June 2020
Welcome to the latest issue of e-news from The University of Melbourne Museums and Collections. This electronic newsletter is circulated each month and provides information on current exhibitions, events and news items from the University’s museums and collections. For details of the individual collections explore the Museums and Collections website.


Cultural Commons at the University of Melbourne  

Stay connected, inspired and engaged with the University of Melbourne’s arts and culture through virtual tours, online collections, videos, catalogues, podcasts and more. At the heart of our community, culture brings us together.

The University of Melbourne’s cultural commons provides access to a unique group of museums, galleries, theatres, collections, and knowledge. It represents what we value, hold, discover and create and what collectively helps us to understand what it means to be human.

The University of Melbourne acknowledge and pay respects to the Boonwurrung, Wurundjeri, Dja Dja Wurrung peoples and the Yorta Yorta nation, the traditional owners of the lands on which our venues and campuses are situated.

Image: Installation view of Ancestral Memory, Old Quad, University of Melbourne, 6 May - 11 October 2019. Artist Maree Clarke. Photograph Christian Capurro

Recent University Art Collection acquisitions go virtual

Many galleries are launching online exhibitions during lockdown, but they are primarily using real-life exhibitions that are already installed and not able to be accessed by audiences at this time. By contrast, given that the Potter Museum of Art is currently closed for redevelopment, the exhibition Paying it Forward: Recent Acquisitions to the University Art Collection only exists in a virtual space.

Since the presentation in 1881 by a group of subscribers of the University’s first art work – a portrait of the University’s inaugural Chancellor, The Hon Sir Redmond Barry KCMG by G F Folingsby – the University Art Collection has benefited from the generosity of almost 140 years of giving.

Over the decades, the goodwill of donors has transformed the collection into an extraordinarily rich and varied resource of over 17,000 objects. The first major donation, in 1938, was of a significant group of works by Dr Samuel Arthur Ewing. Since then, the collection has welcomed various other major donations including the ethnographic collection of Dr Leonhard Adam (1960), the Grimwade Collection (1973), and the acquisition of the Michael Buxton Collection in more recent years.

Uniquely tied to the University’s endeavours via personal and practical connections, the collection has been developed through a combination of bequests, portrait commissions, artist-in-residence programs, teaching activities and field research, and now extends beyond this important foundation to reflect both the broader community and the role of the University as a place of learning central to Melbourne’s cultural life.

Focusing on the work of contemporary artists, Paying it Forward showcases various acquisitions made between 2015 and 2019. During this current time of isolation and restricted face-to-face engagement, we hope it helps remind us of the generosity of our community and of the vitally important contribution of artists, who, through their work, encourage us to reflect on our history, contemplate our present, and imagine new futures and collective ways of being.

Image:  Playing it Forward virtual tour screen still

Travels with a land seer

Great cities, architecture and natural wonders feel all that more alluring as we indulge in escapism from our various states of pandemic lockdown. Hence the Travel guide to COVID-19 pocket exhibition, a PowerPoint presentation of works from the Baillieu Library Print Collection, has been inspired by some fabulous travel destinations and put together for isolation enjoyment. Roaming through pictures allows freedom of travel across both time and continents.

The pocket exhibition travel destination led to a talented etcher, who despite the quality and vision of his prints, is not well known. Frederick Landseer Maur Griggs (1876-1938) went forth into his printmaking career by working on the illustrations for 13 volumes of Highways and Byways, a series of English regional guides. Capturing the beauty of the English countryside and encountering romantic castles and abbeys saw his art blend the real and the imaginary.

St Boltoph’s Bridge was the last of the 57 etchings he made, and it depicts a Medieval styled scene, with two figures before a pilgrim’s chapel, all drawn from his imagination. The bridge is a fantasy, but Griggs has named it after a real saint associated with East Anglia. Combining architecture, landscape and spirituality became a hallmark of his practice.

Griggs is also an artist associated with the etching revival, a phase reinvigorating the etching medium as an original art form. He printed his work on the Dover’s House Press which he set up in his own Cotswold home. He is considered an artist of the Romantic and Gothic aesthetic. A conservationist for buildings and towns, he is also a campaigner for all the dreamers.

Image: Frederick Landseer Maur Griggs, St Boltoph's Bridge, 1917. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne  

The Riddle Master: Rupert Bunny’s ‘Oedipus and the Sphinx’

Esteemed art historian and engaging storyteller Associate Professor Alison Inglis helms the Potter Museum of Art’s latest Up from the Vaults video presentation, where she explores an early twentieth-century oil painting by Australian artist Rupert Bunny titled Oedipus and the Sphinx.

Depicting the ancient Greek tale of Oedipus answering the riddle of the Theban Sphinx, Bunny’s distinctive interpretation is investigated throughout this half-hour long presentation, as Alison draws on her expansive art historical knowledge. Taking a deep-dive into the work of this critically acclaimed expatriate Australian artist, Alison shares comparisons with other historical art examples ranging from ancient Greek vases and neo-classical paintings to fin de siècle illustration and twenty-first-century art installations.

The University of Melbourne is fortunate to own both the major oil painting of Oedipus and the Sphinx (purchased in 1960) as well as the study for the work, which was gifted by the artist’s estate in 1948 along with other material from Bunny’s studio. The oil sketch and finished work shed light on Bunny’s developing ideas about his composition, and his shift from the confrontation between man and monster to the moment of victory for Oedipus, the riddle master.

Finally, the historical context in which the painting was created – in Paris, at a time when Bunny’s style and subject matter were dramatically transformed by the influence of the avant-garde Ballets Russes – is also explored. Bunny’s Oedipus and the Sphinx is revealed as a modernist reimagining of an ancient myth that overturned the traditional iconography of this subject.

Image: Rupert Bunny, Oedipus and the Sphinx, n.d. University of Melbourne Art Collection. Purchased 1960

Duchess of Northumberland’s Sadeler print albums now available online

Nine aristocratic print albums, some too fragile to handle, are now available to view online. The albums, from the Baillieu Library Print Collection, contain the engravings of the Flemish dynasty of printmakers, the Sadelers and convey an array of themes and imagery from the Renaissance. The volumes are also a window onto the tastes and collecting methods of two 18th century aristocrats. They were formerly owned by Elizabeth Seymour Percy (1716-1776), the first duchess of Northumberland.

Seven of the albums have been identified by their bindings, known as ‘Harleian’, as coming from the library of Robert Harley, first earl of Oxford (1661-1724). These volumes were purchased at auction by Elizabeth Seymour Percy in 1745 and added to her extensive private collection then held in Northumberland House, London. The prints in these albums have been window mounted between two sheets. Two of the albums bound in blue paste boards, containing engravings after Maarten de Vos, were arranged by Elizabeth Seymour Percy using her own method of affixing prints to a sheet with margin tabs.

The albums were relocated to Syon House after the demolition of Northumberland House in 1874 and later sold. They were purchased for the University Library in 1962 from the London print dealer, Colnaghi’s, by the Society of Collectors of Victoria, on the recommendation of Professor Joseph Burke of the University of Melbourne’s Fine Arts Department. They continue to be enjoyed and researched by students and so far, have been the subject of two PhD theses.

Image: Richard Houston after Joshua Reynolds, Elizabeth Countess of Northumberland, 1759. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne Collections online

Looking for something extra to read while social distancing at home? There are 24 back issues of the University of Melbourne Collections magazine available online for you to explore. Covering all of the Universitys cultural collections, the magazines includes a range of fascinating articles written by curators, academics, students and Museums and Collection Project Program volunteers.


History Project intern joins Old Quad

Old Quad is delighted to welcome Gabrielle Bergman on board as a History Project intern through the Museums and Collections Projects Program. Gabrielle is currently studying Art History at the University of Melbourne and will balance her education with a practical internship course, exploring the social history of Old Quad. During the course of her project, Gabrielle will assist the team by conducting high-level research and translating her findings into learning resources, digital outputs, and updated display elements.

Image: Alfred Vincent, Princesses at play (The fantasy) [detail], 1897.  Cartoon derived from a complaint by Professor Harrison Moore about noise made by members of the Princess Ida Club in the Old Quad. Source: Ernest Scott, A history of the University of Melbourne, MUP, 1936
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