$1.4 million Whistler acquisition for National Gallery

Gina Fairley

NGA has announced new acquisitions from Whistler to Nolan, Hockney to early Papunya boards – some 79 works join the national collection.
$1.4 million Whistler acquisition for National Gallery

Installation view, Rosalie Gascoigne Letting go 1991, assemblage of torn linoleum pieces on weathered wood panels, Gift of Hester Gascoigne in honour of her mother Rosalie Gascoigne, 2015, © The estate of Rosalie Gascoigne. Licensed by Viscopy, 2017

This week the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) announced the acquisition of a painting from American-born artist James A. Whistler valued at $1.4 million.

The purchase of Harmony in blue and pearl: The Sands, Dieppe 1885 has been described by the gallery as a ‘coup’. It was made possible through the support of a handful of generous private donors from Australia and the US, including Allan and Maria Myers, Andrew and Tracey Sisson, the Dr Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation and the Neilson Foundation.


Harmony in blue and pearl: The Sands, Dieppe is a seascape that belongs to a group of works described as ‘superficially, the size of your hand, but artistically, as large as a continent,’ by Whistler aficionado Charles Lang Freer.

NGA Director Gerard Vaughan said of the acquisition: ‘Notwithstanding the fact that Whistler was American, we intend to display this marvel of rapid brushwork in the room with our Australian Impressionist collection, featuring masterworks by Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin.’

Whistler’s approach to depicting landscape through flat planes of colour painted on 9” x 5” cigar box lids sparked the imagination of Australian artist Tom Roberts through his encounter with Whistler’s London exhibition in 1884, which directly influenced Australia’s first avant-garde exhibition, the ‘9 by 5 Impressions’ show in Melbourne in 1889.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Harmony in blue and pearl: The Sands, Dieppe c 1885, oil on panel, Purchased 2017

The Art of Giving

The work by Whistler was not alone in making its way to Canberra and the nation’s collection.

The Gallery also used the opportunity to announce another recent acquisition - purchased with the assistance from Allan and Maria Myers, Paula Fox, John and Rosanna Hindmarsh and Maurice Cashmere and Claire Parkhurst: Arthur Streeton’s The Point Wharf, Mosman Bay 1893.

NGA also announced it had secured the long-term loan of Frederick McCubbin’s large, early masterpiece, Bush Idyll 1893, describing the painting as ‘a milestone in the history of Australian art’.

The same private collector has also loaned a key work from Sidney Nolan’s 1962 series on Burke and Wills.

Given the occasion of unveiling such a significant run of acquisitions, the NGA has created a trail through the building to celebrate these donations. Referred to as ‘The Art of Giving”, it includes – on top of the mentioned works:

  • Five works from Sidney Nolan’s 1964 Antarctica pictures, also recently purchased by the NGA Foundation.
  • Paul Sérusier’s transformative masterpiece, Woman from Savoy (La Savoyarde) 1890, recently added to the national collection and installed with two important works by Sérusier and Emile Bernard kindly loaned from the Kerry Stokes Collection
  • New David Hockney works made on an iPad, The arrival of spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 31 May, No.2 2011, and Yosemite II, October 5th 2011 2011, acquired through the Orde Poynton Bequest.
  • Gordon and Marilyn Darling’s transformative gift to the nation of 57 Albert Namatjira watercolours
  • Five early Papunya boards (1972-3) acquired from the Allan Scott Collection with the help of generous Australian and US donors led by Tony and Carol Berg
  • Five new contemporary Australian works were commissioned including Tasmanian painter Philip Wolfhagen’s painting A litany of vapours 2007, a monumental seven-panel work purchased with the proceeds of the NGA Foundation Gala Dinner Fund 2017; and works by Brian Blanchflower; Ildiko Kovacs and Akio Makigawa both gifted through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program; and a stunning group of torn linoleum pieces, Letting go (1991) by Rosalie Gascoigne, gifted by Hester Gascoigne in honour of her mother. While the Gascoigne gift was made a while ago this is the first time it has been exhibited.
  • Two new sculptures were added to the collection from the current Hyper Real exhibition - Sam Jinks’ emotive commission, The deposition (2017) and Ronnie van Hout’s Sitting figure I (2016)

Sam Jinks, The deposition 2017, silicone, pigment, resin, fabric, human hair, Purchased 2017; supplied

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.