Three rare New Zealand artworks could fetch more than $1.2m when they go under the hammer next week.

Nearly 60 paintings belonging to the late district court judge Paul Barber, and wife Kerry, will be auctioned at Auckland's International Art Centre next Wednesday.

Among them are pieces by artists ranging from Toss Wollaston, Colin McCahon, Lois White and Evelyn Page to Gretchen Albrecht, Nigel Brown and Dick Frizzell.

A highlight was a recently rediscovered Don Binney 1974 oil painting, Pipiwharauroa over Te Henga, depicting a shining cuckoo over Bethells Beach, and expected to sell for up to $650,000.

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Centre director Richard Thomson described it as one of the late painter's finest, and was "hugely significant" in New Zealand's art and cultural history.

Another stand-out was Michael Smither's 1967 piece was Sea Wall and Kingfisher, featuring a seawall built to protect part of the Taranaki coastline, and a gliding kotare (kingfisher).

That artwork was expected to sell for up to $350,000.

The collection also featured a work by Charles Goldie, the world's pre-eminent painter of Maori.

The painting, A Happy Thought, which Goldie painted in 1922, was of Te Aitu Te Irikau, a noted Arawa chieftainess from Maketu in the Bay of Plenty.

It was expected to bring up to $250,000.

"The works they chose for their collection were based on their strong connection to and admiration of the artists," Thomson said.

"Many of the works were selected as Paul travelled around New Zealand hearing cases in court.

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"Kerry was a talented textile artist. She accompanied Paul during many of his travels and her influence is evident throughout the choice of works."

Thomson said the collection was unique and unsurpassed for its diverse range of New Zealand artistic mastery.

"It really is quite a remarkable collection and with some of the other works in the catalogue, will be quite a remarkable auction," he said.

"In its relatively short history New Zealand is lucky to have developed an art culture which covers a wide, creative and unique range of artistic merit and style and much of that is represented in this catalogue.

"We have not seen such a broad offering before and are unlikely to see it again for a long time."