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Illustrations from Te Papa's Buller's Birds

A Te Papa art exhibition showcasing the illustrations from New Zealand’s most famous book on native birds, opens at the Tauranga Art Gallery on Saturday 13 June and we are delighted to bring these beautiful illustrations from Te Papa to the Bay of Plenty.

The six week exhibition Buller’s Birds:The art of Keulemans and Buchanan displays illustrations used in Walter Buller’s iconic 1873 book, A History of New Zealand Birds and its smaller spin-off, Manual of the Birds of New Zealand.

The exhibition includes original hand-coloured lithographs by London-based renowned natural illustrator Johannes Keulemans, as well as engravings and drawings by New Zealander John Buchanan.


The illustrations are accompanied by examples of Buller’s publications, along with specimens of the illustrated birds. Given how wonderfully clear and true to life the illustrations are, it’s incredible to think Keulemans and Buchanan most often worked from bird skins, rather than observations in the wild. 


 Background on Walter Buller and A History of New Zealand Birds

 More than 140 years ago, two men created what remains New Zealand’s most famous book on native birds.

 A History of the Birds of New Zealandcombined the passion and knowledge of ornithologist Walter Buller with the talents of artist J G Keulemans. The first edition, of 1872–73, attracted subscriptions from luminaries like Charles Darwin, and a second edition was published in 1888. The book was known colloquially as Buller’s Birds.

 A cheaper 1882 alternative, the Manual of the Birds of New Zealand, included wood engravings by New Zealand artist and botanist John Buchanan.


Developed and toured by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa 

Image credits: 

* Johannes G Keulemans, A moho takahe (Notornis mantelli) 1902, oil on canvas. Te Papa.

* Johannes G Keulemans, Little spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii, 1872, hand-coloured lithograph from A History of the Birds of New Zealand, 1st edition. Te Papa. 

* John Buchanan after J G Keulemans, Little penguin, Eudyptula minor and Crested penguin (species unknown) 1865–82, wood engraving. Te Papa * Johannes G Keulemans, A moho takahe (Notornis mantelli) 1902, oil on canvas. Te Papa. 

The touring exhibition is part of Te Papa’s broader programme to work with regional museums and galleries and showcase more of the national art collection more often.

Principal Funder

Annual Strategic Partners