CANBERRA.- The National Gallery of Australia
today strongly reaffirmed its commitment to acquiring two iconic paintings by George Stubbs for Australias national art collection. A portrait of the Kongourou from New Holland and a companion painting, A Portrait of a large Dog from New Holland, were painted by Stubbs in 1772 as a commission from naturalist and botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who played a vital role in the colonisation of Australia.
The two Stubbs paintings remain central to the history of both Australian art and our colonisation. These are the first non-Indigenous paintings of Australias iconic kangaroo and dingo, the first oils to be seen by Europeans of this newly discovered land, said Dr Ron Radford AM, Director, National Gallery of Australia.
The Stubbs image of the kangaroo is an Australian icon. It was the basis for the kangaroo on Australias first coat of arms and the source of countless popular engraved images of the kangaroo for over 60 years. Just this year it was used for a limited edition coin by the Royal Australian Mint. The National Gallery of Australia currently has more than 50 engravings related to this painting, and there exist many more. These works belong in Australias national art collection, the countrys largest and most balanced collection of Australian art, said Ron Radford.
It has been widely reported that the National Maritime Museum has commenced fund raising to acquire these works for its collection. The National Gallery of Australia considers that the National Maritime Museum does not have a strong case in support of acquiring the Stubbs paintings for its collection. The Maritime Museum is basing its claim on its position as a centre of excellence for the interpretation of Cooks three great voyages. These works were commissioned privately by Banks. They have remained in the Banks family ever since and have a less prominent place in the Cook story.
The case presented by the National Maritime Museum, that the works belong there because Sir Joseph Banks commissioned the paintings following his voyage with Captain Cook is very tenuous. The claim that the resulting painting of a kangarooan icon of Australias national identityshould be saved from being displayed in the national art collection of the very country from which the animals originate is not a strong argument said Ron Radford.
These paintings were first identified for acquisition by the National Gallery of Australia more than 40 years ago, when the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board (the National Gallery of Australias founding governing body) noted at its February 1972 meeting that the works were desirable for the new National Gallery. In 1978, the works were placed at the top of the Gallerys Acquisition Strategy and the paintings were actively sought for loan in time to be prominently displayed at the 1982 opening of the Gallery by Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. The works were unavailable for the event. However, the Gallery has been actively seeking to acquire these works since this time because they are so vital to our history.
If acquired the Stubbs works will have a prominent place in the National Gallery of Australias displays and will attract Australian and international audiences to the National Gallery of Australia to experience first-hand these remarkable early depictions of two of Australias most iconic native animals.
The National Gallery of Australia has a long-established history as a generous lender and would be willing to consider lending the Stubbs works to any public gallery mounting a significant exhibition in which the works would play a central role.