WAG’s collection is the sum of over 130 years of inspiration and innovation. It holds more than 2000 works ranging from European salon and Colonial to Indigenous artefacts, modernist Australian art and contemporary works. It is a tribute to the visionaries of the region and the artists and crafts people whose work is held here.
The Western District of Victoria is majestic, raw, challenging and unruly. Its post-colonial history reflects its wide plains, rugged coast and the journey of people to settle, tame, harvest and harness its forceful nature.
Each step of the Collection mirrors a time of development and expansion. It shows a reverence for the landscape and the people, their aspirations, industry and endeavours.
Mysteries of the Collection abound, some of which have been solved over time. In 1878 Frederick Bruford, the local Customs Officer painted the Scene of the Wreck of the Loch Ard, after the clipper struck the cliffs near Port Campbell.
Bruford who had been asked to attend the ship to collect duties, made a number of sketches and painted the large oil painting now held in the WAG collection.
Local naturalists were concerned that he included a large Heron-like bird in the foreground, even though there were none in the district.
Later it was discovered the bird, like the life size Majolica Minton Peacock at Flagstaff Hill, was part of the cargo wreckage on the beach. The ceramic birds were en route to the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880 (when the Exhibition Building was opened) and were intended to ornament gardens and greenhouses.
WAG holds a significant number of artworks made over time at Tower Hill, the State’s first national park near Warrnambool. Tower Hill is an enormous volcanic crater edged with beds of volcanic ash. The swampy floor is marked by cone-shaped hills which after rain, become islands surrounded by a shallow lake. Its formation is known as a ‘nested maar’.
Tower Hill’s vegetation had been cleared over time to make way for farming and quarrying. In the 1960s when a major re-vegetation program began it was largely guided by the fastidious detail of the 1855 painting by Eugene von Guerard which is held at WAG. The artist’s meticulous work enabled botanists to identify grass and ferns on the island, wattles, sheoaks, banksias on the cones and reeds and tussocks in the marshes.
In 2016 WAG acquired an equal meticulous contemporary interpretation of Tower Hill by Hobie Porter, From Little things Big Things (2015) who attributes a strong influence from the von Guerard.
David Fletcher Jones OBE had a significant impact on Warrnambool and its Gallery. An advocate of modernity he took a progressive approach, had advanced views of employee satisfaction and was driven by quality without compromise. By the late 1970s his vision and drive would turn his local tailoring business into one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the world.
The Jones family became important supporters of the Collection, and Fletcher’s commitment to the ideals of modernity can be seen in the Gallery’s Collection of mid-century works with many fine examples by members of the Angry Penguins Australian avant-garde movement – Arthur Boyd, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, John Perceval, Danila Vassilief and Albert Tucker.
In 1972, Fletcher Jones & Staff sponsored an annual acquisitive award for Australian printmakers, which enabled the Gallery to build an extensive collection of contemporary prints including [insert]. In 2008, after almost a decade of persistence by David Jones, the son of Fletcher Jones, the Warrnambool Art Gallery Foundation was established and continues to assist the Gallery in acquiring works of art.
In the spirit of being an outlier and innovator WAG continues to acquire captivating works that elicit visceral and subjective responses. One of the more recent, is Unsettled Dogs by Sam Jinks the hyper-real sculpture of a man and a woman with the heads of foxes lying face to face.