The Bishop Suter Art Gallery


The death of a bishop, and the determination of his widow to found a gallery in his name for the people of Nelson, led to the establishment of one of New Zealand's oldest art galleries, the Bishop Suter Art Gallery.

The Suter Art Gallery and eel pond with man and wheelbarrow, The Nelson ProvinciThe Suter Art Gallery, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Collection, 182159/3
Click image to enlarge

Anglican Bishop Andrew Burn Suter died in March 1895, after suffering a debilitating stroke in 1890. After resigning as Bishop of Nelson, he and his wife, Amelia, had discussed finding a piece of land in Nelson on which an art gallery could be built for the city. A board of trustees, led by his successor, Bishop Charles Mules, was set up shortly before his death to oversee the "Nelson Art Gallery".1

Described as a "scholarly, energetic, generous and public-spirited diocesan", Bishop Suter died before a suitable site was found. Amelia dedicated herself to ensuring that her husband's "cherished wish" for an art gallery was fulfilled before she returned to England.2

Suter had been an avid collector of artworks. He wanted his collection, which included paintings by the artist John Gully, to be left to the people of Nelson. An enthusiastic sketcher and watercolourist, he had formed the Bishopdale Sketching Club, now the Nelson Suter Art Society, in 1889.3

Amelia quickly announced that she was transferring the bishop's collection, plus land in Hardy Street, between Collingwood and Trafalgar Streets, to the Nelson Art Gallery Board.4

At that time there were only two public art galleries in New Zealand. There was considerable discussion over Amelia's decision to found a memorial art gallery, rather than something to commemorate her husband's episcopal role, such as a memorial library at the Nelson Institute. Despite some doubt about the Hardy Street site, however, the Board was supportive and set about fundraising.5

Amelia Suter died in March 1896 in England, barely a year after her husband's death. A month later the Board was offered an alternative site, owned by the Nelson School Society, in the Queen's Gardens. The Society was winding up its affairs and offered to donate the land and the Matthew Campbell School buildings, plus several rural school properties which would provide an income for the gallery.6

The Bishop Suter Art Gallery Trustees Act 1896 sanctioned the transfer of the Queen's Gardens property to the Trust. The Hardy Street site was sold to raise additional funds for the cash-strapped Trust Board.7

Construction of Suter Art Gallery onto Matthew Cambell School, Bishop Mules in CConstruction of Suter Art Gallery, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Copy Collection, C101
Click image to enlarge

The trustees hired architect Frederick de Jersey Clere in March 1897 to design a gallery incorporating the brick Matthew Campbell School. With public fundraising continuing, the Bishop Suter Memorial Art Gallery opened on May 31,1899 to a "large and fashionable crowd".8

Various attempts to improve the gallery throughout the first half of the twentieth century did little to disguise the building's inadequacy. Fundraising in the 1950s and 1960s led to two major extensions and building projects in the 1970s. Further extensions were undertaken in 1987 9, but the gallery continued to be financially precarious.

Today the Suter is the oldest gallery in continuous use in New Zealand and has a collection of national significance. 10 It was given a category II historic place registration by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 2007.11

In 2008, the original Act of Parliament establishing the Suter was overturned. It was replaced with the Bishop Suter Art Gallery Governance Restructuring Act, placing the gallery under Nelson City Council governance.12  The Trust Board resurrected plans to redevelop the gallery in November 2008.13.


Note - In February 2015 work on the redevelopment of the Suter Art Gallery started, and the Art Gallery and Cafe moved into temporary accommodation opposite the Library on Halifax Street. The old gallery will be transformed. The theatre remains, but much of the rest of the structure has been demolished.14  The new gallery opened to the public in September 2016.15

Sources used in this story

  1. Butterworth, S. (1999). The Suter, One Hundred Years in Nelson, Nelson, N.Z.: Nikau Press, p.13, 14.
  2. Butterworth, p.13
  3. Neale, J. (1989). Nelson Suter Art Society 1889-1989, Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson Suter Art Society, p.1,2. ; Butterworth, p.15
  4. Butterworth, p.14.
  5. Butterworth, 13-15
  6. Butterworth, p.23, 28-29
  7. O'Brien, R., (2007), The Suter Memorial Art Gallery Registration Report, New Zealand Historic Places Trust Central Region, p.3
  8. Butterworth, pp.30-32
  9. O'Brien, p.6
  10. O'Brien, p.11
  11. The Suter Memorial Art Gallery Registration Details (2007), register number 7690,
  12. All systems go for Suter as governance bill passes' (2008, July 3). Nelson Mail, p.3
  13. Hunt, Tom (2008, November 26). New trust puts Suter work back on agenda. Nelson Mail, p.1.
  14. Clarke, A. (2015, February 21) Creating Gallery's greatest work of art. Nelson Mail, p. 14
  15. Long, J. (2016, September 27) Suter Gallery re-opens doors to Nelson art lovers after $12 million revamp. Nelson Mail on Stuff:

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  • I was in awe of how he could afford such a piece of land.

    Posted by moido, 30/09/2013 2:52am (11 years ago)

  • Wonderful material. With thanks!.
    Regards. I value it.

    Posted by Chase Mantis , 01/09/2013 3:03am (11 years ago)

  • Really excellent content, Thank you!.
    Nicely put. With thanks!

    Posted by Vance Poffenroth , 30/08/2013 10:19pm (11 years ago)

  • Nicely put, Cheers..
    Reliable knowledge, Thanks a lot!

    Posted by Adam Millhiser , 21/08/2013 5:42pm (11 years ago)

  • I was in awe of how he could afford such a piece of land.

    Posted by moido, 20/08/2013 4:04am (11 years ago)

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Further sources - The Bishop Suter Art Gallery



[Where no hyperlink is supplied ask at your local library about full text access to the articles.] 

  • All systems go for Suter as governance bill passes (2008, July 3). Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Blundell, S. (2001, May 5) A word from our sponsor. Listener, 178 (3182), p.50-51
  • Board structure reviewed' (2004, December 20). Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Bond, M. (1979, November), The Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson. AGMANZ News, 10 (4), p.1-4
  • Brooke, A. (2004, April 30). A Suter estranged from the public. Nelson Mail, p.13.
  • Catley, B. (2005, March 10).Suter seeking more money. Nelson Mail, p.1.
  • Centenary under way (1998, June 8) Nelson Mail, p.2.
  • Clarke, A. (2015, February 21) Creating Gallery's greatest work of art. Nelson Mail, p. 14
  • Collett, G. (2000, December 19). Nelson Mail, p.2.
  • El Orfi, M. (2001, June 12). Suter begins campaign fund redevelopment. Nelson Mail, p.2.
  • Davies, A. (1985, Jun), The Bishop Suter collection. AGMANZ Journal. 16 (2), p.12-13
  • Davies, A. (1989) Projects in brief: Suter art gallery theaterette. AGMANZ Journal. 20 (4), p.27-29
  • Descendant cuts cake for Suter (2007, June 1). Nelson Mail, p.2.
  • Evans, J. (2008, November 15). Joy the key as Suter plans a new way forward. Nelson Mail, p.10.
  • Gibbs, P. (1988, July 2), Arts : Get things moving [Austen Davies] Listener. 121 (2522), p.74
  • Goodger, Karen (2006, March 8).Suter group's dream still alive. Nelson Mail, p.1.
  •  Hobbs, W. (1996, September 10). Art gallery seeks income. Nelson Mail, p.36.
  • Hobbs, W. (2001, April 25).Cultural Landmark. Nelson Mail, p. 34.
  • Hunt, T. (2008, November 26) New trust puts Suter work back on agenda. Nelson Mail, p.1.
  • Little, P. (2007) Still looking ahead. Heritage New Zealand, 105, 32-33
  • Mackle,T. (2003) Lady Mabel Annesley : A European perspective in the antipodes. Journal of New Zealand Art History. 24, p.73-80.
  • Moore, C. (2007, April 14).Suter's winds of change.The Press, D10
  • Neal, T. (1999, May 29) Suter turns 100. Nelson Mail, p.13-14
  • Neal, T. (2000, May 29). Suter seeks help to fund $3m project for gallery. Nelson Mail, p.1.
  • Neal, T. (2001, March 7). The Suter's upgrade costs only partly met. Nelson Mail, p. 3.
  • Neal, T. (2002, June 20). Suter on track for $5.6m project. Nelson Mail, p.10.
  • News (Bishop Suter Art gallery) : A four-monthly coverage of exhibitions and events (1979-[1992]). Nelson, N.Z.: The Gallery. 
  • News letter (Bishop Suter Art Gallery) (1976-) Nelson, N.Z. : Suter Gallery
  • New Suter trust to meet (2008, August 12). Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Palmer, Sir Geoffrey (2001, February 23). Nelson Mail, p.13. [Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, argues that proposed sponsorship for the Suter Art Gallery should be embraced with enthusiasm.]
  • Pitts, P. (1986, Autumn), The Goodman Suter Biennale. Art New Zealand. 38, p.32-34  
  • Reflecting the shape of an art gallery's genesis (1987, May 9) Nelson Mail.
  • Skinner, D. (2005, Spring), Build it and they will come : the expansion of art galleries in New Zealand. Art New Zealand. 116, p.92-95  
  • Smith drafts new Suter bill' (2007, December 15). Nelson Mail, p.3.  
  • Some answers on the Suter (2001, June 20). Nelson Mail, p.17.
  • Suter to get new trust deed (2007, March 2). Nelson Mail, p.12.
  • Suter bill due to be unveiled (2008, February 29). Nelson Mail, p.2.
  • Suter Gallery project gets green light (2003, October 24). Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Suter turns 100 (1999, June 1). Nelson Mail, p.9.
  • Suter takes fresh look at direction' (1999, February 15). Nelson Mail, p.3.
  • Suter funds guaranteed' (1998, August 21). Nelson Mail, p.13.
  • Suter news : a quarterly coverage of exhibitions and events (1992-) Nelson, N.Z. : Suter Art Gallery
  • Sutton, P. (1977, October 15) Bishop Suter: a giant among men. Nelson Mail
  • White, A.M. (2014, September 4) Unique collection financed by Nelson community. Nelson Mail on Stuff:

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