Angels and Aristocrats

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Wednesday 1 December 2010
Amy Cooper

It seems a lot of Kiwis still tend to dismiss New Zealand's collections of art as fuddy-duddy and parochial. But the handsome new book Angels & Aristocrats, by the Gallery's very own Mary Kisler (Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art) blows that idea out of the water.

Angels & Aristocrats: Historic European paintings in New Zealand Public Collections (to give it its full title) examines New Zealand collections of European art from the 15th to 19th centuries, with more than 240 works featured. It's a treasure trove of pieces from theAuckland Art GalleryTe Papa,Christchurch Art GalleryDunedin Public Art Gallery and the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui.


Mary spent four years researching and compiling Angels & Aristocrats, which is neatly divided into religious art, landscape art, narrative and genre painting and portraiture. It's a true thing of beauty, being a decent size - weighty, but not intimidating, with heaps of gorgeous glossy pictures.

It's the kind of book one could read right through, or enjoy dipping into over a cup of tea (or a glass of wine). What i love is how her infectious passion for art and her fondness for the paintings she discusses shines through - especially in the book's conclusion, in which she likens them to naughty schoolchildren!

Angels and Aristocrats is getting great reviews. According to NZ Herald reviewer Peter Simpson, "To read this well-produced book is to be educated not only in the treasures held within our collections but in the rich history of art itself." 

Graham Beattie has also reviewed it - read his thoughts here.

And you can download a free podcast of Mary discussing the book with Kim Hill here.

You can get a signed copy of Angels & Aristocrats: Historic European paintings in New Zealand Public Collections(Random House/Godwit) at the Gallery shop for $70 (RRP $75). It'd make the perfect Christmas present for any art lovers/bibliophiles/students in your life. (Excuse me while I send my parents a link to this post - hint, hint...)

Mary has produced some great posts for this blog as well - catch up on her archive here. I'm hoping to persuade her to return to the blogosphere soon!