The Warrnambool Art Gallery began in 1886 when retired police officer Joseph Archibaldopened its doors in a building behind the mechanics institute in Liebig street. The Gallery began with an eclectic mix of artworks and museum curios.
Before long Archibald mobilised public support and paid for a new gallery annex. Loans and grants allowed the Gallery collection to grow with significant early acquisitions by French, German, and Belgian artists, which were less expensive than British works.
These were followed by the Louis Buvelot’s pastoral landscape Sunset Waterpool at Coleraine (1874). Buvelot found his artistic theme in light and tone and it is not surprisingthat he favoured the Western District during his sketching tours of Victoria. This reverence for light and tone can be seen in local contemporary painters including Kathryn Ryan who captures moody rows of trees in hazy paddocks.
The Gallery also holds a series of early tonalist paintings by Australian artists including Clarice Becket, Archie Colquhoun Peter Leason, Max Meldrum and Roland Wakelin.
Despite its enthusiastic start the economic downturn of the 1890s brought the Collection to a halt. In1910 the Council took control of the Mechanics Institute and ran the Gallery there until 1963 when thebuilding was allocated for municipal offices.
The Collection was dispersed on loan to galleries in Shepparton and Hamilton and not reunited until 1971. In 1986the Gallery’s Centenary year, a permanent home was built next to the ‘Civic Green’ and named in memory of one its champions Sir Fletcher Jones O.B.E.