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The highlights of summer 2017-18 at the National Gallery of Australia

Karen Hardy

Published: December 8 2017 - 12:00AM

 A tiny painting worth $1.4 million is just one of several new acquisitions by the National Gallery of Australia which are being highlighted in a walking trail over summer.

James A. Whistler's Harmony in blue and pearl: The Sands, Dieppe 1885 was purchased through the support of a handful of private donors from Australia and the United States. Measuring just 23x13cm, It takes pride of place in The Art of Giving trail which celebrates the individuals, families and trusts which contribute to the national collection.

Director Gerard Vaughan said although the NGA rarely directed people through the galleries it saw this as a great opportunity to highlight the varied acquisitions which are spread across the building.

"Things are coming into the gallery all the time and we thought let's have a trail through the building, recognising the incredible generosity of our supporters," he said.

"Notwithstanding the fact that Whistler was American, we intend to display this marvel of rapid brushwork in the room with our Australian Impressionist collection, featuring masterworks by Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin," Vaughan said.

"Whistler's connection with this turning point in Australian painting - considered highly innovative and contemporary for the time - makes this work relevant to our national collection.'

He said the gallery was grateful to Allan and Maria Myers, Andrew and Tracey Sisson, the Dr Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation and the Neilson Foundation for their support in the acquisition of this painting.

Other highlights of the summer trail in the Australian Impressionists gallery include a generous loan from a private collector, Frederick McCubbin's large, early masterpiece, Bush Idyll 1893. This iconic painting is widely recognised not only as one of the artist's finest works, but also as a key, defining expression of the creativity of the group.

Streeton's The Point Wharf, Mosman Bay 1893 also hangs close by, arguably Streeton's most important Sydney Harbour view remaining in private hands. This has been recently acquired with assistance from Allan and Maria Myers, Paula Fox, John and Rosanna Hindmarsh and Maurice Cashmere and Claire Parkhurst.

Kerry Stokes has loaned two works by Paul Serusier and Emile Bernard, which hang near the newly acquired piece by Serusier, Woman from Savoy, (La Savoyarde) 1890, giving context to the transformative masterpiece.

The NGA Foundation has purchased five works from Sidney Nolan's 1964 Antarctica pictures, Gordon and Marilyn Darling have gifted 57 Albert Namatjira watercolours and the Orde Poynton Bequest has added to the NGA's David Hockney collection, donating two new works made on an iPad.

Vaughan is excited by a piece from Papua New Guinea, a carved figure of the man-eating god Mugus, Lord of the Pigs.

"Scientific testing tells us it's mid 17th century, which is almost unheard of, and we'll be doing carbon dating on it, it may even be several hundred years earlier which would make it one of the most important New Guinea pieces in the world," he said.

"It's causing all sorts of interest around the world."

With Hyper Real continuing until February 18, 2018, and the Cartier exhibition opening in March 2018 Vaughan said the NGA had plenty on offer for visitors in coming months.

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