ACT News

Canberra Museum and Gallery buys Gruner painting

Mystery: Elioth Gruner's Untitled (Landscape) 1930, which was recently bought by the Canberra Museum and Gallery.
Mystery: Elioth Gruner's Untitled (Landscape) 1930, which was recently bought by the Canberra Museum and Gallery. Photo: Supplied

It is not often that works by Australian landscape painter Elioth Gruner come onto the market but when they do, they are worth pouncing on.

The Canberra Museum and Gallery, which recently staged a major exhibition of the artist’s works, has acquired a second Canberra landscape at auction.

Senior curator Deborah Clark said while the work was more subtle than many of the pieces in the exhibition, the final price –$18,500 – was a bargain.

The painting is titled Untitled (Landscape), 1930 but Ms Clark said she was confident the scene was of somewhere in Canberra.

"The consensus certainly is that it looks very much like our region and it’s a good date for that, because in 1930 he was certainly here in the Canberra region," she said.

"He was also around Bairnsdale at Gippsland around that time, in Victoria, and painted quite a lot there, and that country is so incredibly different looking that it’s clearly not there, so that points towards a Canberra region location."

But Ms Clark said while the painting had been bought at a good price, the gallery had a modest acquisition budget.

"We collect more contemporary art, I suppose partly dictated by that budget," she said.

"In recent years I’ve definitely been very interested in trying to get early views of Canberra and trying to build up from the 1920s onwards, and of course they are more expensive. And if you buy one thing like this, that’s three-quarters of your budget gone."

The gallery is now in the process of launching a new fund-raising initiative, to allow interested Canberrans to help raise money for key historical works and free up the gallery’s budget so it can continue building on its contemporary collection.  

"Given the popularity of the Gruner exhibition and the fact that people really related to it, and really had that sense of ownership of it and engagement with it, we thought we might see if we can get them to follow through," Ms Clark said.

"It’s not an outrageous sum of money to imagine; if 200 people give $100 each, there’s your picture."

The first funds raised will go towards buying a new frame for the new Gruner, which will be previewed at the gallery in September.

Gruner, who was born in 1882, began painting landscapes as a teenager, although he worked full time as a draper’s assistant until he was aged 30.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, he travelled frequently to Canberra and the surrounding region, where he was particularly enthralled by the quality of the light.

His untitled 1930 work was included in the auction of the art collection of Bill and Eileen Cammack, a pair of Sydney doctors who both served in World War II before settling at a five-acre property in Penrith.

Bill, now 98, ran a general practice for 45 years, while Eileen, who died in 2000, was a private pathologist and, from 1972, Penrith’s first female mayor.

They travelled extensively and built up an eclectic art collection, and when Bill decided to auction it off, Ms Clark was interested in just one item – the untitled 1930 artwork.

If you think you recognise the scene in the painting, or for more information about the Canberra Museum and Gallery's fund-raising initiative, email deborah.clark@act.gov.au.