The National Gallery of Australia is deeply saddened to learn of the death of L Gordon Darling AC CMG.
Gordon's passion for the visual arts led him to become one of Australia's most energetic and engaged philanthropists to the arts, and a great friend of the NGA.
Gordon was the Chairman of the Council of the National Gallery of Australia in the formative years from 1982, when the new gallery opened, until 1986, and has continued to be an assiduous and generous supporter of the NGA for over 30 years.
It was Gordon who spearheaded the establishment of the American Friends of the National Gallery of Australia association in 1982, which is still active today, supporting and raising donations of cash and works of art in the US for the collection in Canberra.
NGA celebrating turning 20 with past and present Directors and their Chairs including The Hon. Gough Whitlam AC QC, James Mollison AO, Betty Churcher AO, Brian Kennedy, Harold Mitchell AC, Kerry Stokes AC, Lionel Bowen AC and L. Gordon Darling AC CMG
In 1989 Gordon established the Gordon Darling Australia Pacific Print Fund for the acquisition and documentation of Australian prints, and to provide access to them. Gordon's generosity has allowed the NGA to form an unrivalled collection of contemporary prints from Australia and the Pacific region. The Darling print collection holds more than 7000 prints, with new works being added regularly.
Another key initiative of the Gordon Darling Australia Pacific Print Fund, instigated by our Senior Curator of Australian Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books, Roger Butler, was the digitisation of the Australian print collection—the first large-scale digitisation project instigated by any art museum in Australia. The Australian Prints Online project and the website Australian Prints and Printmaking continues to receive commendations from users around the world.
Roger Butler AM, Senior Curator, Australian Prints and Drawings with Gordon and Marilyn Darling AC, Anna Gray, Senior Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture pre 1920, Ann Lewis AM, former council member and Alan Froud PSM, former Deputy Director of the NGA
Seeking to increase opportunities for employment and professional development within the sector, the Gordon Darling Fellowship and the Gordon Darling Graduate Internship (which continues today) were established as programs within the NGA's curatorial department.
A keen collector, Gordon and his wife Marilyn Darling AC generously donated Gordon's large collection of works on paper by Albert Namatjira to the NGA, which are rotated through the display in the Gordon and Marilyn Darling Gallery—Hermannsburg School in our new wing.
In 1991 Gordon established The Gordon Darling Foundation, which has been an active supporter of the arts sector more broadly, including the seminal Museum Leadership Program with an international faculty created to enhance the professionalism of the sector. Since 1999, 231 people have completed the full program, including many NGA staff.
Gordon Darling celebrates his 94th birthday in 2015 with the Australian Prints and Drawings team: Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax, Mary Angove, Roger Butler, Assistant Directors: Simon Elliott and David Perceval, and the Director, Gerard Vaughan AM
The Foundation has also supported exhibition publications that otherwise would not have been possible, innovative exhibitions, ongoing digitisation initiatives, symposia, conservation projects, and national and international travel scholarships. Through his personal endeavours, Gordon was also active in placing the work of Australian artists in significant collections overseas, particularly the United Kingdom and Singapore.
Notwithstanding their strong engagement with many institutions across the country, perhaps Gordon and Marilyn's greatest achievement is the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, in close proximity to the NGA in the Parliamentary Triangle of Canberra.
Marilyn and Gordon Darling at the opening of their gallery dedicated to the Hermannsburg School in 2010 with then NGA Director Ron Radford AM and Dr Piriya Krairiksh former NGA Curator of the Arts of Asia.
Born on 4 March 1921 in London, Gordon was educated in England and served as a major in the Australian Imperial Force in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War. Gordon sat on the board of BHP, a company co-founded by his grandfather John Darling, for a record 32 years from 1954. He was also chairman of Melbourne Properties National Trust, Rheem Australia and Koitaki Ltd, on the Council of Geelong Grammar School and a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund.
At the Fred Williams Retrospective
with Lyn Williams AM, Marilyn, Gordon with Ron Radford and Claudia Hyles.
In 2004 Gordon was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in recognition of his service to the arts through vision, advice and philanthropy for long-term benefit to the nation. In 2007, Marilyn and Gordon were awarded jointly the Melbourne Art Fair Foundation for the Visual Arts' Visionary Award and they were joint recipients of the British Museum Medal in 2013.
The NGA will continue to celebrate Gordon's life, achievements and his and Marilyn's major contribution to this institution which, given its many facets and longevity, has ensured the Darlings have become part of the Gallery's DNA for the benefit of future generations.
Download a transcript
of an interview between Roger Butler and Gordon Darling
Main image: At the opening of the Gallery in 1982 with Gordon escorting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II