A world-renowned collection of artworks could leave Kāpiti if an upgrade of Waikanae's Mahara Gallery isn't on the horizon soon.

The Field Collection features 24 paintings by Frances Hodgkins as well as 20 works by other artists.

The collection's trustees gifted the collection to Mahara Gallery 20 years ago on the proviso the gallery was upgraded to museum standard.

There have been various plans, fundraising efforts and in recent times a plan to upgrade the gallery as well as the adjacent Waikanae library into a new purpose-built facility but that was put on hold last year by the Kāpiti Coast District Council because it was unaffordable.

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The gallery is working with council to appoint architects to prepare a new design for the gallery upgrade that has a $5.3m budget with council paying a third and the gallery's trust board the remainder.

Kay Brown, who spoke to a council Long Term Plan hearing on behalf of the trustees, said it was very disappointing to be "virtually back to square one" and if plans for the gallery upgrade are not underway by the end of this year the trustees would have to consider letting the collection go to one of the other interested galleries.

The Rag Market, Brittany, watercolour and charcoal, by Frances Hodgkins. Photo / Field Collection Trust
The Rag Market, Brittany, watercolour and charcoal, by Frances Hodgkins. Photo / Field Collection Trust

The trustees wanted council to maintain its commitment to the gallery upgrade, treat the issue with some urgency, and help in whatever way possible.

Kay said next year would be significant as New Zealand celebrated 150 years since Frances' birth.

"How wonderful it would be for Kāpiti Coast District Council if it could also be the year that we celebrate the Field Collection finding a permanent home here in Mahara Gallery.

"Frances's ashes rest in the Field family plot in Waikanae.

"Let us hope her paintings can remain in the area also."

Summer Joys, oil on canvas, by Frances Hodgkins. Photo / Field Collection Trust
Summer Joys, oil on canvas, by Frances Hodgkins. Photo / Field Collection Trust

Kay said the Field Collection was the largest collection of Hodgkins' work outside of Te Papa, and the city galleries in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.

"All these galleries would love to be offered this collection but as trustees it is our preference for the collection to stay in this community.

"Over these years the paintings have been under high demand by galleries throughout the country."

She said the trustees had been impressed with Mahara Gallery's ability to exhibit the paintings noting three world class exhibitions of the Field Collection, and many more exhibitions where paintings have been included.

"Mahara Gallery has become known as a small gallery punching above its weight.

"They have proved to be one of the Kāpiti Coast's most significant drawcards and will become even more of a visitor drawcard if they are given the collection to house permanently."