Date: 5 February 2008
NGA acquires significant Australian Surrealist collection
through generous act of benefaction
James Gleeson 'The attitude of lightning towards a lady mountain' 1939 oil on canvas 79.0 x 63.3 cm National Gallery of Australia Purchased with the assistance of James Agapitos OAM and Ray Wilson OAM 2007
Ron Radford AM, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, is excited to announce the acquisition of the most important Australian Surrealist collection assembled. The collection of works of art from the late James Agapitos OAM and Ray Wilson OAM is a most generous act of benefaction. This extensive acquisition of 285 works comes in two components: a generous gift and a purchase by the Gallery. The combined value of the collection is $6.6 million. The purchase amount is $2.5 million. The collection is the largest Australian Surrealist collection ever assembled.
Covering the period 1925 to 1955, the Agapitos/Wilson collection includes paintings, prints, collages, drawings, photographs and sculptures by the foremost artists associated with Surrealist art practice in Australia, including James Gleeson, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker, Robert Klippel, Joy Hester, James Cant, Peter Purves Smith, Jeffrey Smart, Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend, Danila Vassilieff and Dusan Marek.
James Agapitos and Ray Wilson began their collection of Australian Surrealism in 1990 with the purchase of James Gleeson’s seminal painting The attitude of lightning towards a lady-mountain 1939, which has been on loan to the Gallery for more than 12 months in the International Surrealism exhibition. From this time they put together the largest and most important collection of Australia Surrealist art in private hands.
James Gleeson 'Spain' 1951 oil on canvas 67.0 x 47.0 cm National Gallery of Australia Purchased with the assistance of James Agapitos OAM and Ray Wilson OAM 2007
“Of all Australian galleries, the National Gallery of Australia has the strongest collection of International Surrealist art, recently enhanced by the acquisition of Giorgio’s de Chirico’s La Mort d'un esprit (Death of a spirit) 1916 and Max Ernst’s giant sculpture, Habakuk 1934/1970. Combined with our International Surrealist Collection, the Agapitos/Wilson gift of Australian Surrealism means that the National Gallery of Australia has a world standard resource of Surrealist art,” says Ron Radford.
The Agapitos/Wilson collection is the fifth major acquisition as part of the Gallery’s 25th Anniversary Gifts Program. The acquisition by the National Gallery of Australia is the fulfillment of Agapitos’s and Wilson’s long-held dream to make their collection available to the nation for the enjoyment of visitors for generations to come. It constitutes a remarkable act of generosity and will forever remain testimony to the insight, vision and commitment to Australian art of James Agapitos and Ray Wilson.
The National Gallery of Australia will mount a special exhibition of the Agapitos/Wilson gift of Australian Surrealist art to open in February 2008 as part of the Gallery’s 25th Anniversary year celebrations.