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What Is the National Gallery of Victoria?

National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s first and oldest public art gallery, was founded in 1861 when Victoria was a British colony that enjoyed self-governance.
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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2014
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The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is an art museum in Melbourne, Australia that includes two buildings: NGV International on St Kilda Road and NGV Australia in Federation Square. NGV Australia houses the gallery’s Australian art collection, with the bulk on display in NGV International. This is Australia’s first and oldest public art gallery, founded in 1861 when Victoria was a British colony that enjoyed self-governance. An art school operated in association with the National Gallery of Victoria from 1867 to 1910, producing important national artists. Victoria refers to the Australian state in which the museum is located.

Most of the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection of more than 70,000 pieces is housed in NGV International. The collection includes everything from ancient Egyptian and Greece and Roman pieces to contemporary European masterworks. Indigenous Pacific art is featured in the Oceanic Gallery, while Asian and Mesoamerican art each have dedicated spaces. Visitors can explore sculpture, paintings, and photography as well as textiles, ceramics, and glass. Multimedia, works on paper, and furniture are also part of the collection at the National Gallery of Victoria.

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NGV Australia features Australian art on display in approximately 20 rooms. This part of the National Gallery of Victoria opened in 2002, and its collection of more than 20,000 objects is the most extensive in the country. Due to space constraints, only about 800 pieces can ever be on public display. One of NGV Australia’s most renowned pieces is a triptych painting called “The Pioneer” painted by Frederick McCubbin in 1904. Aboriginal works are featured alongside those of other Australian artists like Tom Roberts and Sidney Nolan, giving the visitor an overview of the continent’s varied artistic output.

Some of the international collection highlights include a bronze cast of Balzac by Auguste Rodin, photography by Man Ray, and portraiture by El Greco. There are also works by J.M.W. Turner, Francis Bacon, and Edouard Manet. Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting “Weeping Woman” was stolen from the National Gallery of Victoria in 1986 by a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists. They demanded increased public funding for the arts, but within two weeks the painting was left in a railway station locker, where it was recovered undamaged.

The NGV International building itself is a masterpiece of architecture designed by Sir Roy Grounds. It first opened in 1968 and later underwent a four-year renovation under the guidance of Mario Bellini that finished in 2003. Some of the building’s distinctive features include the Great Hall’s stained glass ceiling by Leonard French, a waterfall window, and a large entryway arch.

In addition to the permanent collection, the NGV features special exhibitions throughout the year. A recent exhibition highlighted desert art. Other past exhibitions include a retrospective of Gustave Moreau’s work; art by Klimt, Schiele, and others produced in 1900 Vienna; and British watercolors.

Like many public art galleries, the National Gallery of Victoria is committed to educating the public about art and to providing space for budding artists to hone their craft. Gallery space is reserved for young children and families to make art together either on their own or during workshops. Off-site outreach programs ensure that people living in remote areas can still access and enjoy the collection. The gallery’s research library is accessible by appointment.

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