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Conversations with iconic people

Episode35

Peter Webb

“Once I fell under McCahon's spell I couldn't let him out of my sight. He was my guru.”

Preview / 00:00:52

Full Episode / 00:56:15

In This Episode

Rodney Wilson (former director of Auckland War Memorial Museum, Auckland Art Gallery and the NZ National Maritime Museum) interviews Peter Webb.

Peter Webb’s contribution to the development of the Contemporary art market in this country is extensive. In the early 1950s, Peter held a position as exhibitions officer at the Auckland Art Gallery under its first director Eric Westbrook. In 1958, Peter started one of New Zealand’s first dealer galleries opening with Colin McCahon’s first Auckland exhibition, paintings of French Bay.

He was the founding director of auction house John Cordy Limited in 1963 and resigned to take up the post of Exhibitions Officer at the Auckland Art Gallery for the period 1970 to 1974, during which time he arranged the biggest exhibition of John Constable’s paintings ever held outside of Great Britain, John Constable, The Natural Painter. Unwilling to complete a degree, he quit the world of academia to launch the Barrington Gallery for its owners in 1975 bringing three major exhibitions to Auckland from New York: Jim Dine, Works on Paper; Photo-Realism; and Picasso’s 66 etchings for La Celine. With the demise of funding for the Barrington Gallery, he reopened his own gallery in High Street in 1974 and, with the late Ross Fraser as editor, he launched the quarterly art magazine, Art New Zealand.

He introduced a regular programme of New Zealand art auctions and these very successful sales gradually brought about a conversion of the gallery into a fine art auction company. In 1980, during one of the gallery’s last major shows, Colin McCahon’s New Paintings, he met Ann Webb who joined the company that year and whom, in 1990, he married. With Ann, he built the business that would become the country’s foremost specialist auction house.