Rita Angus Cottage

Fernbank Studio

194a Sydney Street West, Thorndon, Wellington
Map
  • Constructed

    1877

  • Architect(s)

    Unknown

  • Builder(s)

  • The Rita Angus cottage is of simple construction and design, most likely dating to the late 1870s. The house has a slight variation to similar houses from the period, as the front door is at the end of the verandah, giving access to the side of the hall. 

    This house has considerable historical significance as the home of pioneer New Zealand artist Rita Angus. The house, garden, Thorndon, and Wellington all feature in her work from this period, a physical reminder of the influence that these things had upon Angus. The house continues as a studio for an artist in residence program, and is a part of the legacy that Rita Angus has left to contemporary New Zealand Art. 

    Rita Angus has become one of New Zealand’s most critically acclaimed artists, and this house has been retained as a part of her legacy to the New Zealand art community which has a great amount of connection to the cottage. 
     

  • close History
    • This small cottage, located on Sydney Street West in Thorndon, was the home of one of the pioneers of New Zealand Art, Rita Angus, between 1955 and 1972.

      The land that the cottage occupies was originally purchased by A.J. Swanson in 1874, and a mortgage was taken out on the property in 1877, making this the likely date for the construction of the cottage. It appears that the Swanson’s had a second house built on the property (194) in 1897, which was two storeys, faced the street front, and was designed by Guido Schwartz. It is probable that they occupied this new large house. The property was sold in 1916 by Mary Swanson, the widow of A.J. Swanson, to Catherine Duignan, spinster. The house was sold in 1926 to Mary Kinsella, a widow. In 1937 the property was purchased by Andrew Hamilton and then exchanged hands several times, before being sold in 1945 to Ethel Park. In 1955 the house was sold to Robert Hamilton, then almost immediately on-sold to Ian Kirk, who then sold to the artist Henrietta Catherine McKenzie, now better known as Rita Angus.

      The cottage has gained much of its significance as the home of Rita Angus. Angus purchased the cottage in 1955 and it remained her home until her death in 1970. The period in which Angus was living in the cottage is when many of the major developments occurred in her career, and marks a time of growth in Angus’ confidence in herself as an artist. In 1957, at the age of 49, Angus had her first solo exhibition at Wellington’s Architectural Centre Gallery. The following year she received an Association of New Zealand Art Societies fellowship that allowed her to study art for a year in England and Europe. Returning to Wellington, her concentration on painting landscapes, particularly in Thorndon, and works such as ‘Self-portrait with fruit’ (1960-61) and ‘Self-portrait’ (1966) that feature the cottage and the Magnolia tree show the influence and the impact that Angus’ surroundings had on her work. The simple cottage suited the lifestyle that Angus had sought after, and was described by Angus’ friend Frederick Page as a ‘hidden house with a magnolia tree, one of those places that could turn up in a story[…]there was a touch of magic about it, mystery even, as though one day you could go and it wouldn’t be there’. When Thorndon was bisected by the motorway in the mid 1960s, Angus, in the spirit of protest, documented the demolition of historic houses and the removal of tombstones from the Bolton Street Cemetery.

      Following Angus’ death in 1970 the cottage passed to her family, and was used as a rental property until 1984. During this time, the cottage came under threat from demolition so that townhouses could be constructed, but due to difficult access to the site, considerable protest from surrounding property owners, and letters supporting the retention of the cottage from the likes of Colin McCahon, this did not go ahead. In 1976 the Wellington City Council put new zoning in place that aimed at protecting the special character of the Sydney Street West, Tinakori Road, and Hill Street area by preserving the existing buildings and limiting new developments. This zoning was the first of its kind in New Zealand.

      The changing recognition of the special nature of the landscape and the cottage, together with the increasing critical acclaim of Angus’ work, prompted the Thorndon Trust to purchase the cottage and secure its future. Restoration of the cottage began in 1984, and the house was repiled, reroofed, rewired, refloored, had new plumbing and kitchen fixtures installed, as well as having a number of general repairs carried out.

      The cottage has largely been kept ‘as it was when Rita lived in it’, and is now used as accommodation for an artist in residence program.


  • close Architectural Information
    • Building Classification(s) close

      Not assessed

    • Architecture close

      The Rita Angus Cottage is a simple timber dwelling, typical of its time. It has been constructed in rusticated weatherboard, and has little exterior ornamentation other than corner cover boards, timber double hung windows, and panelled doors. There is a small basement space under the studio at the front of the cottage, while the kitchen is at the back in a small lean to. The cottage is comprised of three main rooms; the studio, a bedroom, and a living room, and a small addition that houses the kitchen.

    • Materials close

      Rusticated timber weatherboard

      Timber joinery

      Corrugated iron roofing

    • Setting close

      The Rita Angus Cottage is set well back from the street and is accessed along a narrow path that opens out to a small garden. The garden includes mature shrub and fern growth as well as the large magnolia tree beside the house. The setting was described by contemporaries of Rita Angus as magical and mysterious, and features of the house, garden and setting – particularly the magnolia tree – appear in the artist’s work. The secluded setting continues to contribute to the sense of place of the cottage as part of an artist’s residency programme. It is one of three key Art Residencies in Thorndon, the other two are Randell Cottage on St Mary Street (WCC ref 15/451) and Lilburn House, shed and garden on Ascot Street (WCC ref 15/422).

      The wider context for the Rita Angus Cottage is its location within the Thorndon Character Area. The character area is a “substantially complete remnant of the original fabric of the city…[and] is of “considerable historical significance.” . Thorndon is one of the oldest suburbs in Wellington, and the southern end of the suburb is made up of small workers cottages dating from a similar time to the Rita Angus Cottage, and of larger two storey timber family homes also dating to this period.


  • close Cultural Value

    The Rita Angus cottage is of simple construction and design, most likely dating to the late 1870s. The house has a slight variation to similar houses from the period, as the front door is at the end of the verandah, giving access to the side of the hall.

    This house has considerable historical significance as the home of pioneer New Zealand artist Rita Angus. The house, garden, Thorndon, and Wellington all feature in her work from this period, a physical reminder of the influence that these things had upon Angus. The house continues as a studio for an artist in residence program, and is a part of the legacy that Rita Angus has left to contemporary New Zealand Art.

    Rita Angus has become one of New Zealand’s most critically acclaimed artists, and this house has been retained as a part of her legacy to the New Zealand art community which has a great amount of connection to the cottage.

    • Aesthetic Value close
      • Architectural

        Does the item have architectural or artistic value for characteristics that may include its design, style, era, form, scale, materials, colour, texture, patina of age, quality of space, craftsmanship, smells, and sounds?

        The Rita Angus cottage is of simple construction and design, most likely dating to the late 1870s. The house has a slight variation to similar houses from the period, as the front door is at the end of the verandah, giving access to the side of the hall.

      • Group

        Is the item part of a group of buildings, structures, or sites that taken together have coherence because of their age, history, style, scale, materials, or use?

        The house has group value as one of three key Thorndon Artist’s Residencies, and for its contribution to the Thorndon Character Area.

      • Townscape

        Does the item have townscape value for the part it plays in defining a space or street; providing visual interest; its role as a landmark; or the contribution it makes to the character and sense of place of Wellington?

        The house has modest townscape presence as it is set back from the street in a garden. The secluded setting of the cottage, however, is a key factor in the sense of place of the cottage and contributes substantially to its current use as an Artist’s Residency as part of an artist-in-residence programme.

    • Historic Value close
      • Association

        Is the item associated with an important person, group, or organisation?

        This house has considerable historical significance as the home of pioneer New Zealand artist Rita Angus. The house, garden, Thorndon, and Wellington all feature in her work from this period, a physical reminder of the influence that these things had upon Angus. The house continues as a studio for an artist in residence program, and is a part of the legacy that Rita Angus has left to contemporary New Zealand Art. 

      • Association

        Is the item associated with an important historic event, theme, pattern, phase, or activity?

        As an early cottage, this house is also associated with the development of Thorndon as a suburb in the years prior to 1900. 

    • Scientific Value close
      • Archaeological

        Does the item have archaeological value for its ability to provide scientific information about past human activity?

        This is a pre 1900 cottage and in the NZAA Central City Archaeological Area R27/270.

      • Educational

        Does the item have educational value for what it can demonstrate about aspects of the past?

        As the home of Rita Angus this cottage has educational value, displaying the impact that her surroundings had upon her work.

    • Social Value close
      • Identity Sense Of Place Continuity

        Is the item a focus of community, regional, or national identity? Does the item contribute to sense of place or continuity?

        This cottage contributes to the sense of place and continuity in Wellington as it maintains its use value as an Artist’s Residency as part of an artist-in-residence programme.

      • Public Esteem

        Is the item held in high public esteem?

        The Rita Angus cottage is held in high esteem, shown by the public outcry when it came under threat, causing the Thorndon Trust to purchase the house.

      • Sentiment Connection

        Is the item a focus of community sentiment and connection?

        Rita Angus has become one of New Zealand’s most critically acclaimed artists, and this house has been retained as a part of her legacy to the New Zealand art community which has a great amount of connection to the cottage.

    • Level of Cultural Heritage Significance close
      • Authentic

        Does the item have authenticity or integrity because it retains significant fabric from the time of its construction or from later periods when important additions or modifications were carried out?

        This house retains significant amounts of original materials and has had few intrusive modern modifications. Recent works to maintain and refurbish the cottage have had little impact upon its authenticity and integrity.

      • Local Regional National International

        Is the item important for any of the above characteristics at a local, regional, national, or international level?

        The Rita Angus cottage is of national significance as the home of acclaimed artist Rita Angus while she lived in Wellington. This period of her life is well documented in her artworks, with many depicting the cottage, the magnolia tree, and the wider 

      • Representative

        Is the item a good example of the class it represents?

        This cottage is a good representative of an 1870s timber cottage. Its also has a representative history as a part of the development of Thorndon.

    • Local / Regional / National / International Importance close

      Not assessed

  • close Site Detail
    • District Plan Number

      18/ 277

    • Legal Description

      Lot 1 DP 3562

    • Heritage New Zealand Listed

      1/ 2291

    • Archaeological Site

      Pre 1900 Cottage, NZAA Central City Archaeological Area R27/270

    • Current Uses

      unknown

    • Former Uses

      unknown

    • Has building been funded

      No

    • Funding Amount

      Not applicable

    • Earthquake Prone Status

      Not Earthquake Prone

  • close Additional Information
    • Sources close
      • Historic Places Trust, ‘Rita Angus Cottage – 194a Sydney Street West’. Historic Places Trust, unpublished registration report. Accessed 5 September 2013
      • WN 243/26
      • WN 3/298
      • WN 245/133
    • Technical Documentation close

      Not available

    • Footnotes close

      Not available

Last updated: 27/09/2016 8:53:28 p.m.