The Art of Sune Egan

 June Egan, better known as her Tongan name “Sune”, recalls her first visit to Tonga in 1974. “Inspired by the physical beauty of the people and the lush surrounds, I vowed to return, armed with art supplies and time.”

She returned two years later. Sune painted canvases that were soon depleted, leaving her to use the plain white tapa or the feta’aki. She found the subtle sheen and texture too beautiful to be corrupted by colour. Instead, she opted for the sepia tones of indigenous dyes made from tree bark. These were possibly the first representational paintings on tapa.

They were soon noticed by buyers from Hawaii and Tahiti, and a small export trade began. As tourists became more prevalent in Tonga, she widened her range to include fabric dyeing and painting for a series of beachwear designs from dresses, shorts, suits, aloha shirts and tee shirts, to the simple sarong wraps (lavalava) for men, women and children holiday makers, cards and calandars.

The yachting season often found her in Vava’u painting for Vava’us Paradise Hotel gift shop, her first murals in Tonga were created there in the Hotel conference rooms. Since then, paintings hang in prominent buildings and private homes through the islands.


Sune’s work has been admired and purchased by Tonga’s Royal Family, both personally and for gifts for overseas dignitaries. Some have gone to Prince Edward and Princess Dianna of England.

“I have work hanging in Buckingham Palace, if only in the wardrobe in the form of aloha shirts for Prince Edward, at the request of Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho”. Another such Royal gift is a tapa painting hanging in Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho has given permission to sign her work by Royal appointment.