The First Exhibition of the Art Society of New South Wales held at the Garden Palace… Catalogue. ART SOCIETY OF NEW SOUTH WALES.
The First Exhibition of the Art Society of New South Wales held at the Garden Palace… Catalogue

The First Exhibition of the Art Society of New South Wales…
The First Exhibition of the Art Society of New South Wales held at the Garden Palace… Catalogue

Sydney: Turner & Henderson, 1880.

Duodecimo, pp. 22, [ii]; original wrappers, preserved in a folding cloth box.

The inaugural exhibition catalogue

The rare catalogue of the Society's inaugural exhibition held at the Garden Palace which had been purpose-built for the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879. An impressive two hundred and twenty oils, watercolours and drawings were hung: Mrs. Alfred Williams' painting Ophelia, the most expensive at £75, was highly praised by the Bulletin art critic at the time. Her identification as Mrs. Florence E. Williams gives more understanding of the high price as she had exhibited under that version of her name at the Royal Academy since her teens before coming to Australia.

The rare catalogue of the Society's inaugural exhibition held at the Garden Palace which had been purpose-built for the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879. An impressive two hundred and twenty oils, watercolours and drawings were hung: Mrs. Alfred Williams' painting Ophelia, the most expensive at £75, was highly praised by the Bulletin art critic at the time. Her identification as Mrs. Florence E. Williams gives more understanding of the high price as she had exhibited under that version of her name at the Royal Academy since her teens before coming to Australia.

Her inclusion was significant for, as Joan Kerr has noted, "Florence's paintings seem unique for Australia at the time when domestic genre paintings are almost unknown." Florence was a founding member of the Art Society and had been a friend and pupil of (and much influenced by) Millais. As one of the very few figure paintings in the exhibition Ophelia gained most attention, but she also had four other oils in the exhibition. An earlier painting (not in this exhibition) of a crimson Rosella set against lush vegetation and Mount Wellington was sold for a record $90,000 in 2015.

As well, the catalogue notes W. C. Piguenit's Sydney Harbour from North Shore priced at £52.10.0 (in modern times it reached $198,000 at Melbourne auction). The catalogue also records works by Collingridge, Halstead and Short, as well as seven New Zealand watercolours by J C Hoyte (the President of the Society). The list of "Working Members" names 80 artists and the Honorary and subscribing Members 47, notably Sir Henry Parkes.

From 1871 the New South Wales Academy of Art had held annual exhibitions and had urged the establishment of a Public Art Gallery. This had as much to do with inter colonial rivalry - Melbourne had opened its Gallery in 1861 - as it did about fine art. Once a permanent home for the collection had been found the New South Wales Academy of Art dissolved in 1880 and it was acknowledged that an 'artists' society' was needed: a society of professional artists rather than the more inclusive Academy. Artists, led by Arthur and George Collingridge, sought to establish an Australian school of painting and the first exhibition of The Art Society of New South Wales was held in December 1880 following its formation in July of that year.

This catalogue notes that the Society was established for the 'promotion and preservation of the Fine Arts in Sydney" and to "enable professional artists to exhibit their works advantageously." Further aims of the Society were lectures on art, and a sketching club. The Life Class, already established will 'give rise to a greater variety in the works…."

This catalogue is a rare surviving record of the Art Society's first exhibition and succinctly captures the impressive depth of Australian Art in the late nineteenth century.

Provenance: John Chapman collection.

Price (AUD): $4,750.00  other currencies     Ref: #4504264

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