National Gallery of Victoria – European Old Masters [Part II]

National Gallery of Victoria - Installation View - Towards Regency RoomsSunday, 2 January 2011

National Gallery of Victoria – European Old Masters [Part II]

The collection of the Old European Masters at the National Gallery of Victoria is excellently displayed through the several levels of the building, starting with Egyptian and Greco-Roman art on the ground floor; and moving onto the late Medieval and early Renaissance art on the mezzanine level. The bulk of the collection is displayed more or less chronologically anti-clockwise on the second level, beginning on the right-hand-side with the Dutch and Flemish art of the 16th to 18th centuries; followed by large-scale Italian and French art from the 17th to 18th Centuries, with 18th-Century British art displayed in-between. Smaller pieces of 18th Century British and French art are interspersed with displays of ceramics and glass; and there is also a small gallery of 16th to 18th Century Italian and Spanish art in a glass-lined tower on the second level in the middle of the former Myer Court. A narrow gallery over the Great Hall leads past the Robert Wilson collection of 18th and 19th Century porcelain and glass towards the Regency, Victorian, and Pre-Raphaelite rooms on the left-hand-side of the building.

National Gallery of Victoria - Installation View - Portrait GalleryThe collection is therefore displayed more or less in a chronological order and is roughly divided into smaller groupings by national schools. Some incongruities within the installation do exist. For example, a visitor to the 17th Century Dutch galleries is greeted by a small display of 19th Century British and French art (including George Stubbs and Gustave Doré); the Dutch Collection has been further divided, with a number of portraits removed into the glass tower, which was formerly dedicated to Italian and Spanish art; and the Cornelius de Vos portrait, which was acquired a year or so ago with so much pomp and ceremony has now been rehung in the fashion and textile section where it is virtually invisible due to the low lighting and most appalling reflections from the entrance door.

National Gallery of Victoria - Installation View - Regency RoomAbout ten or fifteen years ago, several international collections have attempted to replace chronological displays with thematic ones. We see echoes of it attempted sporadically within the National Gallery, too, where flower still lives by Dutch, French, and British artists have been grouped in the Dutch galleries or a small selection of portraits by Italian, Spanish, and (for some reasons) Dutch artists have been placed in the glass tower. Further examples involving landscapes or architectural interiors can also be cited, but the exercise does not seem to have been carried out with the full force of conviction, and the display continues to vacillate between the two curatorial modes.

The display of the permanent collection is not static, and changes roughly every six months to accommodate for works which departed the gallery’s walls for external or in-house exhibitions or for the recent additions to the collection. For example, the newly-acquired portraits of the Earl and Countess of Stradbroke by Sir William Beechey are the focal point of the Regency Room. The Victorian Room has been changed also, and rehung Salon-style, literally floor-to-ceiling, recreating the look and feel of not only how the art was displayed at the famous exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London or the Salon in Paris throughout the 18th and 19th century, but also how works of art were displayed in public and some of the most famous private art collections of the time.

National Gallery of Victoria - Installation View - Victorian RoomWall plaques have been removed, and a gallery visitor is given instead a giant placard, which illustrates and lists all the works. While looking at this immense display, one has to be reminded that when most of these works were acquired by the National Gallery in the nineteenth century, these were indeed works of “contemporary art”, representing the major artistic and aesthetic trends of the mid-to-late 19th Century in Britain as well as on the Continent.

It is also within this room, that a visitor can see works by such non-British artists as Frenchmen Bastien-Lepage, Henner, and Meissonier (while works by Daumier, Delacroix, Ingres, and Millet are also present, these are all but minor works); Belgian Ary Scheffer; Swiss Arnold Böcklin; Czech Wenceslas Brozik; Norwegian Hans Gude; Greek Nicholas Gysis; Hungarian Paul Joanowitch; Austrian Guillaume Koller; German Bernhard Plockhorst; and the celebrated piece Anguish by Danish Augustus Schenk.

National Gallery of Victoria - Installation View - Victorian Room[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

3 Responses to “National Gallery of Victoria – European Old Masters [Part II]”

  1. May 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I am interested to know what painting by Bernhard Plockhorst was on display there, and where it might be as of today 5-21-2012. Any help would be very appreciated.

  2. November 1, 2012 at 1:28 am

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

January 2011


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