For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, museums have predominantly exhibited beautiful works by Pacific artists to represent Pacific communities from a western anthropological viewpoint. The objects have rarely been displayed as artworks with universal appeal and great visual force. The Gallery’s collection of Pacific arts was guided by the keen eye of Sir William Dargie and later James Mollison, Douglas Newton and Ruth McNicoll, all of whom made astute additions to the collection of some of the finest works from the Pacific.
One of the strengths is the Commonwealth Arts Advisory Board collection which contains many strong works from the Bismarck Archipelago and the Sepik River. This collection is a legacy of three collecting trips by Sir William Dargie to Papua New Guinea. Other core areas include a strong selection of 18th– and 19th–century Maori art, the Charpentier collection from Vanuatu, and single works of great importance such as the prehistoric Ambum stone and the Lake Sentani double figure collected by Jacque Viot in 1929.