The Invention of New Zealand: Art and National Identity, 1930–1970


Francis Pound


The Invention of New Zealand is a landmark book, one of the best I have read for years.’ – Gavin McLean, Otago Daily Times


The Invention of New Zealand is a groundbreaking study of nationalism in twentieth-century New Zealand art.

From the 1930s onwards, artists, writers and critics such as Toss Woollaston, Allen Curnow, Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, A. R. D. Fairburn, Doris Lusk and Monte Holcroft deployed art, literature and theory in the construction of a national identity, the search for the essence of New Zealand and the invention of a specifically New Zealand high culture. Francis Pound ponders, decodes, memorialises and celebrates this project from its starting moment, when painters and poets became newly self-conscious about New Zealand art. He argues that in the early 1970s the framework was largely dismantled and the discourse abandoned by a new generation of artists and critics, such as Richard Killeen, Ian Scott and Petar Vuletic.

Over ten fascinating chapters, Pound covers the Nationalists’ major concerns, their problems with antecedents, the formulation of their canon and their various co-option, adoption and rejection of Regionalism, Cubism, Modernism and Primitivism in their quest for invention. The Invention of New Zealand is a well-illustrated and engagingly written narrative by one of our most brilliant and original art historians.


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Francis Pound was an independent art curator and writer who taught for some years in the art history department of The University of Auckland. His books included Frames on the Land: Early Landscape Painting in New Zealand (1983), The Space Between: Pakeha Use of Maori Motifs in Modernist New Zealand Art (1994), a book to accompany the exhibition Walters en Abyme, which he also curated, and The Invention of New Zealand (2009). 


Shortlisted for NZ Post Book Awards: General Non-Fiction 2010.


December 2009, 240 x 170 mm, 528 pages, colour & b/w illustrations
Hardback, ISBN 9781869404147, $75