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What Is the Queensland Art Gallery?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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The Queensland Art Gallery is an art museum in the eastern Australian state of Queensland that distinguishes itself with an expansive collection of early Australian paintings. Artwork in the collection traces the settlement of what is now Queensland from the first English landings to modern times. In 2006, the gallery expanded to also include a modern art collection, known as the Gallery of Modern Art. The museum is officially titled the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art as a consequence.

Some of the first European settlers to occupy Australia came from Great Britain. Most arrived as ousted criminals. Over time, the land became a more attractive place for English families to settle. An original goal of the Queensland Art Gallery was to collect the art both imported and created by these early British settlers.

The museum was originally called the Queensland National Art Gallery, in part to reflect its nationalistic approach to exhibits. As time passed, however, the museum began to focus more intentionally on art related to the local environment. This transition owed in large part to the development of more nationally-centered museums and galleries in Sydney, Australia's largest city, which sits in the state of New South Wales. Queenslanders looking to distinguish their art from that of the Sydney galleries began focusing on the creation and development of their own state-specific art scene.

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Permanent collections of the Queensland Art Gallery depict a subtle progression from artwork essentially mimicking Victorian English styles to new pieces incorporating local landscapes, societies, and traditions. This makes the museum a popular destination for art scholars who are visiting Australia, as well as local academics looking to trace how artistic developments were impacted and influenced by settlement and burgeoning national identity. The gallery’s expansive archives of paintings, sketches, and sculpture distinguish it among Australian museums as one of the most dedicated to the preservation of both art and art history.

As impressive as the museum’s collections are, up until the early 1980s they had no permanent home. For a little over a century, the museum existed in a series of rented spaces and temporary galleries. A specially designed museum on Brisbane’s south river bank opened in 1982. Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland.

The gallery’s board decided in the late 1990s to expand the museum to include a collection of modern art as well, with a particular emphasis on the art of Australian Aboriginal artists. Most of the work owned by the Queensland Art Gallery is composed by artists of Anglo-Saxon origin. While these works documented the influx of European settlers, some thought it left out an important aspect of truly Australian art. Armed with an interest in conveying a more three-dimensional representation of the national art scene, the complementary Gallery of Modern Art opened in 2006.

Each gallery occupies its own building, but the two operate as a single entity. Both feature a range of traveling and temporary exhibitions that provide a rounded view of local Australian art through the ages. In addition, these museums and kids go particularly well together, as each space hosts different rotating exhibits geared specifically for young people. School groups are often invited for tailor-made tours, and educational resources are available to all visitors upon request.

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