Last week came the welcome announcement of the State Government’s funding of the major extension, indeed doubling, of the exhibition space of the Art Gallery of NSW. The Government has made the $244 million commitment in the light of heroic fundraising efforts by the Trustees, Director and their supporters in raising $70 million towards a target of $100 million in private funding. The new section will be known, a little confusingly, as Sydney Modern. While the Gallery is looking to the future, it is also valuing its past as demonstrated by a new exhibition from its own collection – Victorian Watercolours. Over 80 works, painted between 1830 &1900 are massed hung in ‘Academy’ style in the James Fairfax Galleries of the Grand Courts. Such watercolours were among the very first works acquired by the Gallery when it was established in 1874. There has not been an exhibition like this in over 100 years. Many of the pictures have been restored and ornate gold frames reconditioned. Most are painted in an elaborate, highly finished style presenting ambitious subjects.
One highlight is Whalers Off Twofold Bay, NSW painted by Sir Oswald Brierly in 1867 when he was managing Boyd’s whaling station for a few years. It is enormous (86 x 147 cm) and genuinely impressive. There is a John Glover Near Naples (1828) painted before he came to Australia. Most were purchased in the late 19th century but some are recent acquisitions. It is a handsome, fascinating exhibition.
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