This site provides a comprehensive overview of the first 50 years of art collecting for the Melbourne Public Library/National Gallery of Victoria, from the foundation of the Library in 1853 until the Felton Bequest (1904).

See Alfred Felton

Alfred Felton’s remarkable gift, as is well known, was fundamental to the later development of the NGV, which now comprises over 75,000 objects. However, this catalogue aims to demonstrate in depth that Melbourne’s early art collections, initiated by Sir Redmond Barry, were already substantial and significant, despite an inevitably 19th-century (colonial British, Victorian-era) character. {note busts of Barry and Felton at the head of each entry?}

Most of the early acquisitions are still held in the NGV and State Library of Victoria (SLV). Unfortunately, though, losses and de-accessioning (particularly during the 1940s and 50s) have obscured the full scope and significance of the early collections. Particular attention is paid to providing reproductions and details on the fate of these “lost” examples (some now located elsewhere).


How The Site Works

Works are catalogued under categories, accessible from the menu at the top of each page.

Each entry includes comments and references, and is identified by a unique hot-linked name, e.g. Boehm St George 1887 {1888} SLV [SC], indicating artist, title and date of execution (where known), date of acquisition {in curly brackets}, location (where known), and category, e.g. [SC], denoting Sculpture. The other categories are AN (Ancient), AS (Asian), DA (Decorative Arts), DR (Drawing), ET (Etching), PA (Painting), PR (Prints [other than etchings), and WT (watercolours).

Other supporting information is available under Artists; Donors + (including advisers, administrators and writers); a Bibliography (listing frequently cited sources and abbreviations); and a Summary Chronology of Acquisitions to 1904.

Contact Details and Acknowledgments

Entries will be amended from time to time, as new information comes to light; comments and corrections are welcome, through the email address feedback@beforefelton.com.

The site obviously depends in large measure on the accumulated work and wisdom of numerous researchers and staff at the NGV, SLV, and elsewhere. Particular thanks are due to Gerard Hayes at the SLV; Ted Gott, Cathy Leahy and Petra Kayser at the NGV; Geoffrey Edwards; Jennie Maggs; and Clive Murray-White, for generously agreeing to reproduction of his 2004 statue of Alfred Felton. Finally, my special thanks to Shirley Law, for her support and encouragement over many years. Naturally, I take sole responsibility for any errors or eccentricities of opinion.

Home Page Image: “Drop-by drawing session” in the 19th-century gallery, NGV International, 2013 (photo: Timothy Herbert)