Our plan today was to visit two galleries – one renowned and the other spectacular (but away from the main bunch of the top Canberra attractions).
Our first stop of the day was a visit to the renowned Australian National Gallery which houses a large collection of eclectic artworks by both by Australian and International Artists.
The move to develop a gallery for the nation began many years ago when the prominent Australian artist Tom Roberts lobbied various Australian prime ministers. It took until 1910 for Prime Minister Andrew Fisher to accept the idea. Things don’t move veery fast in government circles and it wasn’t until 1965 that the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board was finally able to persuade Prime Minister Robert Menzies to take the steps necessary to establish the gallery. On 1 November 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt formally announced that the Government would construct the building. The gallery now houses world-class exhibitions.
There are works by famous Australian artists including Tom Robert, Arthur Streeton, Sydney Nolan and Russell Drysdale. It has one of Monet’s famous haystacks and another large painting in his water lily series. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection comprises over 7500 works and is the largest globally.
I was eager to see Jackson Pollocks painting, ‘Blue Poles’. There was outcry and ridicule when the gallery first bought this painting in 1973 for $1.3 million – the most ever paid for an American painting at the time. It is now recognised as an abstract expressionist masterpiece and is now worth in excess of $350 million.
I have to say that some of the works in the gallery leave me wondering. I can see the beauty in a painting, the expression in most abstract pieces of art and the cultural significance of Aboriginal art (for example). But for the life of me, I can’t see what artistic merit there is in a white ladder leaning against a wall! I suppose that the art aficionados have some deep and meaningful reason for it, but I cannot see any artistic merit in works like this. They do nothing for me.
The main purpose of our visit to the gallery was to see a special exhibition of Jeffrey Smart’s work. The year 2021 marks one hundred years since his birth and this major exhibition celebrates and commemorates this significant centenary.
Jeffrey Smart is one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. He was inspired by the world around him – looking to the environment of urban and industrial scenes. He painted with a strong sense of composition and incorporated significant structure and geometry into his work.
He was born and educated in Adelaide where he worked as an Art teacher. After departing for Europe in 1948 he moved to Paris to study. He returned to Australia in 1951, living in Sydney, and was exhibiting frequently by 1957. In 1963, he moved to Italy. After a successful exhibition in London, he bought a rural property in Tuscany and lived there with his partner until his death 2013.
We enjoyed a cafe lunch at the outdoor cafe by the gallery entrance. It was a lovely day we sat there for quite a while enjoying the day and doing a spot of people watching.
In the afternoon, we drove to Bungendore across the border into New South Wales. This is a small town that, like Yarram in Victoria, has renewed itself as an artistic and craft town. It picks up some traffic from being on the main road to the coast from Canberra. It has a name that could easily be associated with Harry Potter (Dumbledore) but it got its name when a Captain Richard Brooks established a stock station in the district in 1824 and named one of his outstations “Bungadow”. When the village began around 1835 it was called Bungendore and the was proclaimed a town in 1837.
Every time that we visit Canberra, we pop over to Bungendore to see our second gallery of the day – the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery. It specialises in exhibiting and promoting Australian made wood art, sculpture, craft and contemporary furniture of a very high standard from the country’s foremost designer/makers in wood. We always find many pieces that we would love to own but most of them are well outside our budget. However, different from usual, we did find a hall table that would suit the entrance hallway in our house so we bought it as a special gift to each other, considering the we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary later this year.
On the corner opposite the gallery, in the former Bungendore store (1918), is the Bungendore Village Leather store. It is claimed that it has a “range of leather craft products on sale which is not equalled anywhere in Australia.” Within this broad range of products, Jill managed to find a new leather handbag. I guess that a woman can never have too many of these important fashion accessories.
On the way back to Canberra, we made a detour to see Lake George. This lake is believed to be more than a million years old. Originally, small streams drained its catchment into the Yass River, but then the Lake George Escarpment rose due to major movement along a strong fault line, blocking this drainage and forming the lake. The lake is mostly dry and local farmers use the lake bed as grazing land. We cannot remember when we last saw it with any water in it. However, after very heavy recent rains, it is now nearly full. It is 25 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide and extremely shallow.