A 17th century Dutch Golden Age portrait, until recently thought to have been a 19th century copy, is unveiled in an opening exhibition at Sydney’s newest museum.
Coastline, one of 18 free exhibitions at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, takes viewers on an art history tour of seashores and beaches in Australia and overseas.
Some eighty artworks, all drawn from the University’s Art Collection, includes a salon hang of magnificent paintings by Conrad Martens, Arthur Streeton, Clarice Beckett, Grace Cossington Smith, Ethel Carrick Fox, Emanuel Phillips Fox, Lloyd Rees, J. W. Power, Jeffrey Smart and Daniel Boyd. These span five continents, several generations and major art movements including colonial and regional landscapes, Impressionism and Cubism, plus several contemporary works.
These works reflect very different perceptions of the symbolic and cultural role of the coastline. Its changing appearance and meaning – whether as part of a journey; a site of arrival, departure and contact; a place of contemplation or pleasure or a highly charged space of conflict and loss.
“There are many ways to engage with this exhibition,” said Dr Ann Stephen, senior curator at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. “The visitor can find historic views of popular Sydney surf beaches, such as Bondi, Coogee and Manly, and Harbour walks around Rose Bay, Darling Point, Mosman and Cremorne as well as regional locations such as Nambucca Heads, Thirroul and Gerringong.”
Beyond these familiar shores, works by Australian painters living in Europe from the 1890s into the early 20th century include impressions of popular Italian and French resorts, from Venice to the Riviera. Artists such as Arthur Streeton, Rupert Bunny, Ethel Carrick Fox and Emanuel Phillips Fox were among the expatriate Australian artists who made the grand tour to paint these major sites of leisure on the continent.
The works in Coastline map changing ways of seeing the shoreline across five centuries, with a particular focus on modernism.
“The works in Coastline also map changing ways of seeing the shoreline across five centuries, with a particular focus on modernism,” said Dr Stephen.
She notes, for example, the prominence of Australian women artists around the time of the First World War, as women assumed greater independence and visibility in society. And in recent times the significant transformation of the subject by Indigenous artists.
For instance, Daniel Boyd’s Untitled (2012) takes one of the ‘stick maps’ made by the seafaring people of the Marshall Islands for navigation, and transforms its grid into a dark, glistening abstraction.
A contemporary work by Aotearoa New Zealand artist Fiona Pardington, offers another reclamation. “Life casts of the people of Oceania made in the 19th century, originally served a deeply racist classification,” said assistant curator Katrina Liberiou. “Pardington’s photographs from the series Ahua: A beautiful hesitation (2010) reappropriate and re-present them. The complete series of photographs, from which these were selected, include one of her Māori ancestor.”
Many of the works in Coastline have never been on public view. The 17th century Dutch portrait of a sea captain has not been seen for many decades. Newly conserved, he stands resplendent in painted stockings and silver lace beside a 1650 globe of Mar del Zvr (Sea of the South), the earliest Dutch sea chart of the Southern Ocean. Recent paint analysis has confirmed that the portrait is original, however the mystery of the portrait’s subject and the artist remains to be solved.
“We believe that students from many different disciplines, particularly in history, geography, art, art history and environmental studies, will find much to research in this exhibition,” Dr Stephen said.
Coastline is also a testament to the generous donations of outstanding paintings to the University including works from the bequests of Neville Grace, Roddy Meagher, Edith Power and Alan Renshaw. There are twenty-two works on exhibition from the Neville Grace bequest, alone. Remarkably the concept and plans for the exhibition were already in progress when the artworks, which meshed with the themes of the exhibition, were bequeathed.
What: The Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney
Where: University Place, University of Sydney, Camperdown, Sydney
Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm; Thursday nights until 9pm; Sat-Sun, 12-4pm.
Cost: Free, but bookings essential while Covid-19 restrictions are in place
Phone: +61 2 9351 2812