The Sydney Bird Painter White
gallinule c.1791–92 watercolour, ink
National Gallery of Australia
The National Gallery develops its collection in order to enhance the community’s
understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts. The collection tells the
story of indigenous and non-indigenous Australian art. It includes work
by significant individuals and movements in Australian and International
art. This year the collection was enriched by the acquisition of outstanding
works of art from Australia and around the world.
The National Gallery concentrates its efforts on acquiring premium works
of art, and builds on the strengths of the collection by seeking works
through purchase, bequest and donation. The Gallery’s revised Acquisition
Policy was published in October 1998, as part of the Gallery’s corporate
plan 1999–2001 (see Into the New Millennium 1999–2001,
Australian art, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
One of the highlights of 2000–2001 for the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander collection was the acquisition of an exceptional
bark painting by Mathaman Marika. As well as his traditional ceremonial
subjects, Mathaman is noted for paintings that depict historic events.
The cannibal story c.1960 relates an event which may have actually
occurred a century or so earlier, when a group of turtle hunters from
Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land were carried by the prevailing tides
to the shores of New Guinea where they encountered a group of cannibals.
Typical of Mathaman’s innovations in painting is the depiction of
the cannibals in ‘x-ray’ style (usually associated with painting
in western Arnhem Land) to reveal the bodies of the unfortunate victims
within the stomachs of the cannibals. In Her father’s servant
1999, Julie Dowling continues her exploration of the history of her Aboriginal
elders and her Aboriginal community. Her style of socio-political, narrative,
figurative painting uses a strategy of stealing ‘the techniques
[of painting] from European culture to depict subversively the history
experienced by me and my family’.
John Olsen’s Sydney sun 1965 was the major acquisition for
the Department of Australian Painting and Sculpture. This is an important
work in Olsen’s artistic career and in the history of Australian
art. Originally conceived as a ceiling painting, it was created at a time
when the artist was receiving widespread acclaim for his innovative and
imaginative response to a sense of place. This exuberant painting is about
the life-giving energy of the sun and the burgeoning plant forms and the
many creatures that have come under its pulsating spell.
Knut Bull’s The wreck of the ‘George III’ 1850
is an impressive example of the artist’s work and depicts a disastrous
event in the history of convict transportation. The George III
was wrecked in the D’Entrecasteaux channel less than a day’s
journey from its destination, Hobart. Why so few convicts were saved from
this wreck was never satisfactorily explained. The work was purchased
with funds from the Nerissa Johnson Bequest.
Bessie Davidson’s Madame Le Roy assise de dos dans un intérieur
was painted in Paris around 1920. The work evokes a mood of quiet reverie
and domesticity akin to the portraits intérieurs of French
artists such as Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, and also works by
other Australian expatriates in Paris at the time such as Rupert Bunny.
Among the gifts to the Australian Painting and Sculpture collection was
Keith Looby’s Resurrection 1964, which was presented by James
O. Fairfax AO. The work was painted during Looby’s time in Rome
when he was just 24. It reflects the young artist’s awed response
to experiencing at first hand Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque art.
Acquisitions in 2000–2001, including Rosslynd Piggott’s High
bed 1998 and Guan Wei’s The efficacy of medicine 1995,
reflect the Gallery’s commitment to acquiring works by contemporary
Australian artists. Both artists have defined their own distinctive visual
vocabularies over the past decade, fusing a marked inventiveness with
considerable technical skill. Piggott’s installation relates to
sleep and dreams, combining symbolist and surreal associations with a
highly personal and poetic vision. Guan Wei has noted that his multi-panelled
painting is about the processes of being human in a society of mixed cultures;
each frame like ‘a fable of the subtleties and misunderstandings
and, ultimately, the shared joys’ of a multicultural future.
The Departments of Australian Prints and Australian Drawings, now combined,
continue to be committed to the acquisition of outstanding works on paper
by Australian artists. The collection has been considerably enhanced by
the acquisition of the White gallinule, a beautiful ink and watercolour
image painted around 1792 by an artist known as The Sydney Bird Painter.
This extremely important work is a display drawing of a flightless bird
that was eventually hunted to extinction. The acquisition of a wonderful
group of early images of New South Wales included the beautiful and rare
1802 hand-coloured aquatint A view of the town of Sydney, otherwise
known as ‘Blake’s view of Sydney’. The acquisition greatly
enhances the 19th-century collection.
The Gordon Darling Australasian Print Fund enabled the purchase of major
groups of prints by Aboriginal artists. Prints from the Torres Strait,
Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific region were also added to the collection.
Works by Australian artists working in Japan were acquired as part of
the Gallery’s commitment to both regional and contemporary art.
Gaps in the collection have been filled with the acquisition of drawings
by John Brack, Joy Hester, Justin O’Brien and James Wigley. O’Brien’s
Miraculous draught of the fishes is a superbly rendered ink and
watercolour triptych for his 1958 painting of the same title. An important
collection of pastel drawings from the late 1940s and early 1950s by school
children and young adults from Ernabella, an Aboriginal community in north-western
South Australia, provides an insight into the first generation of artists
and teachers of Ernabella Arts Inc.
The Department of Decorative Arts and Design, inaugurated in July 2000,
combines Australian and international decorative arts, and encompasses
ceramics, glass, metal, jewellery, wood, furniture, textiles, costume
and theatre arts. In 2000–2001, contemporary works by Australian
glass artists Claudia Borella, Giles Bettison, Brian Hirst, Kevin Gordon,
Matthew Curtis, Tony Hanning and Richard Whiteley were acquired. This
group illustrates the high achievements of recent Australian studio glass
and the technical and stylistic innovations of some of its most accomplished
practitioners. Several of these works will be included in Transparent
Things, a travelling exhibition for 2001–2002 of works from
the Gallery’s collection and the Wagga Wagga Regional Art Gallery.
The development of the Australian ceramics collection began during the
year with the acquisition of a fine, large work by the Japanese-born Australian
ceramicist, Mitsuo Shoji.
Works from the 1990s was the focus of Australian photography acquisitions
in 2000–2001 and included large colour photographs by Peter Elliston,
Peter Callas, Anne Zahalka and Rosemary Laing as well as landscape works
by John Williams. Allan, from the Sadness series 1990 by
William Yang, addresses the impact of the AIDS epidemic. The series of
19 photographs documents the illness and death of a friend and is based
on a monologue that Yang has delivered to widespread approbation nationally
and internationally. A small number of vintage prints by New Zealand-born
photojournalist George Silk were also acquired. They date from his early
career in Australian and New Zealand during World War II, and add further
strength to the Gallery’s representation of this period. Silk’s
career continued in America with Life magazine.
The altarpiece, Virgin and Child with Saints c.1510–20,
painted by artists of the renowned Cologne School in Germany, and dating
from the end of the great era of painters at Cologne, is a significant
addition to the pre-1800 European collection. The altarpiece, which depicts
the Virgin and Child enthroned within an enclosed garden, flanked by angel
musicians and six female martyr saints, is one of the few altarpieces
of this type to have survived. The purchase accords with the Gallery’s
stated policy of acquiring premium works of art, and representing major
individuals and movements in international art. It was acquired with the
assistance of James O. Fairfax AO and with funds from the Nerissa Johnson
The acquisition of Lucian Freud’s After Cézanne 1999–2000
was greatly assisted by Members of the Foundation: David Coe, John Schaeffer,
Kerry Stokes AO, and an anonymous donor, and is a further example of the
Foundation’s support of the Gallery’s acquisition policy.
After Cézanne shows Freud’s in-depth dialogue with the
work of great artists: Freud’s composition is based on a Paul Cézanne
painting in his own collection, but the French painter also painted a
number of versions of this theme, one of which is in the Gallery’s
collection. This is a major work by one of the most important postwar
Key contemporary works by British and French artists were also bought
including William Scott’s Ochre and orange red 1963, Callum
Innes’s Exposed painting black oxide 2000 and Yan Pei Ming’s
Autoportrait (Mars) 2000.
An exciting new area of acquisition is contemporary Chinese art. As part
of the major exhibition, Inside Out: New Chinese art (3 June–13
August 2000), two works were commissioned by the Gallery exclusively for
Canberra: Cai Guo-qiang’s luminous 6-metre Crystal tower
and Zhang Huan’s My Australia performance created for the
official opening of the exhibition and recorded in video and still photography.
The purchase of The conqueror, a superbly voyeuristic hologram
of 1993 by Lin Shu-min, one of Taiwan’s leading contemporary artists,
was also part of this initiative, as was the acquisition of Zhang Xiaogang’s
dramatic Bloodline (Two comrades and red baby) and Fang
Lijun’s huge untitled woodblock prints.
The Department of International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books
continued to build on and expand the scope of its already world-class
collection. Acquisitions included the woodcut by the Chinese artist Fang
Lijun and Oskar Kokoschka’s famous self portrait poster Vortrag
1912, other acquisitions included works by the South African artist
William Kentridge and a series of works by Sean Scully, including his
wonderfully enigmatic illustrated book Heart of Darkness 1922.
All of these works were purchased through the generosity of Orde Poynton
Esq AO, CMG. Sadly, Orde Poynton died in February 2001. His interest in
and enthusiasm for the collection of international prints, drawings and
illustrated books will be greatly missed.
Kenneth Tyler continued his generous support of the department with his
gift of the Trial Proof 2 from Frank Stella’s The fountain
1992–93. A set of 13 etchings by Leon Kossoff were presented anonymously
to the Gallery and beautifully augment the holdings of this artist’s
work. The collection of Japanese woodblocks was enhanced by the addition
of Itahana late 1830s by Keisai Eisen, Dyers’ Quarter
in Kanda 1857 by Utagawa Hiroshige and Drum Bridge at the Kameido
Tenjin Shrine c.1834 by Katsushika Hokusai, generously given by Pamela
and Ronald Walker in memory of Lady (Louise) Walker.
In line with a commitment to increasing the holdings of the work of Asian
photographers and photographs of Asia the Asian Art Department and the
International Photography Department acquired a group of 33 vintage exhibition
photographs taken between 1935 and 1954 by the renowned Philippine photographer
Eduardo Masferré. A group of fine 19th-century hand-coloured albumen
photographs of Japanese subjects by European photographers Felice Beato
and Baron Raimund von Stillfried – resident in Japan – and
an early native-born photographer, Kuichi Uchida, were also bought. Attention
was given in 2000 to filling gaps in the representation of seminal 19th-century
photographically illustrated publications; a group of woodburytypes from
Dr John Thomson’s 1877 pioneer work in the history of documentary
photography Street life in London; a copy of Walter Woodbury’s
Treasure Spots of the World 1875 containing woodburytypes by leading
photographers of the day and plates by Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan
from Gardner’s 1866 album, Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook
of the Civil War. Key works by Victor Keppler, Gjon Mili and Saul
Leiter were also added to the strong holdings of early colour photography
(1930s to 1960s) as well as major works by Anton Bruehl, who was born
in Australia and in the 1930s became one of the most important commercial
photographers in New York. The works were acquired through the National
Gallery’s Photography Fund with funds given by the inaugural donor
Dr Peter Farrell.
International and Australian Decorative Arts and Design were combined
into a single, new curatorial department in July 2000. The collection
was assessed during the year to identify its strengths and to plan for
its future development. The major acquisition was an exceptional group
of three late 19th-century Russian silver objects by Fabergé Jewellers,
donated by Mrs Diana Ramsay. These works add significant depth to the
Gallery’s small collection of works by Fabergé, previously
gifted by James and Diana Ramsay.
The Department of Asian Art continued to build on strengths while broadening
the scope of the collection. Some 400 objects were acquired by purchase
and gift from the renowned international private collection of Southeast
Asian and Indian textiles – the Collection of Robert J. Holmgren
and Anita Spertus, New York. These purchases and gifts cement the Gallery’s
position as a world leader in this important field of Asian art. Largely
from Indonesia and virtually all created by women, the fabrics encompass
a range of materials including silk, cotton, bark cloth and gold thread,
in wonderful designs and forms, many of which have never been published
or even discussed in the extensive literature on this subject. These include
a significant body of intricate weft ikat silks from southern Sumatra,
and a group of huge, bold and brilliantly coloured warp ikat cotton hangings
from central Sulawesi.