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Mid-century portraiture from the figureheads of New Zealand's art history.

Leo Bensemann is at the heart of an exhibition showing at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery until late March. "Leo Bensemann & Friends: Portraiture of the Group" aims to bring recognition to this portraiture artist through illustrating his place in the leading visual artists of his generation.

Evelyn Page, Olivia Spencer Bower, Rita Angus, Toss Woollaston, Doris Lusk and Colin McCahon, along with Bensemann were collectively known as The Group, a Christchurch-based group of artists active in the middle decades of last century. Drawn from public and private collections, The Group come to life both as subjects and artists in curator Peter Simpson's exhibition, eight years in the making. The last showing of the exhibition was thwarted by the Christchurch earthquakes, so it is a well-deserved tenure in the National Portrait Gallery.

"These are not portraits of prominent people designed for hanging in public buildings," he says. "These artists painted themselves and each other, close friends and family – fathers, wives, children and lovers." Bensemann is at the centre of the exhibition, he says because he deserves a place among the better-known artists of the mid-twentieth century for his work in the medium of portraiture.

The Group collectively reinvented the art of portraiture for their time and place, says Simpson. These are images which still speak eloquently, even for audiences in another century.

Admission is free and the gallery is open from 10.30-4.30.

Published on January 19, 2017 by Lauren Harrigan

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