A mural created in Rotorua and kept in the town for decades has sold at auction for more than $330,000 - a price that puts it in the company of works by some of New Zealand's greatest artists.
The nearly 5m-wide untitled mural by artist Theo Schoon was sold on Tuesday by Auckland auction house Art + Object.
The price before commission and GST was $280,000, exceeding its pre-auction estimate of between $160,000 and $250,000. The total price paid by the buyer was $336,335.
Schoon (1915-1985) was a Dutch-Javanese immigrant to New Zealand who was inspired by Māori art and gained a deep affection for Rotorua.
In 1982, he returned to the city and lived with John Perry, then-director of the Rotorua Art Gallery and later of the Rotorua Museum.
Perry said Schoon, suffering from emphysema, turned up unexpectedly on his doorstep with 30 tea chests of belongings a few months after Perry visited him in Australia.
"He was very fond of Rotorua, he had many Māori and Dutch friends here," Perry said.
When Perry was approached by the local postmaster about an artist to paint a mural on the wall of the new philatelic centre on the corner of Hinemoa and Tutanakai Sts, he recommended Schoon, he said.
He said Schoon was paid $3000. The artist decided to base the mural on a drawing he had produced in the 1950s or 1960s that used a Māori design. It was blown up in size and repeated in four panels.
"The design was very simple and very basic and very Bauhaus. It was a contrast between big and small, simple and complex," Perry said.
A local signwriter produced the mural to Schoon's standards. The final work is 1600 x 4780 x 30mm in oil on board.
Perry considered it Schoon's "magnum opus" - his masterpiece.
He said the mural remained at the centre for about a decade until it closed.
The mural was moved to Te Papaiouru marae in Ōhinemutu - a place that has welcomed many visitors and tourists over the years, including Prince Harry and his wife Meghan two years ago.
The Rotorua Daily Post has spoken to a local woman - who spoke on the condition she was not named, for privacy reasons - who said she put the artwork up for auction.
She said she had owned it since it was gifted to her by the postmaster, along with other desks and gear, when she opened a post office downstairs at the marae.
The mural resided in the post office for about six years before being moved upstairs and displayed in Whakatūria, the dining rooms of the marae, she said.
She said, about a year ago, she was approached about allowing the mural to be part of a travelling exhibition of Schoon's work: Split level view finder. It was shown at galleries in Wellington and Auckland.
She said she decided to sell the mural because she did not have room for it in her home, and worried if it ended up in a museum, she would forget about it or it would just sit in storage.
"It needs a home where someone will look after it ... that was my thinking.
"They will look after it, whoever bought it."
She said the work was worth around $26,000 when it was given to her but she had an idea of its value through insuring it over the years. She said she had not even thought about what to do with the money from the auction.
Auctioneer Ben Plumbly said there was a bidding war between three serious buyers for Schoon's "special and important piece".
Plumbly said it was rare for a painted artwork by Schoon - who also did photography, drawings and carving - to come on to the market and that's why it fetched such a good price.
"Fully realised paintings [by Schoon] are rare, there's not been a lot of them and certainly nothing of this scale or importance.
"[Schoon] brought with him to New Zealand a style of international modernism that was fairly radical and enabled him to jump across various media.
"He took a lot of photographs of the geysers and the thermal activity in and around Rotorua, for instance, he also grew gourds and carved them with the Māori kowhaiwhai.
"He painted, but he didn't paint a lot."
He said Schoon had previously been a "slightly peripheral figure" in the New Zealand art world but been more recognised over the past few years "both academically and institutionally through the museums and through the marketplace".
"Many, many years ago, Theo Schoon works were really quite cheap. But there has been a reappraisal of the role that he played in the flowering of New Zealand modernism. He's become regarded as a less peripheral and more as a central figure.
"To achieve a price for a work by him in excess of $300,000 does put him in relatively rarified sort of company.
"There's not a lot of New Zealand artists whose works at auction fetch that type of money, you're only looking at people like Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere and Bill Hammond and Charles Goldie and those types of figures.
"It's definitely new company for him to keep."