A chance visit to an Auckland high school has solved a New Zealand art world mystery.
April, missing from The Twelve Months series by acclaimed New Zealand artist Dame Louise Henderson, has been found at Mt Albert Grammar School – part of an outstanding legacy art collection that inspires staff and pupils every day.
Auckland Art Gallery's current exhibition Louise Henderson: From Life features 10 of the 12 large-scale paintings from the series painted by Dame Louise in the mid-1980s when she was 85. Curators from Auckland and Christchurch Art Galleries had tracked down, and had on display, all but April and August.
They knew the whereabouts of August, which cannot be displayed because it has been altered, but the location of April was unknown – until the gallery's secondary schools educator Luise Fong attended a function and was taken on a tour of the school's G J Moyle Collection.
The collection has been put together over many years by the school's board of trustees chairman and former Auckland City councillor Greg Moyle. As Fong, herself an artist, walked the halls, one painting, in particular, caught her eye. At 2.5m high and 1.5m wide, the vibrant abstract work looked very much like those in The Twelve Months series.
Fong, whose own abstract art is held in collections around Australasia, went straight to Auckland Art Gallery curator Julia Waite. Shown a photo of April, Fong told Waite she was convinced the painting she'd seen was April.
Just days before Christmas, Waite headed to the school where she was thrilled to discover April hanging in the corridor of the main administration block opposite works by Ian Scott, Dean Buchanan and Billy Apple.
"I had been delighted that we'd managed to track down 10 of the paintings in the series and I had a photo of April," Waite told the NZ Herald.
"I think I would have been more upset if I had never seen an image of it and had no idea of what it looked like."
That he was the owner of a much-sought after painting came as a surprise to Greg Moyle, who developed a love for art when he was a pupil at Mt Albert Grammar in the 1960s.
"I can't paint or draw but, back in 1968, I did art as an option with a teacher called Arnold Wilson who was head of art and also an artist," Moyle said.
"He taught me an appreciation for art and it never left me. I became an accountant and spent my first pay cheque – it was about $160 in 1976 – on a painting by Elise Mourant. I've been spending my pay cheques on art ever since...
"It's all New Zealand art and it's of a size that needs a decent wall space to display it so it's ideal for a school. I like it if there's a connection to the school, too. I only buy what I like and if the price gets too high, well, I walk away."
He believes he bought April in the early 2000s at Webb's Auction House and liked it because of the colours and vividness. Moyle says he doesn't have especially deep pockets and works hard to find ways to pay for the art he likes, much of which brightens the halls, offices and classrooms at his former high school where he's been on the board for 21 years.
He believes art inspires and says his motivation is to show young people what New Zealand artists achieve so they, too, develop an appreciation for it: "And I think they do because in all the years I've been putting it on the walls here, it's never been damaged."
• Louise Henderson: From Life finishes at Auckland Art Gallery on Sunday, March 8. It will travel to Christchurch later this year. There is talk about including April when The Twelve Months go on show there.