The pride and joy of metropolitan Melbourne, the National Gallery of Victoria International began in 1861 and now holds over 75,000 works of art, design, and architecture in its permanent collection. This magnificent collection reflects the history and development of Indigenous, Australian, and international art and design. As Australia’s oldest and most visited gallery, this impressive collection reflects the cultural, artistic, and geographic diversity of Victoria, connecting people with art in meaningful and significant ways.
The National Gallery is a great favourite of mine and I have lost count of how many times I have visited the gallery, wandered its exhibition spaces, and marvelled over its wonderful art. With three levels of art and design to explore, the National Gallery has something for everyone. The gallery is filled with works from well-known artists and covers a range of time periods and cultures, including British and European art from the 13th to the 20th century, ancient artefacts from Egypt and the Near East from 3500 BCE, and Indian and South Asian art and objects. Amongst this impressive collection, a few favourites stand out, and I have repeatedly sought these artworks out every time I have visited the gallery. With a particular partiality for portraiture, I would highly recommend visiting the portrait of Susanna Gale, who was born in Jamaica and was the heiress to a considerable fortune, by Joshua Reynolds which was painted between 1763-64. The lightness of Susanna’s dress and delicately painted skin provides a soft contrast to the muted tones of the background scenery, presenting a visually stunning artwork. I have always found the particular appeal of portraiture to be its ability to reflect the personal lives and narratives of historical actors, providing a picture with a story that always reveals how different life is today. What was Susanna’s life like? How did she feel as a fourteen-year-old girl posing for this painting? While much can be gained from the paintings themselves, the National Gallery also provides accompanying details about the art and objects displayed, and even the staff on occasion may provide more detail, revealing the secrets of the gallery’s artwork that I might not have known otherwise.
Currently, the National Gallery includes the Triennial, which merges contemporary art and design with many of its older artworks. The Triennial is thought-provoking and evocative, at times creating feelings of wonder and excitement, while at others evoking thought and reflection. The Triennial is an interesting addition and well worth checking out, providing a new take on age-old questions regarding the impact and legacies of art. Note the large screen upon entry with a shifting piece of art that pushes the perception of physical dimension as the art seems to leap off the screen!
Despite the large numbers who visit the gallery, wait times to enter are short, particularly if you pre-order your tickets online at their website beforehand. COVID safe regulations are enforced, so bring your face mask! The exhibition spaces are quiet and generally not crowded as I find people tend to move quickly through the exhibitions. The gallery is easy to navigate with helpful staff to guide you. Admission to the National Gallery and the Triennial is free, although special exhibitions do required payment. The National Gallery is open from 10am to 5pm, however, I would recommend attending in the morning if you wish to escape the larger crowds. The National Gallery is accessible by both car and public transport, with tram stops located directly outside the Gallery and Flinders Street station just a short five minute walk away.
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Elizabeth Offer is a PhD student studying history in Melbourne, Victoria, and is an art lover, amateur artist, and museum enthusiast. When she is not reading or baking, she can usually be found annoying her dog, Otis. Connect with Elizabeth on twitter!