Bendigo is a small-ish city north west of Melbourne, grown fat on the profits of the gold rush and filled with the hallmarks of late Victoria civic prosperity – a large municipal park, grand theatre and town hall, fine buildings as if constructed from a pattern book and an Art Gallery which is bringing visitors to the city through a programme of adventurous international exhibitions, including from the National Portrait Gallery, Cecil Beaton and Grace Kelly. It was their idea to do an exhibition from the Royal Academy and very good it is, too (at least I think so), showing off the full range of the collection beginning with John Singleton Copley ‘ The Tribute Money’ (1782) and Joshua Reynolds’ s ceiling painting for the library at Somerset House. Of course, I know intellectually that the RA has a fine collection, but, because we never see it hung together, it is hard to appreciate its full range and the way that it is possible to tell the history of British art from it. I only hope that we can achieve half the effect of narrative coherence when we install the new upstairs gallery in Burlington Gardens in 2017.
It’s also a great pleasure being able to see the extent to which the RA influenced Australian painting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when Tom Roberts trained at the RA Schools and Arthur Street on was painting the English countryside.
Selected works from Genius and Ambition: