When Henry Sarjeant died in 1912 he bequeathed the residue of his estate to the Borough Council with the expressed wish that they establish and maintain a fine arts gallery for Wanganui.
In 1916 an architectural competition, judged by Samuel Hurst Seagar, was held to design a suitable gallery to be part of a proposed Civic Centre on Queen’s Park. The winner was Donald Hosie, a pupil of Edmund Anscombe of Dunedin. Anscombe presented the plans for Hosie, who was serving in the armed forces in France. Tragically Hosie was killed at the battle of Passchendaele in 1917.
The design is in the form of a Greek cross with a central sculpture hall under a dome. It is constructed from brick faced with Oamaru stone, with windows and walls designed to reduce the amount of direct and reflected light, which could interfere with the viewing of the art works.
The foundation stone was laid on 20 September 1917 with P Graham and Son engaged as the builders. The gallery opened on 6th September 1919.
Over the years the Gallery has been re-roofed twice and had air conditioning installed. It is the home of many valuable works and has housed many prestigious exhibitions, both national and international. Its superb acoustics and visual beauty make it a striking venue for musical performances, weddings and private functions.
Positioned as it is at the top of the Veterans’ Steps, with its white dome and stately lines, it is an icon of Wanganui.