Posts Tagged 'UWA-P2-exercise'

UA1-WA:P2-p4 Visit a town house

Elizabeth Bay House, built between 1835 and 1839 for Alexander Macleay and his family, was intended to be ‘the finest house in the colony’. Macleay arrived in Sydney in 1826 as Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, after the Governor the most important official position in the colony. Well educated and a highly experienced civil servant, Macleay took up the position from financial necessity. He was granted over 20 hectares of land at Elizabeth Bay, three kilometres from the city centre. Macleay had a broad range of interests including entomology (his collection of specimens was reputed to be the largest in private hands) and horticulture, which were strongly reflected in his house and garden. Architect John Verge oversaw construction, but the original source of the design is not known.

elizabeth_bay_01The money ran out before the exterior of the house was finished and the intended colonnade was not built. The portico was added in 1893. After many changes of ownership and uses the house was restored by the State and opened as a museum in 1977. The interiors have been decorated and furnished to reflect their use by the Macleay family between 1839 and 1845. The extensive grounds were subdivided and sold over the years and are now mainly covered by apartment blocks of various ages. However the Council purchased the area immediately in front of the building, preserving some of the views to the harbour and maintaining some of the context of the House. Unfortunately my visit was on a very wet day and I was not able to explore the remnants of the gardens.

elizabeth_bay_02The house was located high on the hillside, making the most of the view down the harbour. This photograph shows the outlook from the window of Alexander Macleay’s bedroom in the top right corner of the building (viewed from the street). The house is carefully oriented to the east and on the winter solstice the first light through the heads of the harbour pierces the house from front door to back.

elizabeth_bay_floorThe rooms at the front of the house were bright even on a dull day. On the ground floor there are wooden internal shutters in addition to the external shutters. On the upper level the canvas blinds seem hardly adequate to the task of protection from the sun. The domed saloon with lantern windows in the centre of the house (marked “4” on the plan) brings light into the interior. All the photographs in this report were taken (with permission) without flash.

elizabeth_bay_03The elliptical saloon is a remarkable space, connecting all the public rooms and the main levels of the house. It displays wealth and refinement. elizabeth_bay_04The cantilevered staircase of Marulan mudstone leads the eye up and elizabeth_bay_07 constantly surprises with complex forms as you move through the house. The geometry is firmly reinforced with a radiating pattern in the mudstone floor, strict symmetry in the placement of doors, including a partial false door under the stairs, and reflected in the curved cedar door to the oval breakfast room (“5” on the plan).
elizabeth_bay_08elizabeth_bay_09There is limited furniture and artwork in the saloon. The architecture is the star. However lighting is provided by two bronzed plaster figures representing Vesta, designed by architect Thomas Hopper. The choice of a mythological subject again displays the refinement and education of the owner.

However the interests and personality of Alexander Macleay is most strongly seen in the library (room “6”), the largest room in the colony when built and intended to house his book and natural history collections.
elizabeth_bay_11This is the comfortable room of a cultivated, wealthy, man of learning. Alexander Macleay was a member of the Linnean Society. Portraits hung on the walls include Macleay himself and prominent men of science and exploration such as Cook, Banks and Linnaeus. A number of the rooms are roped off. I was very fortunate that, having asked about the selection of artwork, I was given a personal guided tour through the building including some normally restricted areas. The large desk to the right of the photograph above is a “specimen desk” which the guide opened to show the many drawers used for insect specimens.

elizabeth_bay_10The broken pediment cabinet on the left in this photograph beautifully illustrates the combination of wealth, taste and learning being displayed by Macleay. Behind the glass doors are drawers containing part of his entomological collection. The cabinet itself is finely made and each drawer front is veneered with a different species of wood.

elizabeth_bay_12This marble bust by Achille Simonetti of Sir William John Macleay, nephew of Alexander, shows him as a Greek philosopher – a man of science and learning. Another bust in the room is of William Sharp Macleay, son of Alexander. All three men lived in Elizabeth House and pursued their scientific interests there.

elizabeth_bay_14Next to the library at the front of the house is the drawing room (“2” on the plan). This is a light and feminine space, used particularly by the ladies of the house and their guests after dinner. Rather than “serious” paintings of mythological subjects or historical figures, here we see still lifes and gentle narratives in watercolours and acquatints.

elizabeth_bay_15This room also demonstrates the wealth and good taste of its owners. The light ground of the Brussels weave carpet would be expensive to maintain, the white marble chimneypiece was imported from London. The light fixture seen in the photograph is obviously modern, but one can also see the pier glass with its gilt frame over the mantlepiece and the lustre lamps, all intended to reflect light around the room.

elizabeth_bay_13Some of the Macleay daughters were quite accomplished painters. On the left is a still life watercolour by Frances ‘Fanny’ Macleay, which was exhibited by her as an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy London in 1824. Hung in the home such works would demonstrate the girls’ accomplishment, refinement and education. A reproduction of this work hangs in the drawing room today.

elizabeth_bay_16The dining room (“3” on the plan) while a shared space is more masculine given the gentlemen would have remained there after dinner to discuss politics, science etc. The mantlepiece is black french slate. The curators have chosen a Napoleonic theme with etchings of Nelson, Wellington, Pitt the younger and Napoleon. There are also etchings of the young Victoria and Albert, as well as a coronation scene above the mantlepiece. There is documentation that Macleay owned portraits of Louis XIV and King Charles I, possibly displayed to suggest his conservative politics and monarchist sentiments.

elizabeth_bay_17The breakfast room (“5” on the plan) is unusual in being quite oval, including the curved door leading to the saloon. It is also dark, a result of the wallpaper (based on fragments found during restoration) and the southerly orientation. This would be more private than the other rooms on the ground floor, and again a more feminine space. The painting above the mantlepiece is a copy by one of the Macleay daughters of a Penitent Magdalene. It is perhaps advanced for a young lady of the time, being in oil paint, but there is awkwardness particularly around the neck. The other artwork in the room consists of etchings and acquatints, mainly either young wistful women or interior views of families at their morning and evening devotions and other tales of morality.

elizabeth_bay_18Upstairs there were six bedrooms for family members. There were some small bedrooms for servants in the attic and at the rear of the building, but most were accommodated in the separate two-story kitchen wing, since demolished. The room shown here has been furnished as the room of Kennethina Macleay, the only unmarried daughter of the family. The prints here are similar to those in the breakfast room downstairs, illustrating young women, morality tales, and a gentle landscape.

elizabeth_bay_19More prints have been hung in the curved hall outside the bedrooms, such as Watt’s etching of Landseer’s The Highland Drover’s Departing for the South. Above Kennethina’s door it seemed to be a sweet family in an interior. The selection above Alexander and Eliza’s room was a more active scene (Eliza bore 17 children in all, of whom 10 survived infancy).

elizabeth_bay_20Also on the first floor is the morning room, generally seen as a private sitting room particularly for the women of the family. It has the same mix of gentle prints (the top one here appears to be a monkey playing with kittens) and bric-a-brac. It is also furnished with musical instruments, reading and sewing tables, writing desk and a telescope trained down the harbour. Interestingly the guide explained that this was thought to be a semi-pubic room based on general standard of finish and the height of the wainscot (what I would call skirting board). This was highest in public rooms, less in family bedrooms and smallest of all in the maid’s bedroom. Presumably if other Sydney ladies paid a call they may have joined the family here.

elizabeth_bay_21This photograph of a door in the drawing room gives a better idea of the paneling and of the flared Greek doric column detailing of the doorways. This is consistent with the overall Greek revival architecture of the house. This was already rather old-fashioned at the time the house was built, but Alexander Macleay was in his mid-sixties and presumably chose what was familiar and comfortable to him.

elizabeth_bay_22This final view is from the square entry hall, showing the original marbled paint finish surrounding the door with plaster finish, and overall paint colour based on wall scrapings, looking into the drawing room with its expensive and tasteful furnishings and artwork. This was a house built and furnished to impress visitors, a showpiece. It was also a home built to accommodate a large family and their myriad interests.

More information about the house can be found at and the garden at

UA1-WA:P2-p4 Visit a town house
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project four: Impressionism and post-impressionism
Topic: Visit a town house

UA1-WA:P2-p4-Ex Depicting everyday life

The search for appropriate pictures for this exercise has overtaken the exercise itself.

“Choose two Impressionist images that most people would recognise – the sort of images that appear on calendars and souvenirs in museum shops. Are these simply attractive images or do they tell you something more about contemporary life, especially city life?” is how the requirements begin. Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergères is suggested and the actual illustration in the notes is Renior’s Ball at the Moulin de la Galette.

The Manet painting is at The Courtauld Gallery in London – The Renoir is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris (link). I’ve been working hard in this course to select works that I could see in person. There are beginning to be some wonderfully detailed photographs of artwork available on the internet, but it’s just not the same. I haven’t been able to locate any paintings by Manet or Renior on public view in Sydney (the NSW Art Gallery (AGNSW) has a couple of prints). I’m going to spend a few days at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra soon – where they have some prints. The NGA and AGNSW both have works by other French Impressionists, but none involving city life and I’d suggest none of the stature of the works suggested by OCA.

Time to step back and reconsider the question. The textbook and the course consider only French painters in the discussion on Impressionism, apart from a fleeting mention of Whistler in the discussion of Japonisme. Why? Is it simply a matter of space, to enable a clean, logical progression in presenting a condensed History of Art? Was there something extraordinary happening, somehow self-limited to national boundaries? Is it convention and convenience? A form of snobbery?

A quick search found a page on American Impressionism on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website ( The essay included there suggests that initially, in the 1870s, most American painters in Paris were repelled by the impressionist innovations. Gradually as impressionism “lost its radical edge” it attracted more and more American painters and collectors (Weinberg, 2004). The images used to illustrate the article include works painted in France and in America.

Closer to home, it has been written that “The Impressionist Movement did not reach Australia in its pure form… To investigate the school of Australian Impressionism, is to investigate what happens to a technical method and approach to painting – and Impressionism was no less – evolved in one country, when it comes in contact with a new environment and another set of social conditions” (Smith, 1945). Could any of these Australian works fit the exercise brief? Are they derivative rather than innovative? Is the “impressionism” a surface decorative style rather than a more substantial understanding of the same concerns? If as suggested by the assignment question impressionist paintings “tell you something more about contemporary life, especially city life”, what could that mean in an Australian context?

The Chateau d'Antibes Claude Monet 1888 oil on canvas Private collection; displayd at Art Gallery NSW

The Chateau d’Antibes
Claude Monet
1888 oil on canvas
Private collection; displayed at Art Gallery NSW

What are some characteristics of (French) Impressionism?
* breaking away from the academic painting of the past (“academic” as taught in State-funded academies and approved by authorities.)
* subjects landscapes or contemporary middle-class life (not the historical, mythological or narrative themes of the past).
* painted what was in front of them – invent nothing, although showing the perception, individuality and sincerity of the artist.
Detail of

Detail of The Chateau d’Antibes
Claude Monet

* for Monet, “light and atmosphere are the subject” (Honour and Fleming, p. 704).
* varied, looser brushwork – broken lines and patches of colour, rough handling, uneven thickness, using the end of the brush… (not the high finish of academic work).
* pure spectrum colours, not mixed on the palette.
* lighter, high-key palette.
* canvas primed in white or a light colour
* often plein air
* immediacy, spontaneity
* absorbing influence of “alien” cultures, especially Japanese prints.

There isn’t a definitive list or “look”. There was a lot of variation between different artists, and in the work of a single artist over time. There are contradictions within the list (for example objective, but through the senses of the artist), and in practical application. There was a desire to capture “the truth of the first immediate impression” (Honour and Fleming, p. 703), but while some of Monet’s works were painted in a single sitting, in many he elaborated the surface over multiple sessions, densely working some areas, layering brushstrokes, editing and refining (see Shackelford, 2008).

A final characteristic, which I’m only taking early steps in understanding: Monet was searching for a way to solve the “problem… of how to combine and reconcile pictorial three-dimensional illusionism with the flat painted surface as a field for invention” (Honour and Fleming, p. 713). In a talk on Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère Philip Pullman explains that in this period artists became interested in the nature of depictions itself – art was “self-conscious” and “the painted surface is as important as the subject”. Near the end of his talk Pullman posits that there is no progression in art. All great art has a “double character”, making a likeness of some kind and exploring the nature of making that image – how a pattern is created, or aerial perspective, or molding with shadows and highlights or the sensual pleasure of applying pigment (see Pullman, 2009). It seems that together with the checklist of characteristics above there is an extra something with the “original” (my word) Impressionists – something of innovation and exploration and risk-taking and integrity.

Although I’ve decided to look locally for subjects for this exercise, Pullman’s talk is highly relevant to the original requirements. Manet’s work does show a lot about contemporary life (I’d never noticed those legs of the trapeze artist top left before). However Pullman shows that the oddities in the painting – the “reflection” that is ambiguous and when analysed doesn’t quite work – make the image more than a simple depiction of what was in front of the artist. It poses questions about the nature of reality – which is the real girl, what is the real transaction?

After that long introduction, can I find available to view in Sydney works that at least roughly fits the brief of the exercise? (with standard apologies about the quality of my photographs). The Monet above doesn’t meet criteria of being particularly well known and urban.

Mon ami 'Polite John Peter Russell oil on canvas   1900

Mon ami ‘Polite
John Peter Russell
oil on canvas 1900

This painting by John Peter Russell also misses the same criteria. Even while rejecting it for this exercise, I’ve included it here because Russell is one link between (French) Impressionism and Australia. It has been suggested that “if we accept a rigorous definition of Impressionist style and colour, the only Australian who rightfully qualifies to be designated an Impressionist is John Russell” (Vaughn, 2007. p. 16). Russell met Vincent van Gogh at art school and maintained a correspondence with him until the latter’s death. Living for many years on Belle Ile in Brittany, Russell met Monet there and had the opportunity to watch him (Monet) at work (see Galbally, 2008).

An autumn morning, Milson's Point, Sydney Tom Roberts oil on canvas 1888

An autumn morning, Milson’s Point, Sydney
Tom Roberts
oil on canvas 1888

This next painting is by Tom Roberts, whose visit to Europe in the early 1880s included a painting trip with Russell and others to Spain. Back in Australia, Roberts was one of a small group of artists who deliberately set out to introduce Impressionism to local audiences with the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition of 1889. In the context of this OCA exercise topic, it is important to note that the exhibition “reflected the artists’ awareness of international art and artists, and a desire for their work to be seen in that broader context” (National Gallery of Victoria, [n.d.]).

Detail of

Detail of An autumn morning, Milson’s Point, Sydney
Tom Roberts

This work of Robert’s from the previous year was included in the NGV Australia Australian Impressionism exhibition of 2007. It doesn’t have the spectrum colour from list of characteristic above – admittedly the photograph doesn’t help, not picking up the touches of red throughout the painting, or the unifying coppery glow. Possibly this shows a stronger influence from Whistler’s works. It is an urban scene, and although not a interior filled with figures tells about the experience of an Australian city of the time. There is the bustling port, the smog of progress, more people to be found than you see at first glance, and that most distinctive part of Sydney, the waters of the harbour. The picture has been described as “a hymn of praise to the energy, enterprise and progress of the modern city” (Astbury, 1989. p. 34).

Another painting that I would like to show is actually in London at the moment at the moment at the Royal Academy of Arts – Departure of the Orient – Circular Quay by Charles Condor, another of the exhibitors in the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition ( (see Apart from being a personal favourite, this painting has a specific Australian flavour to its urban scene, showing a mail ship.

The railway station, Redfern Arthur Streeton

The railway station, Redfern
Arthur Streeton
1893 oil on canvas

Detail of

Detail of The railway station, Redfern
Arthur Streeton

Arthur Streeton was the third major figure in the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition. This scene seems to me more “impressionistic” than that of Robert’s above, in the sense of appearing spontaneous and immediate. It is also lighter-keyed, with some pure spectrum colour although overall more tonal. Astbury (1989, p. 124) suggests that “Streeton chose not to emphasise the movement and activity characteristic of the area but to concentrate instead on the play of light and atmosphere”, which links back to Monet’s focus in the list of characteristics above.

The signage at the NSW Art Gallery includes “Streeton’s choice of modern railway subject matter and his evocative approach were influenced by French and British impressionism as well as the decorative, asymmetrical design and flattened picture plane of Japanese woodcuts”. Looking closer I think this is a good example of an Australian approach mentioned by Vaughan: “The Australian painters saw themselves as Impressionists of tonal effects, often using a square-headed brush which produced sharp-edged areas of tonal colour, rather than adopting the fractured brushwork and extreme chromatic experimentation of mainstream French Impressionism” (Vaughan, 2007. p. 19).

However although urban, I would say these works of Roberts, Condor and Streeton are not the “Australian impressionist” paintings that most people would recognise.

Bailed up Tom Roberts 1895 oil on canvas

Bailed up
Tom Roberts
1895 oil on canvas

This is regarded by the Art Gallery NSW as a highlight of its collection. It was largely painted en plein air and is high-keyed. However it was not spontaneous nor contemporary. It was staged. A special platform was built to provide the high vantage point. The scene was based on an event that occurred 30 years earlier – history painting! The important thing is that it was Australian history, in an unmistakably Australian “tranquil, sun-drenched landscape” (Astbury, 1989, p. 124).

I recently posted about a new TV series on Australian art – see The second half of the first episode is devoted to the Australian impressionists. A couple of key quotes: “[They] took Impressionism, the defining art movement of their time, and made it distinctively Australian”. “Finally Australia had artists who found the harsh light, the strange trees, and the parched land beautiful, because they were painting a place they considered home”. (Capon, 2013)

1888 was the centenary of white settlement in Australia. There was a surge of nationalist sentiment leading up to Federation 1st January 1901. One national characteristic was a level of larrikinism, irreverence towards the law and support for the underdog – making a stage hold up a sympathetic theme.

The Golden Fleece Tom Roberts 1894   oil on canvas

The Golden Fleece
Tom Roberts
1894 oil on canvas

Another painting by Roberts, one of a series, celebrates rural life, mateship and the nobility of hard work. I particularly like this version because of the space given to the land outside, harsh but bountiful.

“The bush” and “outback” are very important themes in the Australian identity, and in this period the “distinctive light and texture of the Australian bush” (Lane, 2007, p.14) was certainly celebrated by the Australian impressionists – but we are primarily an urban nation. A classic urban scene in Paris may be a questionable transaction in a nightclub. For me as a Sydney-sider the classic urban scene is a blue sky, some bush and sandstone, some buildings and boats, and the many colours of the harbour.

From my camp (Sirius Cove) Arthur Streeton 1896   oil on plywood

From my camp (Sirius Cove)
Arthur Streeton
1896 oil on plywood

For a time Streeton, Roberts and others set up a camp by the harbour in Sydney, living under canvas, commuting by boat, and apparently furnished with a piano. From my camp (Sirius Cove) for me fits the exercise brief of an impressionist painting that is very well known, an attractive image, and also tells more about contemporary life. The colour (follow the link to the Art Gallery site for a better version), the brushwork and the spontaneity are all there. In addition it shows the beauties of nature embedded in the city.

Have I fulfilled the requirements of the course exercise? Certainly some of the Australian works shown above would be very familiar to Australian audiences and can be viewed as “a part of Australian cultural identity, the local equivalents of, say, … Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette…” (Hansen, 2007, p. 681). They all show many of the characteristics of Impressionist painting, albeit with variations. They also played a part in the emergence of a distinctive Australian voice and identity, and so, I suggest, entirely appropriate selections by an Australian student of the history of western art.


Astbury, L. (1989) Sunlight and shadow: Australian impressionist painters 1880 – 1900. Sydney: Bay Books

Capon, E. (2013) The Art of Australia Television series produced by Serendipity Productions and Wall to Wall Media. [Online] Available from (Accessed 10-Nov-2013)

Galbally, A. (2008) A remarkable friendship: Vincent van Gogh and John Peter Russell. Victoria: The Miegunyah Press

Hansen, D. (2007) “National Naturalism” In Lane, T. (2007) Australian Impressionism. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria.

Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

Lane, T. (2007) Australian Impressionism. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria.

National Gallery of Victoria ([n.d.]) 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition [online] Available from (Accessed 10-Nov-2013)

Pullman, P. (2009) talk on A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Recorded as part of Picture This at Somerset House – Writers’ talks in the Courtauld Gallery. [online] Available from (Accessed 9-Nov-2013)

Shackelford, GTM (2008) “Monet’s Technique” In Shackelford, GTM Monet and the Impressionists. Sydney: Art Gallery of NSW.

Smith, B. (1945) Place, taste and tradition: A study of Australian art since 1788. Sydney : Ure Smith. Cited in Lane, T. (2007) Australian Impressionism. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria (p. 18).

Vaughn, G. (2007) “Some reflections on defining Australian Impressionism” In Lane, T. (2007) Australian Impressionism. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria.

Weinberg, H. Barbara. (2004) “American Impressionism”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. [online] Available from (Accessed 9-Nov-2013)

UA1-WA:P2-p4-Ex Depicting everyday life
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project four: Impressionism and post-impressionism
Exercise: Depicting everyday life

UA1-WA:P2-p3-Ex Decorate a town house

In this exercise I am a museum curator selecting artwork for a room in a terraced house. Additional requirements include: provincial town; modest residence; built early nineteenth-century; occupied by merchant and professional families. After some struggles I’ve decided to interpret “early nineteenth-century” very loosely and “provincial town” as the suburbs of Melbourne (not taking a swipe in any traditional Sydney/Melbourne rivalry, it just sits with the rest of my scenario).

terrace_planOn the right is the floorplan of the ground floor of the house. This is actually based on a 1894 plan drawn up by Contractor McDonald and Chalmers for a house in North Melbourne. The original plan is seen in a video on the Culture Victoria website. This version has my own adjustments to make it more modest.

Working from the bottom of the plan, there is a small garden at the front of the building then a step up to the open verandah. A door leads into the hallway, with the parlour and then the dining room on the right. Stairs go up to the bedroom level. The hall turns right, leading to the kitchen and beyond it a scullery. I think this is different to many English buildings of the period which would have the kitchen and other utilities in a basement level. Under the stair landing and just before the door to the kitchen there is a door leading outside. The back part of the building is narrower to allow light to enter the centre areas of the house.

My current task is to select works for the parlour. Blurring my pretend curator and real-life beings, I’ve decided to guide my selections by an imaginary period in the life of a great-great… uncle, John Chester Jervis, making him and his sister the first residents of the house.
The real John Chester Jervis was born in 1823 in London. He arrived in Hobart in the early 1840s, and abbreviating all the detail of a long and adventurous life, he married, became manager and then owner of various sheep stations in Victoria, had a son, lost his wife, brought his sister out from England to look after him, introduced wheat and built a mill, and in 1870 was bought out by other squatters concerned the wheat would attract selectors. In real family history John Chester, having made his fortune, returned to England and lived out his life between London and Nice, pursuing his interest in amateur photography. For the purpose of this exercise I have decided that John Chester hadn’t done quite so well financially and also that he and his sister stayed in Melbourne for several years in the 1870s before returning “home”.

As curator, I have included in my research contact with a descendant of John Chester who herself emigrated from Britain in the 1950s. She has provided me with a number of photographs taken in his homes in Nice and London slightly later than my period. She has also given me a recent photograph of some items either passed down from John Chester or of a similar age.
john_chester_room1john_chester_deskAlthough my major focus is the artwork, the rosewood desk in the modern photograph is of particular interest to the museum project. It was brought to Australia by John Chester’s sister, travelled around Victoria and then returned to England in the later 1870s. It has come once more to Australia and has been here since the 1980s, passed down through members of the English family. It would be wonderful to find a similar piece to put in our parlour.

weymouthThe first artwork I am considering is a coloured etching of Weymouth.

Members of the extended Jervis family lived in Weymouth and the area was probably known to John Chester. The print would remind immigrants to Australia of the home and connections they have left. The print is modest in size, suitable for a modest residence, while the hand colouring increase its attractions.

jcj_skinner_proutMy second selection is another engraving, this time of an Australian subject. It is from a work by John Skinner Prout, a popular early Australian artist. I believe I have located evidence of the original painting in a Lawson Menzies auction earlier this year (see Of course the original painting would have been beyond the budget of a resident of the terrace house, just as it is now beyond the budget of the museum.

John Chester Jervis spent over 30 years of his adult life in Australia, often in the bush. I think he would have liked a reminder of those years on his walls.

jcj_mapAlong the same lines, a map showing the area of some of his exploits could well hang in John Chester’s residence. Possibly it would be more appropriate for the dining room – I can image him standing before it, cigar in one hand and port in the other, telling tall tales of youthful adventures.

This work is an example of what I am hoping to find among current museum holdings. The area shown here is actually in New South Wales, not appropriate for final selection for the house.

jcj_oval_girlA number of oval portraits can be seen on the walls in my photographic documents. Photographs of loved ones in the home country would have been much appreciated by new settlers.

I suspect the example shown here is early 20th century, a bit later in period than I really need. The young girl in the photograph has an indirect relationship to the Jervis family, but for the museum I would try to locate a better option from Jervis family sources.

jcj_samplerThis sampler was actually stitched by John Chester Jervis’s wife, Janet Young. It is quite a large work and very nicely stitched (the scale can be seen in the modern photograph above, where the sampler is hanging above the rosewood desk). I think this memento of his late wife would have been suitable for hanging in the parlour – a room often decorated in a more feminine style.

It would be wonderful to have the original work, so closely connected to the original residents, hanging in the museum. We are currently discussing possibilities of at least a medium-term loan from the family.

jcj_studiophotoThis studio photo was taken by John Chester Jervis himself. As a very keen photographer he would be sure to have examples of his own works on the walls and on the screen that can be seen behind him in the first photograph above. In fact all the old photographs of interiors shown above were the work of John Chester – presumably an assistant would have been involved.

I have gone just over the four or five works that were requested. Based on the photographic evidence I think it is important to have enough to get coverage of the walls and be able to hang works in groups. The parlour of this house is not large, but I still need to achieve a slightly cluttered look (to modern eyes at least). In fact if the project went ahead it would be good to look for some medium sized prints to include, to get additional variety of scale.

UA1-WA:P2-p3-Ex Decorate a town house
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project three: Depicting history – neo-classicism, Romanicism and realism
Exercise: Decorate a town house

UA1-WA:P2-p2-Ex Prints for sale

For this exercise I am to imagine myself a publisher in Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century, selecting a catalogue of prints to offer my regular clientele.

I’m going to start with a grizzle. The pace of this course takes my breath away. It reminds me of trips some people I knew took between leaving high school and starting university – a coach tour of continental Europe (9 countries in 11 days) and a bit longer in England. The best you can hope for is a broad spatter, a couple of specific memories (hopefully more than just the Lion Pub in Rome) and an idea of where you’d like to explore “next time”. So “this time” I don’t feel able to go into the source of wealth of the merchant class of Amsterdam, or whether there was speculation in prints analogous to the speculation in tulip bulbs, or (having been to the Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings from Spain exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery a couple of days ago) similarities and differences of the Dutch and Spanish “Golden Ages” of the 17th Century, or (based on the catalogue to the Goya exhibition) the impact of changes in paper-making materials and techniques.

Grizzle aside, I did find a little information about my potential market at Another resource suggested different proportions of popularity of subjects in 1645 to 1650: Biblical scenes 18%; Portraits 18.3%; Land- and seascapes 21%; Still lifes 11.7%; Scenes from daily life (genre)12.9%; Other 18.1% (Goosens, 2001). Based on this I have slightly adjusted proportions of works in my proposed catalogue.


The Story of Hagar
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The Story of Hagar

This is the first of my “biblical theme” prints. It shows Abraham dismissing Hagar, from the Book of Genesis. I feel that the general pleasant landscape and overgrown ruins will appeal to a wider audience in addition to religious buyers.

Published by: Hendrik Hondius I. Print made by: Moyses van Wtenbrouck. 1620-1646 (published). 135 x 184 mm.

The prodigal son © The Trustees of the British Museum

The prodigal son
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The prodigal son
The subject of my second biblical choice comes from the New Testament. It may be more familiar to my customers, and has a nice moral overtone. It is also an interior scene including opulent clothing and furnishings, which together with the detail of the dog front right should extend the print’s appeal.
Published by: Alexandre Boudan. Print made by: Theodoor van Thulden. 1621-1669. 131 x 104 mm.

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 - 1669 ), Jan Uytenbogaert, 1635, etching and burin, Rosenwald Collection

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 – 1669 ), Jan Uytenbogaert, 1635, etching and burin, Rosenwald Collection
NGA Images

Jan Uytenbogaert
This print is a slightly dangerous choice. It will appeal to some of my religious customers, although the subject’s involvement in a religious schism may cause difficulties. I am hoping that the print’s attractions as an interesting and detailed portrait by Rembrandt will appeal to buyers. The controversy was over some decades ago, so I believe the risk of causing disruption is low.
Rembrandt van Rijn. 1635. 223 x 183 mm.

Views in the surroundings of Haarlem © The Trustees of the British Museum

Views in the surroundings of Haarlem
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Views in the surroundings of Haarlem
This scene of the bark mill on the Omval, including a number of sailing vessels is the first of my landscape choices. It has the large sky and combines the water and land loved by many collectors. There is a good level of detail and accuracy in the rigging of the boats, a vital element for my customers.
Print made by: Jan Vincentsz. van der Vinne. 1680-1700. 149 x 185 mm.

Tienhoven © The Trustees of the British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

This scene of a neat township, including a family walking to the church, is very appealing. It is a more enclosed scene, with a surprising amount of detail to capture the viewers’ interest.
Published by: Clement de Jonghe. Print made by: Roelant Roghman. 1620-1630. 126 x 204 mm.

Landscape with bleaching fields © The Trustees of the British Museum

Landscape with bleaching fields
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Landscape with bleaching fields, One of Views in the surroundings of Haarlem
This scene of productive countryside should attract many of my industrious customers. It combines with the town- and water-scapes above to provide a range of scenery options.
Print made by: Claes Jansz. Visscher. 1610-1620. 103 x 157 mm

The backgammon-players

The backgammon-players
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The backgammon-players
This semi-indoors scene has a lot of detail to explore and a semi-comical feel. The bucolic / peasant content may appeal to some city-dwellers, either a reminder of their past or perhaps making them feel superior. There is also a sense of relaxation and comradeship, which may resonate with some of my customers.
After: Adriaen van Ostade. Print made by: Johannes Visscher. 1670 (circa). 310 x 256 mm.


The infatuated peasant

The infatuated peasant
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The infatuated peasant
This risqué scene will appeal to a portion of my clientele, but I will need to be careful of where it is displayed to avoid scandalising some customers. The bawdy print seen on the back wall increases both the interest and the risk. However I also see a certain earthy wholesomeness in the scene.
After: Adriaen van Ostade. Print made by: Johannes Visscher. 1660 (circa). 335×267 mm.



© The Trustees of the British Museum

I have selected only one still-life for my catalogue. My countrymen are very fond of colourful bulbs. The great crash of the tulip trading is now in the past, and this print should not excite any negative reactions (possibly those most affected will not be buying prints!).
After: Nicolas Guillaume Delafleur (engraving). Published by: Frederick de Wit. 1650-1706 (c.) 140 x 112 mm.


Close engagement

Close engagement
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Close engagement
For my final few prints I have decided to test the commercial waters with a few items outside the mainstream.
This print shows the close engagement of two large fleets, with an English ship foundering in foreground. I think this will stir the patriotic and sea-faring amongst my customers. It is also larger than the other prints, so suitable to hang in different locations.
Published by: Dancker Danckerts. 1666. 418 x 525 mm.

The Quakers meeting

The Quakers meeting
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The Quakers meeting
This is another print that may offend some customers, so will stay under the counter until a likely buyer comes in.
The print shows a satirical view of a Quakers meeting, the strident speaker unaware of various untoward goings-on in the background.
Print made by: Carel Allard (also publisher). After: Egbert van Heemskerck. 1678-1679 (circa). 418 x 517 mm.

A woman bathing

A woman bathing
© The Trustees of the British Museum

A woman bathing
A woman is seen from behind, having just bathed in the pond to her left. I have included this print simply for my own pleasure. I love the lines – the diagonal tree across the centre, creating a private space for the bather; the lines and curves of her body, her smoother curves contrasting with the more convoluted lines of the plants around her. There are very dark shadows contrasting with the very light sky, but an overall balance across the print. In the distance at the right there seems to be another figure, suggesting a more complex story. There’s something slightly knock-kneed or awkward about the woman’s stance, and oddly I rather like that too.
Published by: Johann Day. Print made by: Moyses van Wtenbrouck. 1610-1647. 144 x 139 mm.

Overall I feel this is a reasonable catalogue. I think there is a good variety in subject and sizes. There are a few inconsistencies – a wide range of publication dates, some subjects rather racy and views of Haarlem rather than Amsterdam (they look close on the map, but presumably in the 1600s were quite distinct – and many buyers would prefer their known, local scenes). I will “resolve” this by assuming that my shop is in a docks area on the fringe of Amsterdam and heading towards Haarlem. Many of my customers are labourers or dockmen, earthy and relaxed in their humour. Some may occasionally be in need of extra cash, and I am willing to buy older prints for resale at attractive prices.


Goosens, M (2001) “Schilders en de markt: Haarlem 1605 – 1635,” PhD diss., Leiden University, 2001. In National Gallery of Art (2007) Painting in the Dutch Golden Age: A profile of the seventeenth century: A resource for teachers Washington: Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington [online] Available at (Accessed 21-Sept-2013)

National Gallery of Art (2007) Painting in the Dutch Golden Age: A profile of the seventeenth century: A resource for teachers Washington: Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington [online] Available at (Accessed 21-Sept-2013)

UA1-WA:P2-p2-Ex Prints for sale
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project two: The age of Baroque
Exercise: Prints for sale

UA1-WA:P2-p2-Ex A Roman Palace

In this exercise I am to imagine myself made a cardinal in seventeenth century Rome, drawing up instructions for the artist/s for the renovation of my Roman palace – in particular the main reception room and my study.

My new identity: I am Cardinal Nogliano. I come from Florence, the second son of a fairly wealthy and very ambitious family – merchants, or perhaps bankers. My older brother is continuing the family line, marrying well and growing the family business. After solid training by tutors as a boy, I attended the University of Pisa where I shared lodgings with Francesco Barberini. I am making my career in the Church and have been fortunate in this and other family connections to the Barberini family. Following Maffeo Barberini’s elevation to become Pope Urban VIII I was made a cardinal. After serving in a number of posts around Europe, including France and Portugal, I am now living in Rome. I have always been interested in the arts, play the lute and write poetry. I see myself as a man of science and have enjoyed an occasional correspondence with Galileo Galilei (although he had left the University of Pisa before my time there).

Goals of renovation: This redecoration is one part of the ongoing strategy for the advancement in social rank of my family and myself. The main reception room in particular must express grandeur and extravagance, an ostentatious announcement of our achievement. The decoration should also make discreet but clear reference to my patrons and benefactors the Barberinis. This would express my gratitude, acknowledge my debt, and remind all who see it of my powerful friends. Also the artworks should enhance, support and celebrate the power and might of the Catholic church.

My family achieved wealth and prominence fairly recently. References to the roots of ancient Rome would suggest we have ancient connections as a noble family. In the main reception room a theme of Aeneas, his journey and the founding of Rome would meet this need. It would act as a metaphor for the journey of the soul, and remind all who come of the triumph of the Church and papacy. The theme will be carried out in fresco on the ceiling and in a series of tapestries on the walls – a suitably aristocratic and expensive art, fit for my aspirations.

My private study should, in addition to the goals above, be an expression of my personal qualities, history and interests. A series of allegorical paintings would achieve this.

Commissioning the work: The actual commissioning of the redecoration can also play a part in extending and reinforcing the network of ties and obligations that I and my family continue to build. I want to use my Barberini connection, and also strengthen links to my family home in the selection of artists. For the purpose of this exercise I will assume I have already to some extent discussed my plans and the possibilities with Francesco Barberini – old friend, fellow cardinal and nephew of the Pope. However the social gap between us has become wider with the elevation of his family and while I welcome the obligation of receiving his views and want to pay the compliment of attending to his opinions, I do not judge it appropriate to involve him directly in the commissioning of the work. Francesco’s secretary Cassiano dal Pozzo has also been of enormous assistance with advice and suggestions of suitable artists. However I have decided to use the services of Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, the great-nephew of the artist Michelangelo and the childhood friend of Maffeo Barberini – Pope Urban VII. Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger can act as an informal broker or agent between me and the artists, reinforcing my social status and adding another connection to the Pope (1).

Letter from Cardinal Nogliano  to Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger:

Most Illustrious Sir

On many occasions you have shown me your benevolence, and I offer my most sincere thanks and am less wanting than obliged to  serve you (2). Now that I am seeking to renovate my palazzo I find myself once more appealing to your generosity for assistance in finding out and engaging artists who can do honour to the position which has been granted to me. There are two rooms which now exercise my thoughts and test my judgement.

The main reception room or Salone will be decorated with scenes from the life and travels of Aenaes, as told by Virgil in The Aeneid.

The ceiling, to be painted by Pietro da Cortona should be covered in a fresco showing the ending of the wandering of Aeneas, a narrative thread including Jupiter reconciling the goddesses, Fate with the scales of Justice, the landing at the mouth of the Tiber and the battle with Turnus – a journey of the soul and the triumph of the Church and Pope (3).

A series of tapestries must be worked in coloured wools and threads of silver and gold, showing scenes from the journey of Aeneas, to cover the walls of the Salone. The tapestries will be woven at the Barberini arazzoria, by kind permission and under the patronage of Sue Eminenza Cardinal Francesco Barberini.

saloneThe main panels must be 16 feet high, with widths as indicted to fill the room. Four portiere will cover the doors, with sopraporte above (4). Three sopraporte will hang above the arches leading to the oval room. On each long side will be three panels, one large and two smaller. Each panel will include a border including olive branches and showing my family impresa, the blackbird (5).

All scenes for the tapestries must be sketched in oil by Pietro da Cortona, then transposed into a cartoon by a suitable man such as Pietro Paolo Ubaldini, ready for the weavers. The designs must express our Christian values including piety, obedience to God, suffering, leadership.

Scenes in individual panels (6) may include  Aeneas carrying his father Anchises from burning Troy;  The rescue of the Trojan fleet by Neptune calming the tempest; Aeneas hunting stags to feed his comrades, wrecked on the shore of Libya. (Here a swarm of bees settled in the tree of Apollo would remind all of our father, His Holiness Pope Urban.); Dido displaying her virtue and nobility, presiding over the building of the city of Carthage and administering laws; The feast of Aeneas and Dido; Dido burning herself rather than break her vow of chastity (7), while Aeneas and the Trojans sail away in obedience to God; Aeneas in the underworld, viewing the torments of the damned. (This may be combined with the Elysian Fields and his yet-unborn line of kings.)

For my study I wish first of all for a Madonna and Child, with a tenderness between mother and child by one such as Artemisia Gentileschi who I know has spent much time in our city of Florence, is a some time Caravaggisti, and is well known to you (8) (9).

Second I would have a portrait of myself, in the red bestowed on me by the grace of God and His servant, His Holiness Pope Urban.

For the rest, I desire paintings to hang showing those muses who best express my own person and interests: Clio with her book and laurel, my interest in history and learning; Euterpe, garlanded with flowers and for my sake with lute instead of pipe; Erato, lover of poetry, the swan with feathers of black for the Nogliano bird (10); Urania, globe and compasses in hand, exploring the skies (11). For these I know you will be able to recommend to me artists of skill and stature, able to undertake such work in a suitable manner.

I ask this favour of you, that you will find these artists and send to me their names and subject, when they can have this work completed and their fees.

I thank you for your help and it will delight me if, just as from such a distance you find ways in which to serve me, you will also find ways for me to reciprocate by involving myself in things that bring your satisfaction.

And with this I wish you from God our Lord true happiness and prosperity, etc. (12)

(1) This arrangement is based on (Cole, 2007)

(2) Uses fragments of wording from a letter from Maffeo Barberini to Buonarroti, in (Cole, 2007, p. 739)

(3) This theme was executed by Cortona in 1655 in Galleria Pamphili. My description is based on that in (Toman, 2004. p. 385)

(4) The layout proposed is based on Garfinkle’s suggested installation of the History of Constantine tapestries in the Salone of Palazzo Barberini (Garfinkle, 1999).

(5) For example of such work see A similar panel  woven by the Barberini Manufactory in Rome after the design of Giovanni Francesco Romanelli can be seen online, illustrating (University of Oregon, 2012)

(6) Some of the episodes listed are based on (Shaw, 2003)

(7) An alternate to the story, avoiding the sexual liaison of Dido and Aeneas.

(8) (Garrard, 1989. p. 34)

(9) An somewhat earlier Madonna and Child by this artist can be seen at

(10) For this exercise I’ve adapted the Nolan name and heraldry, the martlet becoming a blackbird. Here I’m trying to add the extra twist of a reference to the as yet unknown black swans of Australia.

(11) Names and attributes of muses from (Hall, 2008)

(12) A mix of words and phrases taken from text of letters to and from Artemisia Gentileschi (Garrard, 1989)


Cole, J (2007) ‘Cultural Clientelism and Brokerage Networks in Early Modern Florence and Rome: New Correspondence between the Barberini and Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger’, Renaissance Quarterly, 60, 3, pp. 729-788, Academic Search Alumni Edition, EBSCOhost, viewed 14 September 2013.

Garfinkle, ES (1999) The Barberini and the New Christian Empire: A study of the History of Constantine tapestriesby Pietro da Cortona. Master of Arts thesis. McGill University. [online] Available from (Accessed 18-Sept-2013)

Garrad, MD (1989) Artemisia Gentileschi: The image of the female hero in Italian baroque art Princeton: Princeton University Press

Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of subjects and symbols in art. (Second Edition). Boulder: Westview Press.

Shaw, RW (2003) Agmine facto: Rampant rhetoric in Aeneid I [online] Available from (Accessed 19-Sept-2013)

Toman, R. (ed) (2004) Baroque: Architecture. Sculpture. Painting (English edition) Königswinter: Könemann

University of Oregon (2012) Harper presides over sneak preview of restored tapestries [online] Available from (Accessed 17-Sept-2013)

UA1-WA:P2-p2-Ex A Roman Palace
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project two: The age of Baroque
Exercise: A Roman palace

UA1-WA:P2-p1 Visit to an art gallery – National Gallery of Victoria

This task asks for a visit to an art gallery, focusing on the gallery itself. I chose to fly down to Melbourne for a few days to visit the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

To address two slightly confusing aspects of the name: The NGV was established in 1861, forty years before the Federation of Australia, so the “National” part refers to the self-governing colony of Victoria. Secondly, “the Gallery” is actually two buildings separated by the Yarra River.

ngv_01On the southern side is NGV International. Designed by Sir Roy Grounds in 1968, between 1999 amd 2003 the building was redeveloped and designed by Mario Bellini. There was a further renewal for NGV’s 150th birthday in 2011, with a series of new and redesigned spaces opened.

ngv_02Standing at the entrance to NGV International one can’t quite see The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, which is the other side of the road and the other side of the river, at the edge of the CBD.

ngv_3NGV Australia is in one of a cluster of buildings in Federation Square. Opened in 2002, it was designed by architects Lab Architecture Studio in association with Bates Smart Melbourne.

Before moving inside, I need to thank NGV staff in the Publications department for providing images of some of the artworks and also taking the time to vet some of my own photos for use on this blog. Although visitors can take photos for their own use in non-restricted areas generally these can’t be displayed on a personal website. The photos I’m showing are general views and don’t include any copyright works, so NGV has very kindly approved their use.

ngv_planA rough and simplified plan of NGV International. I think there are four levels at least partly open to the public. The red square in the middle is a full height void. The red at the back is a Hall with a beautiful stained glass ceiling by Leonard French (a small photo of one of his windows at the National Library in Canberra is in a post from 13-April-2013). Grey at the front is a mix of services, escalators etc. The blue is gallery space and the green also galleries, but at half levels reached by ramps (which had me very confused at first). I hardly ventured into the left half of the building. There was a special Monet exhibition in part and also the 19th century and later. My focus was fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, on the right.

ngv_03ngv_interior_5The walk beside the water along that long, undecorated wall starts to build a sense of anticipation, then at last you are through the arch and into the dark interior looking back at a wall of water.

ngv_interior_1The space closes in, then opens out again in the bright central void with those lovely shadows. This photo is actually quite misleading. There were crowds of people around, and the floor of the void was almost filled by clinamen by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot (see In this work white porcelain bowls of various sizes float around in a shallow round pool of intense aqua blue. The bowls strike against each other, sounding like small gongs. Given its proximity to the Monet’s Garden exhibition, thoughts of serene musical lily ponds were inevitable.

ngv_interior_7I resisted the siren call of the Garden and went up an escalator, enjoying the lines and shapes created by the architecture. What could have been a simple balcony with the focus on the void below on the left became much more interesting, its own space – although by this stage I was becoming impatient to reach the artworks I had come to see.

ngv_interior_4Below is one of three rooms in one of those mezzanine levels (green on my little diagram above). The room is large, the art works given space and consideration. Lighting overall was very good – no works in dark corners and very few annoying reflections even in works framed behind glass. In this room directional lighting created some lovely shadows around the central sculpture. One thing missing here was seating. There was some in one of the adjoining rooms, but overall seating was sparse.

NGV International is generally organised by period. The room above holds sixteenth to seventeenth century art and design. Within that framework thought has clearly been given to the grouping of individual works.

Perino del Vaga The Holy Family  (c. 1545-1546) Image provided by NGV

Perino del Vaga
The Holy Family
(c. 1545-1546)
Image provided by NGV

Annibale Carracci The Holy Family  (c. 1589)

Annibale Carracci
The Holy Family
(c. 1589)
Image provided by NGV

For example to the left in the far corner of the room is The Holy Family by Perino del Vaga.

On the right of the corner is the same subject by Carracci.

I found each painting interesting in its own right, but being able to compare the two – the same subject, both by Italian painters, both in oils (the del Vaga on wood panel, the Carracci on canvas), painted less than fifty years apart – really enhanced the experience.

Vaga_line_sketchI find the composition by Perino del Vaga very dynamic. There are lots of diagonal lines repeating across the image, the Child is clambering up Mary, the cloth around His lower body flipping up in the energy of the movement. The flesh is rounded, modelled using chiaroscuro, and I love the little touch of reflected light on the underside of the Child’s right thigh. The figure of Joseph is interesting. Although clearly subsidiary to the main triangle focus of Mother and Child, Joseph is involved, part of the family, his face turned towards them as he observes their shared gaze. Joseph’s hands holding his staff look capable, and I think I can see lines that echo those diagonals of the main image. This is quite different to another Perino del Vaga Holy Family painting I found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see There Joseph is looking away to the side, his hands look more closed. In the audio file at that link curator Andrea Bayer mentions how separate and disconnected that Joseph appears.

carracci_line_sketchThe Carracci version is much more solid and stable. The vertical of Mary’s veil and upper arm combines with the strong, stable horizontal of her supporting forearm to create a frame within the frame of the image, both static and excluding Joseph. There is a rhythm of curves in Mother and Child, but they do not create movement. The Child rests his heavy head on Mary’s shoulder, passive.

Both paintings have an view to the outside at the upper right . In del Vaga’s work it is hardly visible. In Carracci’s there is a stormy sky and trees – foreshadowing Gethsemane perhaps? Both works have warm dark tones in the background, lighter tones in the skin. Both have red in Mary’s dress, but del Vaga adds greens in her cloak and Joseph’s garment, while in Carracci’s work the mustard yellow of Joseph’s cloak is repeated in the trees outside. Del Vaga’s Madonna shows a Classical influence in her hair and clothes. The image appears elegant, refined, polished. Carracci’s family seem more robust and solid, more real and less idealised than the earlier work.

Going back to the gallery itself, in the general view above you may be able to see the small plaques of information next to each artwork. These always included the names of the artist and the work, media, date and acquisition credit (bequest etc). For most works there was additional information, some background and context for artist and/or work. Occasionally a work would get extended information, for example a protrait of Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara by Dosso Dossi and Battista Dossi (attributed to) (see gave quite a detailed back-story. In some rooms information highlighting themes or general movements was given. I found the overall amount of information given suited me very well – enough to keep me interested and a little informed, without being overwhelming.

ngv_interior_6Another example of curatorial decisions enhancing the experience can be seen here in one of the 17th to 18th century Art & Design rooms. On the left is Still life with fruit (c. 1640 – 1650) by Jan Davidsz de Heem (see On the right is a cabinet with a display of items similar to those in the still life – fluted glasses, a silver-gilt standing cup and cover, a Ming dynasty porcelain basin. I won’t go into detail here (still life is included in a later assignment), but I enjoyed the combination of actual items and the painted image.

ngv_interior_2You might have noticed in the earlier photos that the walls in those areas of NGV are lightly coloured. A series of very large rooms have much stronger colour on the walls. Given the size of the works on display and the space given to them, I think they can handle it. The largest work shown here, by Poussin, is over two metres wide. Even the “small” work by Gentileschi to its right is about 1.6 metres wide.

On the days I visited the Gallery these rooms always felt quiet and empty, so there were no issues in wandering around, backtracking, or oscillating between close and distant views for twenty or thirty minutes in front of a single work. In part that feeling was probably due to the size of the rooms – there were people around, just it would take hundreds to feel like a crowd.

The situation was different over in the 19th-20th century Art & Design – a lot more people and in the first few rooms white walls and works I think hung a bit closer together. I peeped around a corner and saw a room that was hung more in the Salon style, with paintings hung close together and stacked four or more rows high up the walls, but I didn’t explore – my focus for the trip was the older works.

ngv_interior_3One thing I found slightly strange while navigating NGV International was the Mezzanine levels. They were boxes separated from the main gallery level by the ramp going up and down. At first I didn’t even realise there was anything interesting in that area – it looked like glass doors going to a service area of some kind, no artworks visible to tempt you in to see what you could find. It also interrupted the flow of moving through the rooms, needing you to backtrack along the featureless passage or continue to the next main level breaking your overall progression. The long days of gallery exploration combined with the low level of seat availability had my feet and ankles complaining, and any extra walking was not welcomed. Clearly the designers of the building see advantages to this arrangement that I don’t. It did create a kind of light-well effect in the centre of the building (the ramps are translucent), but not much was made of this in the main gallery areas.

A second gripe is the website There is a lot of good information there, but I seem to trip over it rather than navigate to it. When I was planning my visit I was interested in works in the fifteenth to seventeenth century, but couldn’t find an advanced search to help me find them. Just now I tried “Channel”, which turns out to mean audio and video files. Maybe I just need to learn the language. It’s just that I end up feeling there is lots there that could help me, if only I knew how to access it.

At the risk of being indelicate, another important issue – for women, a single cubicle in the restrooms isn’t enough. Yes there are more along and around the corner or downstairs, but … who ever thought one was a good idea?

A plus for the gallery that goes beyond the architecture, collection and curating is the staff. I didn’t meet anyone unhelpful, and a few went above and beyond – a security man who obviously has a lot of knowledge about the collection and its stories, and when I showed interest in one work told me of another I’d really like to see then took me to it (he was right that I would find it interesting); staff in the bookshop who searched high and low to find a particular NGV publication I wanted (successfully!); and of course the publications department, who very quick and accommodating in getting images and permissions to me.

It’s interesting to compare NGV with the Art Gallery of South Australia which I visited earlier this year (see 5-May-2013). NGV has a very logical approach – manage the two locations by splitting Australian and International art, then within International organise overall by period with a few takeouts for things like Fashion & Textiles and some Asian areas. For this visit this was great for me – I wanted Western art of a particular period and it was all conveniently grouped. On the other hand South Australia hung part of its collection by theme and on an open exploratory visit that was mind blowing, the juxtapositions and interactions made me see works with new eyes. Very exciting. Different buildings, different collections, different strategies. I like both. I just wish they were closer to Sydney.

UA1-WA:P2-p1 Visit to an art gallery – National Gallery of Victoria
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project one: Mythology in the High Renaissance
Topic: Visit to an art gallery


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