European Masterpieces: Six Centuries of Paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

European Masterpieces: Six Centuries of Paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

March 18, 2001 to May 27, 2001

The National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne, Australia, founded in 1861, is the oldest art museum in Australia and holds the finest collection of European old and modern master paintings in the southern hemisphere. The exhibition European Masterpieces: Six Centuries of Paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, represented the first opportunity for American audiences to experience this important collection, which had never been seen outside of Australia, at first hand. The 88 paintings in the exhibition included masterpieces by El Greco, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Monet, Picasso, and Hockney. Although a number of its most outstanding works are well known, the collection’s range and depth are less familiar to international audiences. The opportunity to lend this collection was made possible by the current redevelopment and extension of the Gallery’s building.

The earliest works in the exhibition dated from the 14th and 15th centuries. These included the powerful Man of Sorrows in the Arms of the Virgin by the Flemish master Hans Memling and the graceful Florentine Profile Portrait of a Lady. Highlights of the small, yet highly select group of paintings from the 16th century were the Doge Pietro Loredano by Tintoretto (the only other version of the Kimbell’s painting of the same subject), and Portrait of a Cardinal by El Greco.

The Baroque section included nearly 20 works and featured a highly impressive group of Dutch masters, culminating with the Portrait of a White-Haired Man, a moving late painting by Rembrandt. The monumental portrait of Rachel de Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton, by the brilliant Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, was painted after the subject’s death and includes symbols representing her triumph over death and fortune.

The National Gallery of Victoria is particularly noted for its outstanding collection of 18th-century pictures, represented here by more than 20 works, and especially so for its great English portraits. Among the highlights from this period are bravura works of elegance and brilliant paint handling by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, as well as a luminous Venetian cityscape by Canaletto.

The 19th-century collection features major examples by the leading figures of English painting, including the great landscapists John Constable and J. M. W. Turner, and the Pre-Raphaelites John Millais and Edward Burne-Jones. The significant group of paintings by the French Impressionists and their contemporaries includes works by Camille Pissarro, Edouard Manet, Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet, and Paul Cézanne.

The collection also boasts a richly varied group of 20th-century paintings by Pierre Bonnard, Amedeo Modigliani, Robert Delaunay, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Francis Bacon, and David Hockney.

The exhibition was on view from October 29, 2000, through January 14, 2001, at the Cincinnati Art Museum before traveling to Fort Worth, where it was on view from March 18 through May 27. The American tour later included the Denver Art Museum and the Portland Art Museum, Oregon.

Caption: John William Waterhouse, Ulysses and the Sirens (detail), 1891, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. Purchased 1891 (p.393.3–1)