Blue Poles returns to the National Gallery of Australia
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Blue Poles returns to the National Gallery of Australia

Blue Poles has come home.

It was returned to the National Gallery of Australia on Tuesday having been overseas for the first time since 1998.

Jackson Pollock's <i>Blue Poles</i> has returned from London, its first overseas trip since 1998.

Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles has returned from London, its first overseas trip since 1998.

Visitors to the gallery can once again see Jackson Pollock's 1952 painting on Level 2 where it was before it went to Britain in September as a centrepiece of the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

Gallery curator Lucina Ward said, "It's finally back."

She said people expected to see Blue Poles at the gallery and it's such a major draw that it's rarely allowed to travel overseas. An exception was made for a major Pollock retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1998. When the Royal Academy revealed its plans for the recent Abstract Expressionism exhibition, the gallery was sufficiently impressed by its scope - "all of Pollock's contemporaries were included" - to let Blue Poles travel once more.

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The Royal Academy made Blue Poles the hero image of the exhibition throughout London and on the catalogue cover and it was visited by more than 3000 people a day. The exhibition was open from September until January.

While it was away, the space normally occupied by the painting - which measures about two metres by four metres - was taken up by two other works, by Robert Motherwell and Pollock's wife Lee Krasner.

Ward said now Blue Poles was back, the Krasner work would remain on display but the Motherwell would go back into storage for now.

Blue Poles was purchased in 1973 under the approval of then prime minister Gough Whitlam for $1.3 million. Its estimated value has been reported at more than three hundred times that now but Ward said it would never be sold.

Asked why Blue Poles was so popular and so important, Ward said its ambition and scale made it distinctive in Pollock's oeuvre.

"Some people describe it as being quite baroque," she said.

"He kept coming back to it; it has many distinct layers."

She said there were at least seven different layers of paint with each layer left to dry before the next was applied.

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"The final visual flourish" was the eight poles, applied with a four-by-two.

Blue Poles can be seen at the National Gallery of Australia in the company of works by Gorky, Rothko and de Kooning.