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Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers will soon be on display at the new blockbuster at the National Gallery of Australia

Joel Arthur and Lloyd Hurrell of the National Gallery hang Vincent Van Gogh's famous Sunflowers in the lead-up to the opening of Botticelli to Van Gogh, the gallery's next blockbuster. Picture: Keegan Carroll
Joel Arthur and Lloyd Hurrell of the National Gallery hang Vincent Van Gogh's famous Sunflowers in the lead-up to the opening of Botticelli to Van Gogh, the gallery's next blockbuster. Picture: Keegan Carroll

When you see these sunflowers on the wall, it's hard not to imagine the world is finally turning a corner.

As vaccines begin rolling out and summer drifts to an end, the sight of Vincent Van Gogh's luminous yellow sunflowers, finally here and finally hanging, felt genuinely symbolic this week at the National Gallery of Australia.

The gallery's delayed summer blockbuster, Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London, is slowly taking shape, having spent time in Tokyo before an extended transit to Australia.

The show, billed as a "crash course" in art history, includes 61 works by the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Botticelli, most of which have never left Europe before.

Gallery curator Sally Foster, who is overseeing the Australian version of the show, said seeing the works come out of their crates was a thrill, even for a seasoned curator.

"I can't tell you how exciting it is, just being on the floor, and seeing those works come out in the flesh," she said.

"You see them in reproduction and in pictures, or in a European gallery, and you're always a tourist, and you're kind of rushing through, and so just to see them here, it's incredible. It's such a privilege."

She said visitors to the show would definitely emerge with a good grounding in some of the great works in the history of western art.

"The National Gallery in London collect, basically, Art History 101 - that is their mandate," she said.

"Basically, their idea is that you do walk from the Renaissance through to the early modern period... you are essentially getting an art history lesson. And this exhibition is a miniature version of that."

And this exhibition was also extraordinary because of the effect of the pandemic on the journey of the works from Japan to Canberra.

A hang involving priceless works of art is always a drawn-out process, but this one was proving very different for gallery staff.

Not only is it the first major exhibition to open in Australia since COVID hit, it's also the first time the uncrating and hanging process is being overseen via livestream.

Ms Foster said usually, the works would have arrived, individually crated, in several aircraft and over several continents, accompanied by a team of couriers and curators.

But instead, curators from the gallery in London are working through the night to oversee the Canberra hang via livestream, with cameras trained on the works.

Despite world events, Ms Foster said, there was a different kind of excitement in the air.

"It feels optimistic," she said. "None of us can go overseas at the moment...So just to be able to see it here, it does feel more special than it probably would have, if none of this had happened in the past year."

  • Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London, opens March 5 at the National Gallery of Australia. Visit nga.gov.au for ticketing.
This story Hanging out for the real Sunflowers first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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