Situated in Canberra, the National Gallery of Australia was established in 1967 as ‘an inspiration for the people of Australia.’ The collection encompasses Australian, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific, European and American art across various mediums. We’ve compiled a list of must-see artworks to observe when visiting the gallery.
In 1973, the NGA purchased Blue Poles, also known as Number 11, 1952, for $1.3 million, a purchase so valuable that it needed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s authorization. Today the painting is thought to be worth between $20 million to $100 million and remains one of the most popular paintings in the gallery due to its significance in expressionism and its cultural and political impact. In 1998, the NGA loaned Blue Poles to the Museum of Modern Art in New York – this was the only time the painting left Australia.
Between 1946 and 1947, Sidney Nolan produced a series of stylised paintings depicting the life of Ned Kelly. Close friend Sunday Reed donated 25 of the 27 paintings to the NGA in 1977, and among the collection is The Trial, Ned Kelly, and Stringybark Creek. Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly collection is one of the most predominant Australian art series of the 20th century.
Named after the 1896 story by Henry Lawson, Russell Drysdale’s The Drover’s Wife is a rendering of drought devastation in New South Wales and has been described as ‘an allegory of the white Australian people’s relationship with this ancient land.’
A cousin to Paul Cézanne’s Afternoon in Naples, which is also on display, After Cézanne is a principal ‘day picture’ which Freud painted between December 1999 and August 2000. Despite their contrasting scales, Freud’s After Cézanne was created to form a dialogue between the two paintings and explore issues such as independence and alienation.
Using a compiled selection of viewpoints photographed over a series of years, David Hockney’s A Bigger Grand Canyon immerses viewers in the landscape with references to Cubism and Chinese Scroll Paintings.
The NGA is one of a select few galleries in the world to own a complete set of 100 Vollard etchings. The 1930’s suite explore classicism including Minotaur and Pygmalion themes. More than 300 sets were created, although many were sold separately. A trip to the NGA would not be complete without a look at these works.
The NGA is home to a number of paintings by Tom Roberts, but if you only have time to visit one, we recommend In a corner on the Macintyre, which was purchased by the gallery in 1971. Debate surrounds the painting’s subject matter, but many believe it illustrates Captain Thunderbolt’s last stand with police in 1870.
Consisting of 200 hollow log coffins taken from the Northern Territory, this memorial was completed in 1988 by 43 Aboriginal artists from the Ramingining area. Each painted tree trunk represents a year of European settlement between 1788 and 1988 and is a reminder of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who died defending their land in those years.