Art IS civilization. It’s a measure of how advanced or not society has become. Thus, when I see a new gallery opening up I should be pleased. I’m not.
Not all the art at Circular Quay is bad
How many millions were spent on the new North Wing of the N.S.W. Art Gallery and how much was allocated to refurbish and reassign the Contemporary Gallery at Circular Quay I have no idea, but I can’t help but wonder out loud if either attract many regular visitors, other than for their cafes. I’ve long held a personal belief that if the art work needs explaining (other than its historical antecedents) then, is it worth showing? This is emphasised when you go to many regional galleries and see superb works (in my opinion) yet they never get a gig in the city.
N.S.W. Library (once called Mitchell)
So, today I chose to head for the N.S.W. Library, nee Mitchell, that once was a place where you went to view rare and historical volumes in a huge room overlooked by a walkway and a terrace that holds even more works. These days, there’s more.
The first time I became aware of “more” was when I went to view the Annual Press Photographers Awards. Can’t remember how many times I said “wow” but it was an impressive show.
A terrorist incident in Nairobi from the press exhibition
However, scattered around the library area are many rooms, areas that were underutilised in the past but, these days, are awash with things of interest, and one of those is their historical art gallery, where works, mainly from the 19th century, have been unearthed from storage and now have the best laid out art space in Sydney.
In the middle of each room there are touch screens that give forth lots of information on each item and, what interesting stories there are. There are over 300 on display but they are just the veritable tip of the iceberg of the collection. Here you’ll find classic well known artists like Tom Roberts, Eugene Von Gerard, Frederick McCubbin, Hans Heysen, Arthur Streeton and a host of others as well as many little known.
Billy Blue in his finery
Personalities long gone and all but forgotten are here for all to see. I’m intrigued by many. Billy Blue, a convict believed to originally be from Jamaica, was enterprising after his release as he started a successful ferry service from Lavender Bay to Dawes Point. His dapper attire makes his portrait a standout. The portrait of stern faced Sarah Cobcroft, that can’t help but grab your attention as you walk by, followed her convict husband out here and successfully settled in the Hawkesbury area, becoming the local midwife.
Ferry Lane, circa 1901
In 1900 there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney and the area cited as the centre of the outbreak was listed for demolition. An art teacher, Julian Ashton, secured a grant of 250 pounds and he coerced a group of his students to record the area. An exhibition, of 145 artworks by Julian and 37 students, was later held in 1902.
Janssen’s view of Sydney Harbour
The much travelled Prussian artist named Janssen painted an idyllic, but realistic, scene from today’s Vaucluse area that differs from the British painters’ pastoral bent, highlighted by the two ruffians, apparently consuming alcohol, in the left hand corner
Von Guerard’s landscape
A classic Von Guerard, showing the forest at the confluence of Brandy and Water Creek, with Mount Kembla in the left background, leaves me lamenting the fact that all that bush has since been knocked down.
Bounty Bay, one of my favourites
Beechey’s “Landing at Bounty Bay”, circa 1825, leaves us an historical record of where the Bounty mutineers ended up on the Pitcairn Islands and why it’s so hard to get to the place. The rough treacherous seas are also tragically reminiscent of how the replica, constructed for the famous 1962 movie, also met its end 50 years later in a hurricane off the North Carolina coast when the skipper foolishly decided to head to sea with the false words “A ship is always safer at sea than at port”.
There’s a fetching portrait of young Sophia O’Brien that also catches my eye but then the mood saddens when you learn it was done six months after she died.
The convex mirror
The Convex Mirror painting by George Washington Lambert is indeed a work of clever art and the U.S.A. soldiers’ camp during WWII at Sydney University brought to my attention something I knew nothing of.
There’s so much of interest here that I know every time I’ve gone back there’s still something different I’ll come across. Perhaps I might see you there sometime…….oh, and they also have a nice café as well!
Stained glass from The Seven Ages of Man in another part of the library
One thought on “ THE GALLERY”
Such a beautiful collection! When I get to Sydney next I’ll have to pay a visit here.