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Te Papa buys ‘priceless’ artwork depicting land wars

A precious piece of art considered "priceless" by experts will soon go on display at Te Papa, ONE News can reveal.

The National Museum has bought a historic landscape painting, which depicts a fictitious conflict during the New Zealand land wars.

The artwork cost the National Museum more than $1 million but is considered priceless and will soon be on show. Source: 1 NEWS

The landscape by famed British artist William Strutt cost $1.5 million.

Curators say it presents a rare visual opportunity to reflect on our history.

"It gives us an opportunity to engage with our own history - the tensions, the battles and the war that was occurring here in the 1800s. And of course that led to our nation building and our identity creating," Te Papa's curator of Matauranga Maori, Rhonda Paku said.

In two weeks when it’s unveiled, it will be the first time New Zealanders can view the painting. It has been in a private family collection in England since it bought it off Strutt in the 1860s.

"We had our own battles back here. We had a front that was being fought by Maori ancestors and British ancestors and others. So we musn't forget that. It helps us to reconnect to that history," Ms Paku said. 

Experts say the oil on canvas is one of a few accomplished paintings done during the Land Wars, showing the reality of conflict between Pakeha and Maori.

"It's placing us as the viewer in the position of the Maori who are defending their land, which is really quite interesting. Quite a powerful psychological position to put us in," said Te Papa's Historical Art Curator Rebecca Rice.

William Strutt finished the painting in 1861 after reading newspaper articles. He had previously spent 14 months in New Zealand doing sketches and studies. 

"There are so few paintings like this from our nation's history of this calibre, by an artist with a profile like Strutt," Ms Rice said.

Conservators say it's in great condition, with the original frame still intact.

"The detail is just so exquisite and precise. You can see that he really understands New Zealand's foliage and plants,” said conservator Tijana Cvetkovic.

"To have something like this that everyone can come to look at is just priceless.”