donated his collection of 599 fine prints to the Colonial Museum – Te Papa's first predecessor – in Wellington.

The collection was housed at various times at the General Assembly Library, the Alexander Turnbull Library, and the National Art Gallery. The collection has now been reassembled at Te Papa according to Bishop Monrad’s own catalogue of 1869.

The Monrad Collection

Monrad assembled his collection in Denmark from the mid 1840s to the mid 1850s. As an inexperienced collector in a specialist field, he relied at first on the advice of his friend, Niels Lauritz Høyen (1798–1870), Denmark’s first professional art historian. Monrad purchased many of his prints from the Copenhagen firm of book dealers Lose & Delbanco, with Høyen acting as his intermediary in the early years.

 

The collection comprises 599 engravings, etchings, and woodcuts ranging from the late 15th century to the early 19th century. Its range is broad, including artists from the major European schools. It is given depth by large numbers of impressions by key artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Albrecht Dürer, and Wenceslaus Hollar. In its choice and range of artists, the collection is typical of its time and reflects Monrad’s connoisseurship.