Written By: Marjorie Cliff Picard
When thinking of classical art history, Australia does not pop into mind. Western Europe is usually the first thought, then perhaps Asia or North America. However, Australia has a country-wide group of excellent galleries, which not only show off worldwide art, but also collections of its own renowned artists and its indigenous Aboriginal art. A walking tour of any of these galleries or an online tour will display wonderful Australian art.
Australia is the sixth largest country on the planet and is also a continent. There are six states and a number of territories. The mainland has five states (the sixth is the island of Tasmania) and three territories. The largest galleries are on the mainland. In each state capital is a major gallery and there may also be municipal, university, private trust institutions and private collections.
The Nation’s Capital City, Canberra
The National Gallery of Australia, located in the capital, has Australian and international collections from differrent times and cultures. It includes:
- Australian art from all the states and territories, and from Australian artists abroad, span the colonial past to the present in paintings, photography, design, sculpture, and more. It includes works from nearby New Zealand. The exhibitions travel around the country as well.
- Aboriginal art is represented by ritual, dance, song, body painting, rock engraving, prints and sculpture. It comes from one of the oldest, richest civilizations in human history and is still extant. The collection has approximately 7500 works and is the largest in the world.
- European and American Art are seperated into three galleries. Gallery 1: Impressionism, cubism, expressionism, the School of Paris, and more, with art by Courbet, Monet, Cezanne, Seurat, Degas, Modigliani and more. Gallery 2: Abstract and abstract expressionism to pop art, including works by Pollack, Rothko, Gorky, Warhol, Lichtenstein and American prints and posters to go with the pop art. Gallery 3: Art from the 1970′s to today, including neo-expressionist paintings from Europe, contemporary sculpture, and new media works.
Canberra is also the home of the National Portrait Gallery. The portraits are meant to reflect Australian history. However, they are not a collection of noted politicians and famous characters. All sorts of people are included, all classes and types. The centerpiece is a portrait of Captain James Cook by John Webber.
Sydney, Capital of New South Wales
The largest city in Australia is Sydney, home of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It contains 17,280 pieces. Australian art runs from colonial times to the present. Notable artists are Tom Roberts, Charles Conder, Russell Drysdale and John Brack as well as others. There are collections of Asian and Aboriginal art. Western art is represented by British Victorian Art and Dutch, French, and Italian painters from the 17th and 18th centuries. The impressionists are represented by Monet, Cezanne, Pissarro and others. Later artists include Picasso and Giacometti. Take an online tour of the highlights of the gallery.
The Art Gallery of South Australia is located in the state’s capital, Adelaide. An online gallery is available on the website. The collection has approximately 38,000 works. As with the previous galleries, they include Australian, European, North American, and Asian works. Australian art runs from 1800 to the present, and includes paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photos, glass, metals, ceramics, furniture, jewelry and more. Asian art comes from China, Cambodia, India, Japan, Iran, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
European art spans the 15th century to the present, and includes an extensive collection of 20th century British art as well as 17th through 19th century portraits and landscapes by artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth and J.M.W. Turner. There are sculpture collections, including 20 bronzes by Auguste Rodin. An online tour of the highlughts of the European and North American collections is available.
South Brisbane is the location of Queensland Art Gallery. A nearby site opened in 2006, the Gallery of Modern Art, containing 20th and 21st century works. Both are located on the Brisbane River and both are covered on the above website. The Queensland Art Gallery international collection includes:
- Dutch and Flemish artists from the 16th and 17th centuries
- Italian art from the 16th century
- French impressionist paintings, including works by Degas and Pissarro
- British work, including Waterhouse and Fletcher
- Asian art
The gallery also includes Australian art to 1975 and indigenous works from around the country. There is a focus on the art and history of Queensland, with works in all media.
More contemporary artworks can be found at the nearby Gallery of Modern Art.
Melbourne, capital of Victoria
The National Gallery of Victoria contains 68,000 pieces and is located in Melbourne. Visiting the website will give the different categories of collections, which include:
- Australian art
- Australian and international fashion and textiles
- Australian and international decorative arts
- Pacific art
Included in Western art are pieces by El Greco, Van Dyck, Turner, Waterhouse, Gainsborough, Manet, Pissarro, Picasso, and Warhol.
The history and the environment of Melbourne are reflected in the works of its local artists in their own collection.
Perth is the capital and the location of the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Highlights of the collection are available at the website. The museum feels their most important asset is the State Art Collection, a focus on Western Australia art, indigenous art and Modern British art. The collection spans time from the early 1800′s until now and is divided into time spans from 1800 to 1920, 1920 to 1960, 1960 to 1980, and 1980 to today. A wide variety of genres, Australian and international, can be found.
All of the museums above have ongoing temporary exhibitions, which are updated on their websites. There are many smaller galleries with some found in more populous rural areas. Exhibits travel the country.