Reunited for Valentine's

February 13, 2013: Alexander Turnbull’s parents reunited for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day 2013 will be a special time for the parents of Alexander Turnbull. They will be reunited when two large 19th century oil paintings of them are hung side by side in the newly refurbished National Library Molesworth Street building. The Walter and Alexandrina Turnbull portraits were painted by Scottish artist, John A Horsburgh in 1880.

The two portraits being hung by staff
Brendan O'Brien, exhibitions co-ordinator, and Mark Roach, paintings expert, hang oil paintings of Alexandrina and Walter Turnbull by John A Horsburgh, painted in Edinburgh in 1880. Photo by Mark Beatty.

Alexander Turnbull is renowned for gifting his personal collections of books, manuscripts, photographs and paintings in 1918, which led to the establishment of the Alexander Turnbull Library now part of the National Library of New Zealand.

Chris Szekely, Chief Librarian Alexander Turnbull Library, says: “We are delighted to finally bring Alexander’s parents together after nearly a century apart. We believe this is probably the first time the portraits have ever been publicly displayed together.”

Both portraits required extensive conservation treatments, especially the elaborate gilded frames. Work was completed on the Walter Turnbull portrait in 2008. The portrait of Alexandrina came back from the conservation lab just last week.

“It’s fair to say that Alexander’s mum has had some work done,” said Mr Szekely. “And she’s looking great.”

The portraits can be viewed in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room at the National Library, Molesworth Street, Wellington from Thursday 14 February.

The paintings awaiting display
Brendan O'Brien with the two paintings. Photo by Mark Beatty.

Information about the artists and paintings

Portraits of Walter Turnbull and Alexandrina Turnbull, parents of Alexander Turnbull. Both are shown formally dressed and seated in a studio setting, with a landscape visible through an arched window behind the sitters. Alexandrina Turnbull is holding a letter addressed to Mrs Turnbull London, postmarked May 1880.

Although Alexandrina Turnbull was in England in May 1880, Walter Turnbull was in New Zealand at this date, and it seems likely that one of the pair sent the artist photographs of the couple to copy.

Both portraits were painted in Edinburgh in 1880 by a Scottish artist, John A Horsburgh, probably a relation of the Turnbulls. The artist was known for his portraits in oils and was also a photographer. Alexandrina Turnbull’s maiden name was Horsburgh, and Walter Turnbull’s grandmother was also a Horsburgh.


Get in touch for more information, and high-resolution images. Tony Wallace, Department of Internal Affairs, phone 04 4959472 or 027 400266.