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Book review: Peter McLeavey – the life and times of a New Zealand art dealer

Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer by Jill Trevelyan
Te Papa Press, $64.99 

review peter mcleavey tfe life and times of a new zealand art dealerI love stories about single- minded eccentricity, especially when beautifully crafted by a talented writer whose style doesn’t intrude on the narrative, but rather allows it to carry the reader along, like a listener engrossed in a well-told yarn at a dinner party. That’s the strength of Jill Trevelyan’s account of Peter McLeavey’s life and work. The reader feels like a voyeur, intimately involved in the details of McLeavey’s life from his early days as a gallery owner to his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in 2010, passing the curatorial torch on to his wife and daughters.

The roots of his passion and dedication to his artists come through strongly and fill us with respect for someone who almost without peer has managed to advance the careers of myriad artists from McCahon and Woollaston to Bill Hammond and John Reynolds.

I never bought any work through McLeavey, but a couple of friends who have say that Peter, having sold them a work by one of the artists he represented, would then be reluctant to let it leave the gallery – as if he might still have a proprietary interest, as if it were one of his children. That’s a mark of his almost obsessive passion. As well as being a description of Peter’s personal journey this book is also a history of the important figures in New Zealand art over the past fifty years. It is worth reading for that legacy alone. 

Review overview