The history of art galleries in New Zealand is a record of the struggles in the various cities and towns to establish, staff, and finance buildings to house permanent art collections. In most cases the history of the gallery is closely linked with that of the local art society which was usually formed first. It will be seen that, in a number of cases, the art society and the art gallery merged their interests and became almost inseparable. Elsewhere the society and the gallery have gone their separate ways and have remained wholly independent. A spirit of somewhat dogged independence is manifested in the absence of any completely representational body in the visual arts. There is no lack of cooperation between art galleries when matters of common interest are being negotiated but Auckland and Dunedin are the only main centres whose galleries are represented on the Art Galleries and Museums Association of New Zealand. Most art galleries in New Zealand are based on the typical British gallery which is designed to display paintings, drawings, prints, and sculpture but not objects of art, and this absence of the art museum has no doubt tended to keep the two types of institution separate.
For some reason art societies tend to assume provincial designations (the Otago Art Society); art galleries the city (Dunedin Public Art Gallery); while some record the name of the donor (the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch). Wellington is the home of the National Art Gallery but there is no Wellington city gallery. What was, in effect, a Wellington gallery, the Gallery of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Whitmore Street, was abandoned in 1936 when the National Art Gallery was founded. It was believed at the time that the city could not adequately support two galleries.