Stone columns and neo-classical architectural symmetry greeted me on my arrival at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I had walked several city blocks from Darling Harbour (and the Australian National Maritime Museum), along streets heaving with Christmas shoppers. I found an oasis of serenity, sophistication and history.
Whereas the Maritime Museum is built on a huge scale to a modern design, the Art Gallery is built on a slightly more modest scale. Its neo-classical façade, offering a Victorian facsimile of a classical Greek temple, reflects a meticulous attention to symmetry – a central portico and columns, flanked by window-less wings of equal length decorated by an incomplete set of bronze panels depicting the artistic heritage of ancient civilisations. Above the panels are emblazoned the names of master painters and sculptors. In the 19th Century architecture, we see a celebration of art history, and a strong statement to a young society that here within can be found artistic treasures that rival the great galleries of Europe.
As a devotee of Victorian and Edwardian painting, I was not to be disappointed. I found several galleries devoted to 18th and 19th Century paintings, from British, European and Australian artists. I found paintings by some of my favourite artists, who combined meticulous attention to detail and strong colour palettes with a passion for history and historical settings. I found works by Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836-1912), and John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). Many paintings celebrated an imagined classical past. Whilst others celebrated a vision of a contemporary imperial world, such as the famous ‘The Defence of Rorke’s Drift’ by Alphonse de Neuville (1882).
I finished the day exhausted and contented.
From the Viking Exhibition, I had been brought closer to the lives of a historical people – through their clothes, gods and their writing. From the Museum ships, I had learnt about personal space, and gained an insight into the social challenges of living for months or even years at a time with no personal space. And from 19th Century Art, facsimiles of history nonetheless, I revelled in the colours and vitality conjured from the historical imagination of great artists.
Thank you for sharing my Three Part journey.
Stay tuned for other blog postings.