In a gift worth millions, late artist gives thousands of his paintings to charity

South Island artist Eion Stevens was remembered as an “inventive painter”, a great talker, and an intensely private man.

Simon Fergusson

South Island artist Eion Stevens was remembered as an “inventive painter”, a great talker, and an intensely private man.

Thousands of paintings by late Christchurch artist Eion Stevens that were initially feared lost after his death could be worth millions of dollars and have been left to charity.

Stevens has left over 2000 of his paintings and prints in his will for the benefit of charity.

Family and friends of the artist had feared the location of a storage lockup where he kept the artworks would never be found after he died in unusual circumstances.

Eion Stevens with one of his works at the Diversion Gallery in Picton in 2007.

Tiana Miocevich/Stuff

Eion Stevens with one of his works at the Diversion Gallery in Picton in 2007.

Stevens may have been dead for up to a month before his body was discovered in his Christchurch home in September. Instructions about the location of his art collection were later found with Stevens’ will.

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* Artist Eion Stevens may have been dead for a month before his body was discovered
* Thousands of paintings feared lost after artist’s death discovered in lockup

Buddle Findlay partner Willie Palmer, who is acting as solicitor for the executor of the artist’s estate, said the collection of paintings could have “considerable value”.

“It is wonderful,’’ he said.

“This is an incredibly generous gesture on the part of the deceased, who had a very modest lifestyle.”

“We have engaged specialists to provide the executor with a portfolio valuation and an inventory of all paintings.”

Stevens looking through a window at the Diversion Gallery with his self-portrait, called “Ensor’s Hat”.

Derek Flynn

Stevens looking through a window at the Diversion Gallery with his self-portrait, called “Ensor’s Hat”.

Stevens’ paintings have recently sold at auction for around $2000 each, which means the collection of over 2000 artworks could be worth about $4 million at current prices.

Palmer said there would be an exhibition of the paintings at Chambers Art Gallery in Christchurch from April 20 to May 7 and an exhibition for charity later next year in Port Chalmers, Dunedin.

Artist Philip Trusttum,​ who befriended Stevens in his later years, said the donation was “like a bombshell”.

“It is quite remarkable really,’’ he said. “That is the kind of guy he was.”

Stevens next to his work Rolling Back the Sky in 2012.

JARED NICOLL

Stevens next to his work Rolling Back the Sky in 2012.

Trusttum said Stevens had mentioned he wanted to donate to the Canterbury Charity Hospital.

Palmer said the appointed executor for the will was Justice Rachel Dunningham. Stevens’ will asks the executor “to consult with named associates as to the appropriate charitable purposes”.

“It is expected that a charitable trust will be established.”

Auctioneer Rob McKellar, of the McCormack and McKellar auction house in Christchurch, said he sold some mid-sized works by Stevens earlier this month for between $2000 and $3000.

A database of national art sales showed that larger artworks by Stevens had sold for between $1600 and $2750, he said.

Stevens with a work called Solo at an exhibition in 2006.

Warwick Blackler

Stevens with a work called Solo at an exhibition in 2006.

“He is a Canterbury artist and always very desirable, and he is very well recognised in the South Island,’’ he said.

Stevens exhibited his work across New Zealand from the late 1970s onwards, and his work was included in many significant collections.

He was born in Dunedin in 1952 and graduated with honours from the Otago School of Art in 1973. He attended Exeter College of Art in England in 1974 and 1975.

He lived in Port Chalmers for several years and then in Lyttelton, before moving to central Christchurch after the 2011 earthquakes.

Kenneth Proto

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