Ralph Hotere has been praised as a great pioneering artist on a quest for justice.
The renowned artist received the country's highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, last year and died in Dunedin on Sunday, aged 81. He had been in poor health since a stroke in 2001.
There was standing room only at St Joseph's Cathedral in Dunedin as about 400 mourners came to honour Ralph Hotere's life and work on Thursday morning.
Hotere was described as a great New Zealander with a powerful artistic vision and a mission for social and political justice.
Many dignitaries paid their respects, including Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson, Maori Affairs minister Pita Sharples and the poet Bill Manhire.
Dr Sharples described Ralph Hotere as a staunch advocate for Maori in difficult times, saying he was witty, sincere and deeply determined.
"He was a philosopher that made people think, who challenged you. But he was also an advocate for the rights of Maori at a difficult time in the 60s and 70s."
Mr Finlayson recalled that Hotere had been named Hone Papita after New Zealand's first bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier.
The minister said like his namesake, Ralph Hotere was a pioneer of contemporary art and a man on a mission who used his creative gifts to confront social and political justice for Maori, threats to the environment, apartheid and racism.
Mr Finlayson said Hotere provoked thought about what is important to New Zealanders as a people and showed that the pen and brush could be mightier than the sword.
Hotere Foundation Trust chairwoman Judith Ablett-Kerr, QC, said she was grieving deeply but rejoicing in the artist's life, legacy and friendship.
Ralph Hotere was well-known for his use of black since his "Black" paintings of the 1960s in which he used a variety of methods to give the work depth and sheen.
Never afraid to comment on current affairs in his work, his Aramoana series expressed his strong opposition to plans to use the Aramoana wetlands for an aluminium smelter while "Black Warrior" commented on the 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour.
The artist rarely talked about his work, preferring to let it speak for itself. In 1994, he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Otago and in 2003 named one of the Living Icons of New Zealand Arts.
On Friday, Ralph Hotere's body will be flown to its final resting place at Mitimiti in the Far North after a tangi at Matihetihe Marae. He is survived by his wife Mary McFarlane.