Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney

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The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), located in The Domain in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, was established in 1897 and is the most important public gallery in Sydney and the fourth largest in Australia. Admission is free to the general exhibition space, which features Australian (from settlement to contemporary), European and Asian art.


On 24 April 1871, a public meeting was convened to establish an Academy of Art 'for the purpose of promoting the fine arts through lectures, art classes and regular exhibitions.' From 1872 until 1879 the Academy's main activity was the organisation of annual art exhibitions. On the 11 November 1880, at its 9th Annual Meeting, the Academy dissolved itself, stating that its aims had been realised in the foundation of a public Gallery. The Gallery at this time was known simply as The Art Gallery of New South Wales. In 1883 its name was changed to The National Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Gallery was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1899. The Library and Art Gallery Act 1899 provided for the general control and management of the Gallery.

The first two picture galleries were opened in 1897 and a further two in 1899. A watercolour gallery was added in 1901 and in 1902 the Grand Oval Lobby was completed. Outside the building, the names of old grand masters are emblazoned upon the front façade. In the panels beneath, bronze relief sculptures symbolise the contribution to art by four civilisations - Roman, Greek, Assyrian and Egyptian. On the main façade two remain empty, on the others all are empty.

In 1968, the New South Wales Government decided that the gallery would be extended and form a major part of the Captain Cook Bicentenary celebrations. As a result, the "Captain Cook wing" was built and opened to public in November 1970. New gallery space was provided in five storeys behind the original classical façade, increasing the racking space to 1.25 linear kilometres, with a new café, a sculpture courtyard and administrative offices. Grey-toned rough concrete was used to blend the new construction with the sandstone of the old building. The extensions were designed by Andrew Andersons of PTW Architects.<ref name="building"/>

More recently, as part of the "Open Museum" project, sculptures have been positioned along the entry road. On 23 October 2003 a new Asian Arts wing was opened. It was designed by Sydney architect Richard Johnson and included alterations to the original Asian gallery, a new temporary exhibition space above the Art Gallery’s entrance foyer, new conservation studios, a café, a restaurant and dedicated function area. In 2003 the gallery also extended its opening hours until 9pm on Wednesday nights.

Chief executive officers

  • 1892 - 1894 Eliezer Montefiore (Director)
  • 1895 - 1905 George Layton (Secretary and Superintendent)
  • 1905 - 1929 Gother Mann CBE (Secretary and Superintendent 1905-1912; Director and Secretary 1912-1929)
  • 1929 - 1937 James MacDonald (Director and Secretary)
  • 1937 - 1945 Sir John Ashton OBE ROI (Director and Secretary)
  • 1945 - 1971 Hal Missingham AO (Director and Secretary)
  • 1971 - 1978 Peter Laverty (Director)
  • 1978 - 2011 Edmund Capon AO OBE (Director)


Established in 1871, the Academy of Arts early on bought some large works from Europe such as Ford Madox Brown's Chaucer at the Court of Edward III. Later they bought work from Australian artists such as Streeton's 1891 Fire's On, Roberts' 1894 The Golden Fleece and McCubbin's 1896 On the Wallaby Track.

The gallery holds works by many Australian artists, including 19th-century Australian artists such as John Glover, Arthur Streeton, Eugene von Guerard, John Russell, Tom Roberts, David Davies, Charles Conder, W. C. Piguenit, E. Phillips Fox, Frederick McCubbin, Sydney Long and George W. Lambert.

20th-century Australian artists represented include Hugh Ramsay, Rupert Bunny, Grace Cossington Smith, Roland Wakelin, Margaret Preston, William Dobell, Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, James Gleeson, Arthur Boyd, Lloyd Rees, John Olsen, Fred Williams, Brett Whiteley and Imants Tillers.

44 works held at the gallery were included in the 1973 edition of 100 masterpieces of Australian painting.

The gallery has an extensive collection of British Victorian art, such as Lord Frederic Leighton and Sir Edward John Poynter; smaller holdings of Dutch, French and Italian painters of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, such as Peter Paul Rubens, Canaletto, Agnolo Bronzino, Domenico Beccafumi and Niccolò dell'Abbate; collections of European modernists such as Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Alberto Giacometti and Giorgio Morandi as well as modern British masters.

Temporary exhibitions

The gallery hosts the long running Archibald Prize, the most prominent Australian art prize, along with the Sulman Prize}Sulman, Wynne and Dobell art prizes, among others. It also exhibits Artexpress, a yearly showcase of Higher School Certificate Visual Arts Examination artworks from across New South Wales.

Popular culture

At the start of the movie, Sirens, Hugh Grant walks past paintings in the Art Gallery of NSW, including Spring Frost by Elioth Gruner, The Golden Fleece (1894) by Tom Roberts, Still Glides the Stream and Shall Forever Glide (1890) by Arthur Streeton, Bailed Up (1895) by Tom Roberts, and Chaucer at the Court of Edward III (1847–51) by Ford Madox Brown.

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