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Te Papa buys Cook's wallpaper

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 20/06/2016

Te Papa has pounced on a 211-year-old piece of wallpaper for what it believes is a bargain price of $11,500 per square metre.

The national museum has paid $230,000 to a Sydney book dealer for Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, a rare panoramic wallpaper known as the Dufour wallpaper, depicting Captain James Cook's Pacific voyages.

The fragile French-made wallpaper was made around 1804-5. It contains 18 of the 20 original drops of wallpaper, and is 2m high by 10m wide.

The scenes show more than 23 different Pacific indigenous groups, including a Maori warrior, dancing Tahitian princesses, and a scene showing Cook's death in Hawaii in 1779.

It was one of the first illustrated wallpapers ever produced and there are only a few complete or near complete sets remaining, most in private hands, the museum says.

"It's the most ambitious transformation of the visual material from Cook's voyages into a large scale work of art," says Te Papa's historical art curator Rebecca Rice.

"This two-metre high panoramic wallpaper offered the wealthy a kind of armchair tourism intended to transport them to another time and place."

However, a life on the wall in a house means it has been exposed to open fires, smoking and other pollutants.

It will need about two years of conservation work and Te Papa hopes to have it ready for public display by 2019 - the 250th anniversary of Cook's arrival in the Pacific.

A full panorama of the work can be seen on Te Papa's website:

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