Charles F. Goldie art works have been vandalised, stolen, loved, disliked and forged - and now the real ones sell for the price of an Auckland house.

Controversial in his lifetime and beyond, the Auckland artist, whose father was the city's mayor and a timber merchant, died 70 years ago today, aged 76, at his home in Upland Rd, Remuera.

The Auckland painter, Charles Frederick Goldie. Photo / Herald files
The Auckland painter, Charles Frederick Goldie. Photo / Herald files
He was the first to hit the million-dollar mark at auction and is likely to be the first to hit the $2 million threshold

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Goldie, who trained in Auckland and Paris, made his name in highly detailed portraits of Maori, a body of work that is considered iconic.

Charles Goldie's oil painting of Tuhourangi chieftainess Kapi Kapi. Photo / NZPA
Charles Goldie's oil painting of Tuhourangi chieftainess Kapi Kapi. Photo / NZPA

His paintings' prices have grown enormously, from about $30,000 or $40,000 (converted to 2017 values) for some during his lifetime, to now fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars; one sold at auction last year, including buyer's premium and fees, for $1,337,687.

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The International Art Centre in Parnell said at the time that was the highest price paid at auction - private sale prices have been higher - for a painting in New Zealand. A Colin McCahon work went for $1.35 million at auction last September.

It is thought that the Goldie in question, the 1941 portrait of Whakakauri Tahuna, titled A noble relic of a noble race by the artist, is the subject of an application to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to take the oil painting out of New Zealand.

The 1941 portrait of Whakakauri Tahuna, by Charles Goldie, auctioned in April last year, fetched $1.37 million. Photo / supplied
The 1941 portrait of Whakakauri Tahuna, by Charles Goldie, auctioned in April last year, fetched $1.37 million. Photo / supplied

A ministry official said it was not known how long it would take to consider the application.

In 1908 Goldie was voted "best New Zealand artist" in a readers' poll by the magazine Graphic.

The Goldie exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1997 attracted what was considered an enormous number of visitors - more than 66,000 people. Maori were 30 per cent of those visitors, whereas they normally comprised just 3.5 per cent of people going to the gallery.

Herald art critic T. J. McNamara wrote at the time of the exhibition that Goldie was "easily the best-known and most-admired painter in the history of art in New Zealand".

Then came the critique:

"He was an extraordinarily skilled draughtsman able to reproduce the texture of any substance and a striking likeness of any sitter. He did not have originality or invention."

In a review the same year, of Roger Blackley's book, Goldie, McNamara returned to the theme: "He [Goldie] was a complete conservative in art, unwilling to extend his concept of what art was, in any way at all."

Goldie had criticised modern art in a Herald article in 1934, writing that Cubism, Impressionism and several other movements were "cloaks for incompetency".

"In the [eighteen] 'nineties, when I was a student in Paris, the Impressionist school was known as 'the lazy school', but the work of the then Impressionists was rational, compared with the 'stuff' that is being foisted upon the public today as 'art'."

CHARLES GOLDIE, around 1905. Photo / Auckland City Art Gallery
CHARLES GOLDIE, around 1905. Photo / Auckland City Art Gallery

Buyers seem undeterred by these rows.

"He was the first to hit the million-dollar mark at auction and is likely to be the first to hit the $2 million threshold," said Richard Thomson of the International Art Centre.

"There's a mystery and a magic to Goldie that no other New Zealand artist has been able to replicate."

Part of the Goldie mystery may be fuelled by crime. In 1984, real estate agent Karl Feodor Sim, who changed his name to Charles F. Goldie, was charged with forging "Goldies", and works in the names of other artists.

He was sentenced to community service and fined after his conviction on charges that arose out of the forgery of signatures on sketches, mainly with the signature C. F. Goldie, and the sale of sketches.

In 2000 thieves wrenched Goldie's 1917 painting of Hera Puna from a wall in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Days after the heist, the painting was given to the police by an art benefactor who said he had bought it for $10,000.