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Augustus Earle

Augustus Earle was probably the first English freelance painter to travel the world. He was the first European artist to establish himself for a time in New Zealand and make a prolonged study of part of the country and a number of its people.

Earle was born in London in 1793. He may have been taught painting by the president of the Royal Academy, Benjamin West, whose studio was in Newman St near Earle’s childhood home. Classical, genre and historical paintings by Earle were hung in six Royal Academy exhibitions between 1806 and 1814, a rare honour for a teenager.

In 1815 Earle began his life’s work as an itinerant artist. He painted in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and North and South America before arriving in Australia in 1825. For two years Earle lived a fashionable but busy life in Sydney, opening a gallery, giving lessons in painting and selling drawing materials.

Earle wanted to know more about the Māori, some of whom he had met in Sydney. In October 1827 he sailed on the Governor Macquarie to New Zealand, where he spent eight months in Hokianga and the Bay of Islands. No native race he had studied on his travels could compare with the New Zealanders, that ‘splendid race of men’ with ‘a natural elegance and ease of manner’. Earle painted dozens of accurate representations of Māori customs, occasions and domestic scenes. He left Northland in May 1828 to continue his travels. Back in London in the 1830s, he exhibited and published his New Zealand paintings and other works.

Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by Anthony Murray-Oliver

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Augustus Earle, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated