Search begins for late painter’s lost treasure trove of work

Former Dunedin painter Eion Stevens, who recently died in Christchurch, left behind thousands of...
Former Dunedin painter Eion Stevens, who recently died in Christchurch, left behind thousands of paintings in unknown locations. PHOTO: DIEDERIK VAN HEYNINGEN
A Dunedin-born and increasingly reclusive artist has died, leaving family and friends searching for stashed treasure troves of paintings, hundreds of which may be in a Kurow barn attic.

Eion Stevens died at his home in central Christchurch recently.

His close friend and fellow artist Philip Trusttum fears that he could have lain dead for a month.

The 69-year-old studied at the Otago School of Art and in England in the 1970s, and exhibited regularly throughout New Zealand in the 1980s and ’90s.

A prolific painter, his work attracted a dedicated following.

His work entitled Falling Boy fetched $14,025 in 2001, his highest recorded price for a sale, according to the Australian and New Zealand Art Sales Digest.

But Trusttum says Stevens stopped painting about five years ago ‘‘and that is usually fatal for an artist’’.

‘‘He wouldn’t tell us why or explain it, he just said there was no point.’’

Stevens was very secretive, shutting himself away and not talking about his problems.

‘‘When I had a blockage and told him I just couldn’t do any painting, he suggested I find an artist I like in the history of art and copy them.

‘‘And that’s what I did and that saved me painting, I’ve been painting ever since.

‘‘I said that to [Stevens] and he just shrugged his shoulders and deflected the question completely.’’

Trusttum suspects his friend would have completed four to five pieces a week and as many as 2000 artworks could be stashed away.

Stevens had mentioned a lock-up garage in eastern Christchurch.

His will has been traced to his lawyers and it is hoped that it will shed some light on where the artworks are.

Hundreds of paintings could be in a barn attic in Kurow, Trusttum believes.

The story was doing the rounds in Kurow area yesterday and residents were excited about it, but none spoken to by the Otago Daily Times were aware of the barn Trusttum referred to, though they were looking for it.

Supporters and collectors had been contacting him over the past few days.

They do not just have one or two of Stevens’ works hanging on their walls, but five or six, up to even 20, he said.

‘‘He worked every day — as a painter should.

‘‘He was a fantastic painter.’’ — The New Zealand Herald


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