A senior lecturer in Pacific art says the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is showing its leadership by acquiring a portrait of one of the earliest Western images of a Polynesian woman.
Te Papa has obtained Poedua, sometimes called the Pacific Madonna, for almost $2 million.
It was painted by John Webber during the third voyage of Captain James Cook to the Pacific, between 1776 and 1780.
Peter Brunt of Victoria University says the portrait is a cultural treasure and it is significant that it is coming to New Zealand.
Te Papa says negotiations to complete the purchase took two years, but the museum cannot confirm when the painting will arrive in Wellington.
It is investigating the possibility of displaying Poedua temporarily before restoration work begins.
Acting chief executive Michelle Hippolite says the work changed European views of the South Pacific and the painting strengthens Te Papa's collection from that period.