Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Art Gallery of New South Wales
The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) located in The Domain in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, was established in 1897 and is the most important public gallery in Sydney and the fourth largest in Australia. Admission is free to the general exhibition space, which features Australian (from settlement to contemporary), European and Asian art.

On 24 April 1871 a public meeting was convened to establish an Academy of Art 'for the purpose of promoting the fine arts through lectures, art classes and regular exhibitions.' From 1872 until 1879 the Academy's main activity was the organisation of annual art exhibitions. On the 11 November 1880, at its 9th Annual Meeting, the Academy dissolved itself, stating that its aims had been realised in the foundation of a public Gallery. The Gallery at this time was known simply as The Art Gallery of New South Wales. In 1883 its name was changed to The National Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Gallery was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1899. The Library and Art Gallery Act 1899 provided for the general control and management of the Gallery. The fine arts display at the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879-1880 became the nucleus of a government collection administered by the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. However, most of the collection was destroyed in the Garden Palace Fire of 1882, and the Art Society along with the trustees for the Academy of Art (formed in 1871) spent the next thirteen years debating with the state government, the press and the public, the need for a permanent gallery, its site, and the architect to build it. The Academy of Art trustees preferred a private architect, whereas the government want the assignment to be given to the Colonial Architect. The first two picture galleries were opened in 1897 and a further two in 1899. A watercolour gallery was added in 1901 and in 1902 the Grand Oval Lobby was completed. Outside the building, the names of old grand masters are emblazoned upon the front facade. In the panels beneath, bronze relief sculptures symbolise the contribution to art by four civilisations - Roman, Greek, Assyrian and Egyptian. On the main facade two remain empty, on the others all are empty. In 1958 a new "Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1958" was passed and the Gallery's name was reverted to The Art Gallery of New South Wales.

2007 Art Theft
On 10 June 2007 a 17th century work by Frans van Mieris, entitled A Cavalier (Self Portrait) was stolen from the gallery. The painting, valued at A$1.4 million and donated by John Fairfax, was "swiftly and expertly" removed from its wall amidst a crowd of 6,000. Police have not ruled out an inside job and have speculated the painting could have been carried out under the culprit's coat. Following the incident security at the gallery has been reviewed. There were no cameras in the room nor were guards stationed in it, none of the paintings in the gallery are protected by alarms and patrons are not checked upon leaving the building. Furthermore the theft was not reported to police until late Monday. Some experts believe the painting would be hard to sell in Australia, however fear it may already have been smuggled overseas. In light of this Australian Customs and Interpol have been notified.

The Building
By the time the site was agreed upon in 1895, James Barnet had retired, and the new Colonial Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon (1846”“1914), was given the assignment. As a temporary measure, John Horbury Hunt, a private architect, had designed a small brick structure to temporarily house the collection, which was built in 1885. This building was dwarfed by the new gallery when it opened in 1897 and remained to the rear of the new gallery until it was demolished in 1969 to make way for new extensions. Although the majority of Vernon's buildings are in the Arts and Crafts style, the 1897 building was built in the classical tradition. The Gallery's design was conservative and was the penultimate example of the neo-Greek temple as a portico for a major public institution in Sydney. The design of the vestibule, by James Barnet, is reportedly "derived from Raphael's Villa Madama in Rome (c1520). Here it is an especially fine and unusual example of design and detailing using Saunders' yellowblock, for instance, in its cornices and arches." In 1968 the New South Wales Government decided that the Gallery would be extended and form a major part of the Captain Cook Bicentenary celebrations. As a result, the "Captain Cook wing" is built and opened to public in November 1970. The new gallery space provided five storeys behind the original classical façade, increased the racking space to 1.25 linear kilometres, included a new café, a sculpture courtyard and administrative offices. Grey toned rough concrete was used to "blend" with the sandstone of the old building. Both extensions were the responsibility of Government architect Andrew Andersons. More recently, as part of the "Open Museum" project, sculptures have been positioned along the entry road. On 23 October 2003 a new Asian Arts wing was opened. It was designed by Sydney architect Richard Johnson and included alterations to the original Asian gallery, a new temporary exhibition space above the Art Gallery’s entrance foyer, new conservation studios, a cafe, a restaurant and dedicated function area. In 2003 the Gallery also extended its opening hours until 9pm on Wednesday nights.

Gallery Directors
The title of director has changed several times in the history of the AGNSW.
  • 1892 - 1894 Eliezer Montefiore (Director)
  • 1895 - 1905 George Layton (Secretary and Superintendent)
  • 1905 - 1929 Gother Mann CBE (Secretary and Superintendent 1905-1912; Director and Secretary 1912-1929)
  • 1929 - 1937 James MacDonald (Director and Secretary)
  • 1937 - 1945 Sir John Ashton OBE ROI (Director and Secretary)
  • 1945 - 1971 Hal Missingham AO (Director and Secretary)
  • 1971 - 1978 Peter Laverty (Director)
  • 1978 - Edmund Capon AO OBE (Director)

Established in 1871, the Academy of Arts early on bought some large works from Europe such as Ford Madox Brown's Chaucer at the Court of Edward III. Later they bought work from Australian artists such as Streeton's 1891 Fire's on, Roberts' 1894 The Golden Fleece and McCubbin's 1896 On the wallaby track. The gallery holds works by many Australian artists, including 19th Century Australian artists such as John Glover, Arthur Streeton, Eugene von Guerard, John Russell, Tom Roberts, David Davies, Charles Conder, W. C. Piguenit, E. Phillips Fox, Frederick McCubbin, Sydney Long and George W. Lambert. 20th Century Australian artists represented include Hugh Ramsay, Rupert Bunny, Grace Cossington Smith, Roland Wakelin, Margaret Preston, William Dobell, Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, James Gleeson, Arthur Boyd, Lloyd Rees, John Olsen, Fred Williams, Brett Whiteley and Imants Tillers. 44 works held at the gallery were included in the 1973 edition of 100 masterpieces of Australian painting. The gallery has an extensive collection of British Victorian art, such as Lord Frederic Leighton and Sir Edward John Poynter; smaller holdings of Dutch, French and Italian painters of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, such as Peter Paul Rubens, Canaletto, Agnolo Bronzino, Domenico Beccafumi and Niccolò dell'Abbate; collections of European modernists such as Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Alberto Giacometti and Giorgio Morandi as well as modern British masters.

Temporary exhibitions
The Gallery hosts the long running Archibald Prize, the most prominent Australian art prize, along with the Sulman Prize, Wynne Prize and Dobell art prizes, among others. It also exhibits Artexpress, a yearly showcase of Higher School Certificate Visual Arts Examination artworks from across New South Wales.

Popular culture
At the start of the movie, Sirens , Hugh Grant walks past paintings in the Art Gallery of NSW, including Spring Frost by Elioth Gruner, The Golden Fleece (1894) by Tom Roberts, Still Glides the Stream and Shall Forever Glide (1890) by Arthur Streeton, Bailed Up (1895) by Tom Roberts, and Chaucer at the Court of Edward III (1847”“51) by Ford Madox Brown.

Building Activity

  • removed a media
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