An extremely rare portrait of a Māori chief drawn before the Treaty of Waitangi has sold for a record price of $158,000 at auction.

Atay, Chief of Otargo, New Zealand was drawn in 1835 by Charles Rodius, a German-born artist.

After being passed by descent to a private collection in Melbourne, an unnamed New Zealand public collection snapped up the Rodius.

The charcoal, graphite and watercolour on paper work was expected to sell for $70,000 - $90,000 but went for double its valuation last night at the Mossgreen-Webb's auction of Important Paintings and Contemporary Art in Parnell.

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Rodius was deported to New South Wales in 1829 for allegedly stealing from a lady's handbag. In Australia he made many drawings of Aborigines and several of Māori who had come to the country.

The drawing is the only one by Rodius ever sold in New Zealand. Image / Supplied
The drawing is the only one by Rodius ever sold in New Zealand. Image / Supplied

The drawing is considered remarkable because it shows a young Māori chief prior to the Treaty of Waitangi being signed.

The chief's true identity is unknown, but a full moko on such a youthful chief suggests he was already exceptional and fearsome, according to the auction house.

"Rodius' masterful drawing conveys the dignity and importance of the sitter,"
Mossgreen-Webb's head of art Sophie Coupland said.

"It's been a privilege to present a work of such historical and artistic significance for sale, and we are absolutely delighted to have secured an excellent home, where it will be on view to the public, here in New Zealand."

An earlier, less complex version of the work is contained in a portfolio in the British Museum.

A painting by the late Sir Peter Siddell that was previously owned by Dame Kiri te Kanawa was also expected to go for a high price at last night's auction.

The large oil painting of the suburb of Mt Eden, named Opening, is considered by some to be Siddell's magnum opus.

It was valued at $190,000-$250,000 prior to the auction but is still under negotiation.