And this is my picture: a 1906 painting comes to Wellington

By Russell Briant

And this is my picture. Or how we got our own Emily Harris, ‘Kiekie, Tī Ngahere, Nīkau, Mikoikoi and Neinei’ (1906)

My name is Russell Briant and Emily Cumming Harris is my 3x great aunt. Those of you who have read this wonderful blog may know that the Briant connection with the Harris family comes through Emily’s younger sister Mary Weyergang.

When I was young my grandmother, Mildred Briant, told me many times of the artistic Harris relatives we had from New Plymouth and Nelson. But these were distant, ancient history people for me. However, they and their artwork became much more concrete after my mother told me that there was quite a large collection of Harris paintings in New Plymouth’s Puke Ariki Museum. And even more so when she introduced me to this rich blog.

In 2020 I contacted Puke Ariki, explained my connection to the Harris family and asked if my wife and I could arrange a visit to see the works they had archived. In August that year we met with the museum’s pictorial collections curator, Chanelle Carrick, and had a wonderful couple of hours looking at the artwork and other family mementos Puke Ariki had on and off site. I took many photographs and while I was writing them up to share with family, my wife went for a walk across from our hotel into the grounds of St Mary’s Cathedral. There she chanced on the shared grave of Emily and Mary’s siblings, Corbyn and Frances Harris. We had not known they were buried there so it all felt very serendipitous and connected. In particular, we had just seen Edwin Harris’s paintings, sketches and the lithograph view of the Cathedral from Marsland Hill, made very shortly after Corbyn’s death. A very special day indeed.

A photo of Corbyn and Frances Harris's dark grey headstone with white writing
Corbyn Harris and Frances Harris marker at St Mary’s, New Plymouth. John Pickering, 1 Apr 2020
A wartime view of New Plymouth from Marsland Hill by night, lighted windows of St Mary’s Church and graves bottom left.
Edwin Harris, New Plymouth Under Siege, (1860). Watercolour and pencil, optical amusement with collage and cut-outs, 572 x 786 x 55mm. Verso inscription: ‘40th Regiment, Taranaki, New Plymouth.’ Donor TSB Bank, 2022. Puke Ariki Museum, New Plymouth, PA2022.002

Then last year, 2022, Michele contacted my parents to say that two Emily Harris paintings were coming up for auction on Trade Me. Mum wanted to try and buy them both. She contacted me as she did not have a Trade Me account and I did although not a heavily used one.

It was around a fortnight ahead of the auction close-off and I immediately put the minimum bid on both paintings. Those held until an hour or so before the scheduled end of the auction. I was at work and was standing in for my boss showing the ropes to a new colleague on their first day with us. So it was not the best time to be trying to manage any, let alone two, auctions.

I was in touch with my mother and she said they were with a cousin of mine who could take over one of the auctions. I thought I had identified the moniker my cousin was using on the other bid as I received Trade Me updates on how both auctions were going, and I also thought she had won that auction.

Bidding for both paintings took off in the last hour. Spurred on by the thought the family had secured the other painting, I just kept going until we won the other auction as well, or so I thought, some time after the due end time.

It was only later that day that I found out the family had not won the other painting. Never mind.

I contacted the seller who asked that we come and collect the painting as it was very large, heavy and with fragile period glass. Breakage while being couriered was a distinct possibility and did not bear thinking about. The painting, however, was at Rai Valley in Marlborough across Cook Strait from us in Wellington, so it was going to be something of a mission to retrieve it.

The seller was happy to hold the painting until we could get across and to receive payment then.

In June 2022, we took ourselves and our car across on a ferry and collected the painting as part of a short holiday. It was a snug fit in the boot of our Highlander hatchback which it had to itself; our luggage being banished to the back seat. The painting also came through a moderately rough return crossing unscathed.

My parents had said they would pay back the auction price of the painting and then they gifted it to me for my 2022 birthday (one of those decade ones). Thank you very much Mum and Dad.

And this is how we have our own Emily Harris, another piece back in the wider family circle. And very happy are we to have it. Emily’s painting hangs firmly anchored on a cool dry internal wall, away from damaging direct light and temperature fluctuations. A conveniently placed downlight displays this centenarian nicely.

Russell Briant with Emily’s 1906 painting. The large painting rests on the floor and it reaches up to Russell's midsection.
Russell Briant with Emily’s 1906 painting. Photo: Catherine Field-Dodgson, July 2023.


The painting depicts a group of flowering native plants, loosely gathered together in a bouquet
‘Kiekie, Tī Ngahere, Nīkau, Mikoikoi and Neinei’ (1906). Photo: Russell Briant, December 2022

Postscript from Catherine and Michele

The painting’s 2022 crossing of Cook Strait is at least the second time it has travelled to the North Island. In October 1906 it was part of the consignment of large oil paintings Emily Harris sent to Wellington on the steamer Penguin to be transhipped to Lyttelton for the International Exhibition in Christchurch. Russell’s painting was one of twelve oils by Emily that hung in the Scenic Display of the West Coast Court between November 1906 and April 1907. It may have travelled back to Nelson after the close of the exhibition, or it may have been bought by someone who admired it there. Whatever the case, ‘Kiekie, Tī Ngahere, Nīkau, Mikoikoi and Neinei’ makes a welcome reappearance now. Our thanks to Russell and Barbara Briant for sharing the story of its latest adventures.

4 thoughts on “And this is my picture: a 1906 painting comes to Wellington

  1. How wonderful to hear how the story unfolded! It was lovely hosting Russell and Barbara on their visit to Puke Ariki back in 2020, and I am delighted that they secured one of the paintings.

    1. It’s a fantastic story! Have just added your name in as the curator, as we weren’t 100% sure if it was you who showed Russell & Barbara round.

  2. Wonderful! I was one of those hotly bidding against you for the painting. It’s stunning. Fingers crossed that one day some of the others will turn up for sale and I too will get my own Aunt Emily work.

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