Thousands of people filled St Joseph's Cathedral in Dunedin today to farewell celebrated artist Ralph Hotere.

People of all ages and walks of life attended the 11am Requiem Mass, providing a canvas of the artist's far-ranging influence and popularity.

A Maori cloak was draped across the coffin, while his Order of New Zealand (ONZ) medal and a photo of him smiling at his investiture sat on top.

Speakers included Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson, Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples and poet Professor Bill Manhire. The artist's widow, Mary McFarlane, and daughter, Andrea Hotere-Naish, were among family members in attendance.


Dr Sharples recalled his old friend's mischievous humour, raising loud laughter.

"He used to try to finish Hone Tuwhare's poem off."

Other speakers recalled his humble, gentle and respectful nature and his contribution to New Zealand art.

Hotere was widely-considered New Zealand's greatest living artist until his death in Dunedin last Sunday, aged 81.

Earlier, in the day, residents and local school children lined the streets of Careys Bay and Port Chalmers to pay their respects as his coffin passed through his township for the last time, in a black, antique 1927 Chrysler hearse.

It had been manufactured just four years before the artist was born.

Hotere was awarded the ONZ in last year's New Year's Honours in recognition of his contribution to contemporary art.

His body will return tomorrow to the Matihetihe marae, in his Mitimiti birthplace, for the tangi.