Full Record

The West Australian Vigilans et Audax Perth, Thursday, June 25, 1908 Our New Gallery
Record no:
25 Junbe 1908
Kept:Press clippings book 2, pp. 59-60




Art galleries are so much a piece of the normal equipment of a modern city
that Perth has been open reproach for the lack of any adequate provision

in this direction. That this has been the public opinion is shown by the
course of events. The derelict foundation-stone, which for so long mocked
Perth from its vantage-ground in Beaufort-street, was evidence that the
public intention was good. Fortunately the authorities have now been able
to find the necessary funds, and the building has been erected. The
improvement to Beaufort-street is undoubted. Indeed, the whole vicinity is
becoming architecturally one of the most striking sections of the city.
The pictures that were previously huddled together at one end of the old
gaol building have now been furnished with something like the space that
is required for effective display. In addition, they have been added to,
their numbers being swelled, and the average merit of the collection
considerably increased by the pictures, of which we publish a detailed
account in this issue. The whole effect is to give Western Australia an
adequate beginning for its Art Gallery. To claim more would he premature,
in view of the extent and excellence of the collections in the eastern
cities of the Commonwealth. The progress made, however, in the building of
the two galleries now devoted to sculpture and to pictures represents the
most obvious advance on one side of the life of Western Australia since
the time when the Public Library was temporarily housed in a portion of
the present Museum buildings. It is now possible to look forward to a
future in which the block of land partially occupied by the Library the
Museum, and the Art Gallery will be more fully built upon and furnish
accommodation for treasures in art and literature fully worthy of the
State of Western Australia.

The establishment of the Art Gallery is in keeping with the modern
tendency to regard the greatest works of human genius as the right of the
many rather than the perquisite of the few. Private collections of art
treasures are still formed from time to time. Indeed, this sort of
accumulating, whether the object be Turners or teacups, is among the
favourite hobbies of the American millionaire, who is able in this respect
to get something for his money. The nobler tendency, however, is for even
such private collections to become public property. In addition, many of
the great art galleries are well endowed, and behind them stands the power
of public subscription, and, indeed, of local taxation, as in the case of
cities like Glasgow and Liverpool. Even in Australia the various State
Governments, as well as many private benefactors, have shown an admirable
spirit in this respect. This has naturally been most notable in the most
populous States. The collection in the National Art Gallery of New South
Wales, for example, is fully worthy of the great city in which it is
placed. It is estimated to he worth £130,000, and comprises over 400 oil
paintings, 250 watercolour drawings, 700 black and white works, and 150
works of statuary, etc. The Melbourne Gallery in some respects is even
more extensive, since it has over 500 oil paintings, and is rapidly
increasing, thanks to the Felton bequest, which yields over £5,000 a year
for fresh purchases. The Adelaide Art Gallery, so admirable in proportion
to its size, had, in 1906, 187 oil paintings, 107 watercolours, and 21
pieces of statuary, in addition to a large number of sketches, etc. The
Western Australian collection has in the past been grouped rather with the
Art Galleries of Queensland and Tasmania. One good reason for this has
been the inadequate resources of the Gallery, which has not received
£1,000 per annum, while the expenditure on such an institution as that of
New South Wales averages £4,000. The Sydney Art Gallery draws about
250,000 visitors per annum. That of Adelaide almost reaches 100,000. Mr.
B. H. Woodward, our own Director of the Museum and Art Gallery, can claim
an attendance of some 53,800 for the closing year. This general Australia
interest in art is shown even more forcibly by the presence in the Eastern
States of a British Art Exhibition, including a loan collection of 26
pictures—some of them being from the famous galleries of Liverpool and
Salford—the oil paintings reaching a total of 230 exclusive of miniatures,
of which there are 40, the watercolours numbering 170, while the etchings
run to about 140. The success which has followed the travels of this art
collection throughout the Eastern States is an indication, if any were
needed, of the degree to which Australia demands art—art sometimes of the
popular order, but often of the best.

There can be no room for doubt that, with the additions to the collection
and the improvement in the new galleries, Western Australia will more
nearly approximate its proper place with reference to art. The idea that
art is the handmaid of luxury dies hard. It is dying, nevertheless.
Historically it has been argued that architecture, sculpture, and even
painting have flourished most in free countries, and that their democracy
rather than their wealth made possible the ascendency of Athens and
Florence and the great Flemish cities. In any case Australia posses both
qualifications in the undoubted spirit of liberty which it nourishes, and
in the high wealth of our population per head. Behind these lies the
standard of education which is probably the real foundation of a
widespread love of art. From the artistic standpoint the popular taste is
not infallible. There is a strong tendency to regard merely the theme. To
the purely religious sentiment a large proportion of the admiration of
Holman Hunt’s  “Light of the World,” or Sir E. J. Poynter's “Visit of the
Queen of Sheba to King Solomon,” or Edwin Long’s “Queen Esther” is due.
Australian patriotism naturally adopts pictures like Mr. G. W. Lambert’s
“Across the Black Soil Plains,” or Tom Robert’s “Golden Fleece.” The
batches of deathbeds and the frequent bushfires, the pictured tales of old
romance, the domestic scenes, and, it may be added, the dubious nudes,
draw thousands who make no claim of interest in art for art’s sake. When a
long price is paid for something that does not “strike the eye,” as in the
case of Melbourne’s latest Corot, there is apt to be an outcry from those
to whom a bent tree is that, and nothing more. But even in such cases,
when does the effect of a picture gallery make for anything but good? It
may well be claimed, indeed, as the highest form of education through the
senses. The nation that presses the best of modern pictures into the
service of general culture is just as much actuated by wisdom as that
which establishes a sound system of State schools. This has still to be
much more generally admitted than at present, but it is well that Western
Australia by this most recent addition to the public buildings of the
State should show the popular appreciation of the power of art for
education as well as for amusement.
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