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Topic: Bishop Monrad and his collection

Is part of topic Featured Gifts and Bequests

Ditlev Gothard Monrad (1811–1887) was a prominent figure in nineteenth-century Denmark: a bishop in the Lutheran church, he was also a noted scholar and politician. Privately, he was a connoisseur of art, collecting fine prints by numerous European old masters and paintings by contemporary Danish artists. Monrad was prime minister of Denmark during the 1864 war against the German Confederation, led by Prussia. The Danes were defeated and lost considerable territory and Monrad’s premiership ended in disrepute.

Immigration to New Zealand

In March 1866, Monrad arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand, with his family and five young Danish men who also wished to immigrate. Monrad eventually purchased land at Karere in the Manawatu, where he built a house and developed a farm. The family brought with them a large library of books and works of art, including Monrad’s collection of prints. But while other family members settled in New Zealand permanently, Monrad and his wife Emilie (d. 1871) returned to Denmark in January 1869. Two days before leaving New Zealand, Monrad donated his collection of 600 fine prints to the Colonial Museum in Wellington.

Monrad’s collection

Monrad’s collection includes engravings, etchings, and woodcuts, beginning with two engravings from the 1470s by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna. The collection’s sixteenth-century German engravings form a significant group, and include works by Albrecht Altdorfer, Albrecht Dürer, and the brothers Hans and Sebald Beham. Seventeenth-century Dutch etching is a particularly strong aspect of the collection, with examples of work by Cornelis Bega, Ferdinand Bol, Albert Cuyp, Adriaen van Ostade, Paulus Potter, and Herman van Swanevelt, among many others. Central to this group are the 41 etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn, who is widely recognised as the greatest etcher in the history of the medium. Rembrandt’s etchings have always been famous and sought-after by collectors, and Monrad acquired some good examples of his work, including The death of the Virgin, Christ preaching (La petite tombe) and the small The goldsmith. Besides the German and Dutch schools, other artists represented in the collection include Annibale Carracci, Antony van Dyck, Lucas van Leyden, Robert Nanteuil, and Guido Reni. The largest single group – 58 etchings – is by the seventeenth-century Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar.


Following Monrad’s departure, the collection remained in the Colonial Museum until 1871, when it was moved to the General Assembly Library. From there it was sent to the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1923. In 1936, for reasons which remain unknown, the Monrad Collection was split in two: the majority of the collection went to the new National Art Gallery, while 56 prints, including all of the Rembrandt etchings, were retained by the Alexander Turnbull Library. In February 2007, following new research into the Monrad Collection, the Alexander Turnbull Library handed those 56 prints to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The collection has now been reassembled at Te Papa according to Bishop Monrad’s own catalogue of 1869. 


Works on paper are both physically fragile and sensitive to light, and cannot, therefore, be exhibited regularly or for long periods of time. However, through Te Papa’s Collections Online website, the entire Monrad Collection is now permanently available.


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