They were the rock stars of their day, the who’s who of the art world, and they defined their time. As you enter their new home in Sydney it’s only right that their names should be up in lights: Botticelli, Titian, da Vinci, Velázquez, Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Turner and Vermeer.
The masters have arrived.
More than three years in the planning, Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand is justifiably proud of the 70 paintings and drawings that have taken up residence in the gallery, 68 of them never before seen in Australia.
Drawn from the National Galleries of Scotland, with two additional works from the AGNSW’s own collection, The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland has been curated and displayed by the AGNSW senior curator of European art, Richard Beresford, and local architect, Richard Johnson. The National Gallery of Scotland’s octagonal rooms and fabric walls in old-masters red have been partially recreated at the AGNSW. Red woollen material for the gallery's walls has been specifically imported from the Scottish Isle of Bute to display this impressive collection in the best way possible.
In an era of constant hype around contemporary art, Brand argues that the work of the old masters is as relevant as ever.
“Every generation needs to keep rediscovering its past. We all get focused on the new and exciting stuff, and I think it’s natural to think what went before isn’t so relevant, but when you get into it you realise these guys are bold and exciting. And what’s great is you can see the exhibition, then step outside and enjoy a cocktail or a great meal at Chiswick.”
Despite covering 400 years of art history, from Botticelli’s The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (c. 1485) and the Renaissance, to Cézanne’s The Big Trees (c. 1904) and Impressionism, the show is relatively small, and accessible.
“Having brought all these works around the world we want to encourage people to spend time with them, not just check off a Gauguin and a Velázquez,” Brand says. “You can put together exhibitions and collections of the great names, but they can be a Rembrandt on a bad day or Monet in a bad mood. But these are great examples of these artists.”
In a clever juxtaposition to the European old masters and nod to Australia’s greats, the gallery’s entrance foyer has been hung with a selection of Indigenous artists, including Gloria Petyarre and Papunya Tula artist, Yukultji Napangati.
The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland is showing at the Art Gallery of NSW from October 24 to February 14, 2016