The Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui was founded through the generosity of one man to his home city. In 1912, Henry Sarjeant left a huge sum of money – the equivalent of over $70 million in today’s terms – to establish the gallery “as a means of inspiration for ourselves and those who come after us”.
The Gallery opened in 1919 and is recognised as one of the country’s most important heritage buildings. Over the last 99 years, through the Sarjeant bequest and the many kind gifts of subsequent benefactors, the collection has become one of national importance and numbers over 8500 works of New Zealand and international art, spanning 400 years. The Sarjeant Collection includes the one of New Zealand’s best photographic collections, which includes the Denton Collection, and outside private collections houses the largest holding of Edith Collier’s work.
The Sarjeant Gallery exhibitions, events and the nationally significant permanent collection are currently located in a modern warehouse space at Sarjeant on the Quay at 38 Taupō Quay, while the original Sarjeant Gallery at Pukenamu, Queens Park waits for the $35m redevelopment to commence. The redevelopment will strengthen, restore, rebuild the original building and will add a new wing to the rear. It is recommended that anyone new to Whanganui visits both sites and enjoy the exhibitions and events at Sarjeant on the Quay; and admire the stunning iconic Sarjeant Gallery at Pukenamu, Queens Park.
The Sarjeant Gallery at Pukenamu, Queens Park was established as the result of a bequest from Henry Sarjeant (1830-1912) who wished to benefit the people of Whanganui and New Zealand with a fine art gallery “for the inspiration of ourselves and those who come after us”. The magnificent neo-classical building is built in a distinctive Greek-cross shape and clad in Oamaru stone with a 13m-high central dome. It is widely recognised for the quality of its natural lighting which was an important and admired feature of the Sarjeant Gallery at the time it was built.
The Sarjeant was designed by 19 year old Donald Hosie in 1916 after he won an Australia/New Zealand-wide competition to design the building. A pupil of the Dunedin-based architect Edmund Anscombe, Hosie was tragically killed in action at Passchendaele just three weeks after the Gallery’s foundation stone was laid. In September 1919 the Sarjeant was opened by the then Prime Minister William Massey and quickly became an iconic piece of New Zealand’s built heritage and was known as ‘the Rolls Royce of galleries’. In 1995 the Sarjeant Gallery was gifted the name ‘Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui’ by Whanganui iwi, which interpreted into English means ‘The House of Inspiration’.
In 2012 the Sarjeant was given the award for Enduring Architecture by the Western Branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and is now listed as a Category 1 heritage building. However, the building currently meets only 5% of the new building code and therefore the ambitious redevelopment is essential to safeguard the Sarjeant for the future.
It is anticipated that the Sarjeant Gallery at Queen’s park, Pukenamu will reopen in 2023 and will house the Gallery’s nationally important collection, provide increased access to the collections and more and improved spaces for exhibitions and events.
The redevelopment is a partnership between Whanganui District Council, Whanganui Iwi, central Government, local and national donors and sponsors both large and small.