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Dame Ngaio Marsh- Writer, Theatre Director and Contemporary Painter

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Aotearoa’s best-known writer, Dame Ngaio Marsh is the subject of In search of Ngaio: Life and work of Dame Ngaio Marsh a survey exhibition at Tūranga central library.  The exhibition encompasses Marsh’s work as a writer of crime novels, and also her time as a theatre director, mentor and contemporary painter, a member of The Group following her graduation from Canterbury College School of Art and formative to this independent group of local artists in Christchurch in 1927.   

An association of artists attending Canterbury College School of Art, The Group was established by Marsh, Evelyn Polson, Margaret Anderson, Cora Wilding and Viola Macmillan, its later membership also featuring a number of the country’s leading artists, including Olivia Spencer Bower and  Rita Angus.  

Leasing a central city space in Cashel Street, in spite of their future status at the time, The Group just wanted to paint in ‘a room of their own’.  Commenting on Marsh’s participation in The Group’s exhibitions, art historian Julie King acknowledged her sense of professionalism, whether a painter or writer.  King also observes something of this attitude in Spencer Bower’s painting of Ngaio Marsh from the late 1930s:  ‘She is standing alone in the landscape, positioned before the easel and dressed in trousers and a blue smock…  A mark of professional identity and independence, the smock was, in Janet Paul’s words, ‘one of those things that every painter  when they got to London bought for themselves…  it gave you a feeling of being one of a fraternity of people who’d worn this traditional blue cotton smock, long, easy to slip on, wide sleeves and big pockets.’

(See: Julie King, Olivia Spencer Bower Making Her Own Discoveries,  Canterbury University Press, 2015, page 85



In search of Ngaio: Life and work of Dame Ngaio Marsh

Te Pito Huarewa Southbase Gallery, Tuakiri

 Level 2, Tūranga Christchurch City Libraries

27 August – 27 November 2022



  1. Olivia Spencer Bower, Ngaio Marsh Painting, c. 1934-1939


Presented by the Friends of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery Inc, 1993

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū


Dame Ngaio Marsh- Writer, Theatre Director and Contemporary Painter

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