Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer

Jill Trevelyan

Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer


Winner of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards Book of the Year.

From Montana award-winning author Jill Trevelyan comes the first biography of Peter McLeavey, the charismatic, pioneering art dealer who since the 1960s has shaped – even transformed – New Zealand art.

Over the past half-century, Peter McLeavey has known, exhibited, befriended, fought with and championed a who’s who of New Zealand artists. Now, for the first time, he has granted exclusive access to his private papers to award-winning biographer Jill Trevelyan, author of Rita Angus: An Artist's Life.  

Delving into McLeavey’s extensive and hitherto untapped archive of letters, diaries, exhibition files and more, this book offers insights into the artists McLeavey has represented across half a century. Here, in their own words – lively, salty, and often heart-breaking – are Colin McCahon, Toss Woollaston, Len Lye, Milan Mrkusich, Michael Smither, Gordon Walters, Michael Illingworth, Don Driver, Robin White, John Reynolds, Yvonne Todd and many more.

McLeavey’s personal story is remarkable, but in reading it, his contemporaries will recognise common and timeless themes: the religious upbringing, the struggle to be bohemian in small-town New Zealand, the challenges of marriage and fatherhood, the dilemma of whether to stay or leave New Zealand, and the need to make a mark.

McLeavey’s biography is the big story of contemporary New Zealand art itself, in a period of massive change and growth. It is a must-read for anyone interested in New Zealand’s art, culture, or recent history.

About the author

Jill Trevelyan is a curator and writer specialising in twentieth-century New Zealand art. She was the editor of Toss Woollaston: A Life in Letters (Te Papa Press, 2004), shortlisted for the Montana Book Awards in 2005; co-curator of Te Papa’s exhibition Rita Angus: Life & Vision (2008), and co-editor of the accompanying catalogue; and author of Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life (Te Papa Press, 2008), winner of the Montana Medal for Non-Fiction in 2009. Jill lives in Wellington and manages the art collection at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


'[In this] sparkling new biography ... Trevelyan unleashes a dazzling array of full-colour reproductions ... images of McLeavey, his family, friends and gallery, and a good number of the works of art ... [As] the first substantial biography of an art dealer in Australasia, I am certain that the book can anticipate an international readership ... this book is a monument of New Zealand art.'
– Roger Blackley, Art New Zealand, Summer 2013

'Jill Trevelyan has created a wonderful portrait, not just of Peter McLeavey ... but also of the art scene and the artists whose careers he helped launch ... This is an utterly fascinating read and an absolute pleasure for anyone who wants to know more about New Zealand art.'
 Art News New Zealand, November 2013

'[Peter McLeavey] has been showing art for close to 50 years and is probably the one person who provides a link across the generations of art dealers, artists, collectors and curators ... Trevelyan’s book captures all those links and influences in a superb account of the art dealer's life.'
 National Business Review, November 2013

'[This] biography is immaculately researched; a historical resource that will be cited by students and curators for years to come ... Peter McLeavey emerges in these pages as a man of letters. His correspondences with artists are esoteric and personality driven, tender and terrific ... Trevelyan’s book is defined by her subject’s composure; grace.'
– Megan Dunn, November 2013

'Engagingly designed (by Area Design), lucidly written and full of anecdotes that make readers feel as if they're personally observing the action, this is an indispensable volume for anyone with an interest in New Zealand art.'
– HOME New Zealand, January 2014

‘A fascinating insight into the last half-century of New Zealand art…and at the emotional heart of the picture, like the small, off-centre figure which draws the eye in a Brueghel painting, is Peter McLeavey, keeping the faith, knowing the moment, teaching us the trick of standing upright here.’
 Kim Hill Radio New Zealand National, October 2013

Author: Jill Trevelyan
Publication date: October 2013
Extent: 496 pages
Format: Paperback, 230mm x 170mm
Illustrations: 200+ full-colour and black-and-white images

Cover photograph by John B Turner