Castle bequest

The Turnbull Library has very recently acquired two paintings belonging to Maureen Castle (1933-2018), the niece of musicians Ronald and Zillah Castle, as a bequest after Miss Castle’s death in January this year. Maureen was also known as an accomplished musician, and was a piano teacher for nearly 70 years, starting at the age of 15.

Zillah Castle and her brother Ronald in Wellington, circa 21 June, 1950. Ref: PAColl-6203-45Zillah Castle and her brother Ronald in Wellington, circa 21 June, 1950. Ref: PAColl-6203-45

Along with their musical activities, Ronald and Zillah Castle were collectors of musical instruments and early printed music. Their collection became renowned as one of the most significant in the Southern Hemisphere, and for many years was viewable by appointment within one of the three adjacent houses owned by the Castle family in Newtown.

The first of the two recently-acquired paintings is a portrait of Zillah Castle by Marcus King (1891-1983). King is well-known for his 1938 interpretative painting of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, held by the Turnbull Library at G-821-2, as well as for reaching an international audience through his commercial artwork promoting New Zealand for the Tourist Department, from 1935-1961. King’s portrait of Zillah Castle dates from around 1935. Although the Library holds a number of photographs of her, there was previously no representation in the Drawings, Paintings and Prints collection. She would have been in her mid-20s when the painting was executed, and is formally portrayed in a seated position, tuning a violin. The painting is not yet digitised, but is held at G-052.

Portrait of Zillah Castle by Marcus King (1891-1983). Ref: G-052Portrait of Zillah Castle by Marcus King (1891-1983). Ref: G-052

The other painting is of a group of musical instruments from the Castle collection, by Stewart Maclennan (1903-1973), a Dunedin artist and Director of the National Art Gallery from 1948-1968. An attached handwritten note on the back reveals the painting was commissioned by Zillah’s sister, Mavis Castle (1896-1968). It is dated 1968, and features a selection from the Castles’ collection of early instruments, including a hurdy gurdy, a viola d’amore, and a spinet. This work on paper will be housed at D-045-003.

Mavis Castle commissioned Dunedin artist Stewart Maclennan (1903-1973) to paint this in 1968, featuring the Castles’ collection of early instruments including a hurdy gurdy, a viola d’amore, and a spinet. Ref: D-045-003Mavis Castle commissioned Dunedin artist Stewart Maclennan (1903-1973) to paint this in 1968, featuring the Castles’ collection of early instruments including a hurdy gurdy, a viola d’amore, and a spinet. Ref: D-045-003

The Castle collection was left to Maureen after Zillah Castle died in 1997 (Ronald had died in 1984). Maureen had played extensively with Ronald and Zillah, being a regular member of the Consort that Zillah had established. With the Newtown houses needing to be cleared, a home was eventually found for the instrument collection at Auckland War Memorial Museum, acquired by purchase, in 1998. Other material was sent to auction, with proceeds going to charity, and the Library acquired two artworks at this time: a portrait by Henry Linley Richardson of Earnest Rutherford lecturing on the atom at Wellington Town Hall in 1925 (A-303-008), and an oil painting of Petrus Van der Velden’s cottage in Karaka Bay by Frederick Rewi Alexander (G-243). Both of these items are digitised.

However, a great deal was also donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library. This included the Castle Family Papers (MS-Group-0739), which contains scores, tape and disc recordings, oral history, manuscripts and correspondence relating to the Castle’s musical accomplishments and interests, and the Castle Family Photographs (PA-Group-00547).

Castle family - Photograph taken by Stanley Polkinghorne Andrew, ca. 1929. Ref: PAColl-8983-28Castle family - Photograph taken by Stanley Polkinghorne Andrew, ca. 1929. Maureen's father, Mervyn Castle, can be seen standing to the right. Ref: PAColl-8983-28

The Castles also collected a library of printed music, including 16th to 18th century scores, in both original and facsimile form, which was very much a collection of working tools. Robert Petre, Rare Books Librarian at the Turnbull in 1998, was responsible, with the help of the Friends of the Turnbull Library, for the purchase of these rare scores.

These two new paintings will enhance the rich holdings relating to the Castle Family which have been preserved by the Library. They will also serve to enhance existing holdings in the Drawings, Paintings & Prints collection of works by King and Maclennan, who were both family friends of the Castles. It is somehow timely that these paintings have been acquired during New Zealand Music Month, 21 years after Zillah Castle’s death.


Thanks to Jay Buzenberg, Michael Brown, Keith McEwing and Liz Hibbs for assistance and information.

By Denise Roughan

Denise is Assistant Curator, Drawings, Paintings and Prints.

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