Manly Art Gallery & Museum Milestones

1924 ‘Middle Harbour from Manly Heights’ by James R Jackson, prize winner of a Manly Daily art competition, purchased by public subscription for Manly Town Hall

1924 Committee for the foundation of a Manly Art and Historical Collection, among first members are marine painter Charles Bryant and Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo

1924 onwards: Dattilo-Rubbo, Bryant and artists friends donate numerous works to grow collection, examples are:

    * Lloyd Rees, "An old barn, Parramatta"
    * Margaret Preston, "Fish"
    * Will Ashton, "Sunlight and Shadows, NSW Coast"
    * Eric Langker, "Summer Afternoon"
    * Norman Lindsay, "Swans and Peacocks"
    * Albert Sherman, "Spring Flowers"
    * Ethel Carrick Fox, "Manly – Summer is here", 1913

1929 Manly Council decides to use pavilion at western end of the Manly harbour side as permanent location for an Art Gallery to hold the collection

1930 14 June: Manly Art Gallery and Historical collection officially opened, the first of its kind in Sydney

1936 Tom Roberts’ "The Flower Sellers” donated by Colonel Spain

1940 Dattilo-Rubbo donates 100 of his works to the Manly Art Gallery

1970 Grace Cossington Smith donates "Water at Bayview"

1982  Museum opened

1984  Lady Askin Bequest

1985  Ceramics collection on display

2003  Theo Batten Bequest

History of the Manly Art Gallery & Museum

The origins of the Manly Art Gallery date back to January 1924, when the Manly Daily newspaper organised a popular art competition which was won by Seaforth artist James Jackson with his painting 'Middle Harbour from Manly Heights'.

First committee of Manly Art Gallery, 1924: A. Dattilo-Rubbo, Percy Nolan, Charles Bryant, Herbert Marriner, Hermon Slade, Henry Forsyth, Percy Gledhill, B. Hope-Johnston, J. R. Trenerry, A Samuels

Various prominent citizens, including fellow artists Charles Bryant and Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo, subsequently called upon the Mayor of Manly to hold a public meeting in order to raise funds for the acquisition of this work. It was agreed at this meeting that Jackson's painting should form the nucleus of a local art collection, and the Manly Art and Historical Collection was thus born.

Although there were several regional galleries in country NSW by 1924, there was no precedent for a suburban public gallery, so there was a great deal of interest in this new Manly collection.  The collection was initially housed in the Town Hall. Artists generously donated work  to the fledgling collection and by the opening exhibition, held in March 1925, at Victoria Hall in The Corso, there were thirty works and included such artists as Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor, Will Ashton and Lloyd Rees.

About this time, various plans were prepared for a new Town Hall and it was understood that accommodation for the Art Collection was to be incorporated, but this was found to be unsatisfactory. A suggestion to alter the pavilion (bandstand) at the western end of the harbour beach and allow it to be used as a temporary art gallery was approved.

To celebrate Jubilee Year, in March 1927, the paintings were removed from the Town Hall to Victoria Hall in the Corso for an exhibition which numbered forty-five works. This included notable additions, namely, "The Front at Manly Beach" by A.H. Fullwood, "Portrait of Charles Bryant" by Lawson Balfour, as well as works by Erik Langker, John Banks, Gerald Fitzgerald and Lister Lister.

During 1928, the name of the collection was changed to "Manly Art Gallery and Historical Collection". In 1930, the pavilion on the site of the old "Poster King" open air show was converted into an art gallery and formed what is today the main exhibition gallery. The collection has been housed there ever since.

On 14th June, 1930 the Art Gallery building was formally opened by His Honour, the Chief Justice, Sir Phillip Street. In the course of his address, Sir Phillip Street congratulated the people of Manly on having such an excellent selection of examples of the work of prominent Australian artists. He went on to say:

"The fact that Manly Art & Historical Society has been in existence for a little more than six years, and the fact that today we are present at the formal opening of a building which has been erected for the purpose of housing and exhibiting this collection shows that the civic authorities and the residents of Manly recognise that material prosperity is not enough in itself but that it should be accompanied by the development of refined and cultivated tastes."

By this time the collection had increased to 200 exhibits including 79 paintings and 62 historical photographs.

In July 1931, the Art Gallery building was damaged by a severe gale, when the parapet on top of the Gallery crashed through the roof, but repairs were effected and the building was reopened in September of the same year.

On 22nd January, 1937, the Gallery suffered a severe loss in the sudden death of Mr Charles Bryant. This lovable and talented artist was a member of the original committee, and much of the success of the Art Gallery is due to his untiring efforts. Through his pleasing personality, many Australian artists were prompted to make gifts to the Gallery. During October and November, 1937, the latest works of the late Charles Bryant were exhibited in the Gallery as a Commemorative Exhibition. A public subscription was collected to purchase one of these paintings, as a memorial, and it is now in the Gallery, titled "Drying the Blue Nets, Douarnez".

In March 1939, Cav. A. Dattilo-Rubbo presented a valuable collection of 100 works including his own paintings, works on paper , water colours and etchings, a number of classical models as well as works by other artists from his private collection.

These included the following paintings by Dattilo-Rubbo: "The Artist and Model" 1940, "East Esplanade Manly" 1917 and "The Ruling Passion" 1913.

The Manly Art Gallery in 1940

The Council financed construction of an annexe to house this collection, called the "Dattilo-Rubbo Room", which opened on 26th September, 1940, by the Mayor, Ald. A. Hanson Norman.

Also in 1940, Col. A. Spain added 5 notable works including Tom Roberts' "The Flower Sellers", and A.H. Fullwood's "Cow Pastures". Both oils and a watercolour by Tom Roberts, "The Bullock Team" added prestige to the collection. Few other donations and little activity had marked the previous depression years. However, two important gifts were received during the following war years, including the bas-relief by the English sculptor, Francis W. Sargeant, which was placed in front of the building. Also the twentieth anniversary was celebrated on 6th March, 1944, during which the portrait of Liet. A.R.Cutler VC, of Manly, by Lawson Balfour was unveiled in the presence of a large and representative attendance of citizens and artists.

In 1947, Mr P.S. Garling donated 55 paintings, a valuable gift including works by George Lambert and W.C. Piguenit. This included both European and Australian works, some old masters, some of dubious origin and some fine Australian works.

The growth of the collection increased the acute problem of hanging and storage space. Tentative plans for an extension to the building were drawn up in 1949 but were shelved, and with little interest shown by the Council, the 50s became the most difficult period in the history of the Gallery -  the state of the building deteriorated and the pictures suffered from dampness, leakages and the lack of storage facilities. There was also no staff during the 50s.

The establishment of the Manly Art Prize in 1962, and subsequent similar exhibitions, the formation of a Ladies' Auxiliary and an Art Group, revitalised the Gallery to some extent, but what was needed was more Council support.

Manly Council became aware of the problems, and their support was forthcoming in 1966. After much discussion and the seeking of financial assistance, Manly Council approved plans for the extension and renovation of the Art Gallery. This included an additional gallery, a storeroom, a new ceiling, a new entrance through the Rubbo annexe and improved lighting. The renovated building was opened on 7th October, 1966.

Also an honorary Director, Mrs Clarice Thomas was appointed. Mrs Thomas is the daughter of the late John Young, co-founder of the Macquarie Galleries, and had previously carried out restoration work on a number of paintings in the collection.

The cleaning and restoration of works in the collection was commenced. Mrs Thomas' work was crucial in the preservation of the collection. Her first tasks were to assemble the works which had been scattered throughout Council premises. Mrs Thomas also undertook preventative treatment for many works in the collection, thus ensuring for the first time appropriate care and concern was exercised.

From this time on, the collection grew steadily and was properly catalogued for the first time. An active exhibition programme followed with exhibitions of the collection being interspersed with loan and travelling exhibitions. An Acquisition Fund was established in 1967 with the idea of attracting a membership which would support the Gallery and augment the meagre funds available for acquisitions. This is now called the Manly Art Gallery and Museum Society.

In 1968, the Manly Art Prize was altered to become a 'Selection' exhibition at which purchases for the Gallery collection were selected by an art panel. Contemporary works by artists such as Hector Gilliland, Stan de Teliga, Guy Warren and Brian Dunlop have since been acquired through the Manly Art Prize (1962-1984).

With a more active acquisitions programme, and adhering to the policy of small intimate works for small galleries, the Manly Art Gallery has been able to purchase representative works by Michael Kmit and Desiderius Orban, two of a number of pre-war refugee artists and notable works by Godfrey Miller, Kevin Connor, Donald Friend, Rodney Milgate, Thomas Cleghorn, Carl Plate, Jean Appleton and Clem Millward, as well as some purchases to fill areas in earlier periods. The major purchase of the "Annunciation" by Tom Thompson was also made in 1981.

Between 1966 and 1983 a wide range of exhibitions were held, reflecting both local and national developments in Australian art. Both the roles of Harold Greenhill in fostering art in Manly and Dattilo-Rubbo were acknowledged in retrospective exhibitions in 1979 and 1980, respectively.

Printmakers Exhibitions were also a feature of that time including a 1976 Print Council of Australia Touring Exhibition and work shown from the Sydney Printmakers and the Print Circle. An Exhibition of Canadian Quilts was held in February 1981 which presented an early recognition of quilting which was carried on by way of annual exhibitions in the 1990's. Anne Schoffield's "Lady of Fashion" exhibition was purchased in its entirety by the National Gallery in Melbourne.

In 1968, the Gallery held its first ceramic exhibition which included over 130 items by invited potters from which was purchased the first two pots of its collection, a Peter Rushforth and a Hiroe Swen. Nowhere in Sydney could a permanent display be seen and it was high time there was one.  

From these small beginnings the collection grew steadily and through the enthusiastic support of individuals such as Harold Greenhill and members of the Gallery Auxiliary the importance of collection of ceramics was soon recognised. Harold Greenhill was on the Gallery's art panel and an artist himself he also designed many of the exhibition catalogues of this time.

In 1975, a very successful ceramic exhibition was held and this became an annual event each October. The Gallery's collection of contemporary Australian ceramics is unique in Sydney, including work by Derek Smith, Les Blakeborough, Jenny Orchard, Shiga Shigeo, Ian Mackay, Christine Ball and Peter Travis.

The Regional Galleries Association of NSW, formed in 1972, of which Manly was one of the foundation members, has been a great help in gaining assistance from state and federal governments. Manly Art Gallery and Museum is the oldest purpose built Regional Gallery in N.S.W.

In May, 1976, the Gallery suffered a severe blow with the theft of six important works from the collection - the renowned and much loved Tom Roberts' "The Flower Sellers", Sir Arthur Streeton's "Nude", Lloyd Rees' "The Barn, Parramatta" and "Grecian Memories", "Swans and Peacocks", a watercolour by Norman Lindsay and William Dobell's drawing of Billy Frost.

The two works "The Flower Sellers" by Tom Roberts and "Swans and Peacocks" by Norman Lindsay, were since returned seven years later, in January 1983. "This gave renewed hope that the other works would surface." wrote Clarice Thomas in 1990, "Not long afterwards dear old Lloyd Rees phoned me and said that he believed "The Old Barn" had been found in Melbourne. The outcome was the return of not only "The Old Barn" but the other three pictures as well."
In 1978, a monthly free film programme was introduced featuring cultural films relating to art, architecture, archaeology, history, natural history and travel. In 1977, further air-conditioning was installed, with financial support from the Manly Council, and in October, a year later, the State Government provided for a new lighting system. These improvements brought the Gallery up to a standard desired for its collection; a further grant in 1981 from the Division of Cultural Activities, to assist with the salary for a full-time Director, assured the permanent care of the art works and a continuous programme of exhibitions.

On 17th March, 1981, Mrs Clarice Thomas was appointed full-time Director of the Manly Art Gallery, after acting as Honorary Director for some fourteen years.

A grant received in 1981 from the State Government also contributed towards the building of a Museum to adjoin the Gallery on the eastern side. These significant renovations provided a new entrance and reception area creating a spacious introduction to the exhibition galleries. Also a kitchen and loading dock to serve both Art Gallery and Museum, the Museum was added and the Rubbo annexe was doubled in size.

The Art Gallery and Museum was opened by the Premier, Mr Neville Wran, on 13th September, 1982, by which time the Art Gallery and Museum complex had been officially named the Manly Art Gallery and Museum. The addition of an area to be used specifically as a Museum was largely the result of the vision and efforts of Ald Joan Thorburn.

Also in 1982, Mrs Clarice Thomas initiated the Young Gallery Group, seeking to foster involvement from people under the age of thirty years.
The Peninsula Art Society's first exhibition was held at the Gallery and Museum on 15th April, 1983, starting a tradition of annual exhibitions which is carried out today.

Mrs Clarice Thomas retired in November, 1983, after 18 years of association with the Manly Art Gallery and Museum. Under her Directorship the Gallery and Museum acquired many works, including some of the most important of the collection. Many works were acquired by Mrs Thomas at her own expense and were later reimbursed by the Committee, demonstrating extraordinary commitment to the collection. The new Director, Mr Peter Timms, was appointed in January 1984, at the age of 35 years and had a view to including younger people in Gallery activities. A State Government grant of $22,000 was divided across the salary of the Director and improvements to the Gallery storage facilities.

On the 6th March, 1984, the Manly Art Gallery Diamond Jubilee Selection Exhibition was opened. This marked the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the art collection and in carrying out family tradition, the Chief Justice of NSW, Sir Laurence Street, officially opened this exhibition. Barry Humphries is noted as having called in at the celebrations and the Gallery purchased works by Alan Leach-Jones "The Drowning Pond", Colin Lanceley's "Megalong" and Jeff Rigby's "View towards Mannum (SA)" to mark the occasion.

In April 1984, Manly Art Gallery and Museum received the Lady Askin Bequest of $100,000. "It is the largest monetary bequest ever made to the Gallery and will be a marvellous boost for us", Peter Timms reported to the Manly Daily newspaper.

A full-time Assistant Director, Robert Barton was appointed in 1985. In order to broaden its public appeal, Manly Art Gallery and Museum held musical evenings and film nights which became signatures of the Gallery during this time.

With the appointment of Michael Pursche as Director of Manly Art Gallery and Museum in August, 1987, after spending six years at the Broken Hill Gallery, the ensuing Bicentennial Celebrations provided an opportunity to spotlight and reflect upon the current state of Australian art and history.

The Manly Art Gallery and Museum adopted in 1988 a mission statement, which says, in part, "The Manly Art Gallery and Museum exists to provide the community with a variety of cultural services including the collection, preservation, interpretation and exhibitions of exemplary works of fine and decorative arts and objects of heritage significance to the Manly region".

The Art Gallery and Museum's exhibitions programme was developed over the next five years and sought to retain its reputation for professionalism and scholarship, ranging from local history to international artists and contemporary art shows. This programme has included "Manly 200 too!", a bicentennial Museum exhibition featuring local history to which the Rotary Club of Manly contributed $ 30,000. Works by the acclaimed Japanese artist Masami Yamada contributed an international element to exhibitions at the gallery while contemporary shows such as Kevin Connor's "Harbour Paintings 1964-1987" were also well received.

Manly Art Gallery and Museum also fostered its international links in September 1990 with a superb exhibition of contemporary art and craft from Japan. This was sponsored by Shinseido Hatanaka and A Square.

"In the Swim" (1992) was another exhibition in the Museum which focused on urban beach culture and showed a range of items from the Museum's swimwear collection.

Also during 1988, the commencement of the conservation, cataloguing and storage programmes of the Permanent Collection took place and over the next five years 100's of works received conservation treatment, mostly works on paper.
The Manly Art Gallery and Museum also played a role in the selection and commissioning of the Bicentennial Sculpture "Wind and Wave" by Lenton Parr (1988). Staffing during this time increased to include a full-time Secretary, curator, and the new position of a marketing and public relations co-ordinator to create and implement a promotional and fundraising strategy. The building was painted inside and out in 1988, the bookshop/sales area was remodelled and a new office space for Society members established.

Politician Paul Keating and artist Reg Mombassa, Manly Art Gallery, 1990

In 1990, with the appointment of an Education officer, an Education Programme was developed along with an Acquisition Policy for the Museum which, in essence, focussed on the Museum as a centre for the preservation of beach and harbour culture.

In 1991, the introduction of air-conditioning and ducting equipment stabilised the Gallery and Museum environment and assured the protection of this valuable collection for future generations. During the installation of the air-conditioning the original ceiling of the 1930s was uncovered and has been completely renovated to its former elegance.

1991 also saw the resignation of Sally Cantwell who had been the curator of the Gallery and the Museum for the past four years. Phillipa Charley, previously the Gallery's Education Officer took over this position.

In August 1991, the Gallery held the Restoration Collection Exhibition to commemorate the reopening of the Gallery and Museum and this was opened by the NSW Minister for the Arts, Peter Collins, MP. This exhibition included 96 works from the collection which had received conservation treatment over the past four years.

Sustained community support for the Gallery's activities is most clearly seen in the work of the Art Gallery and Museum Society. Since its inception in 1985 members of the Society contribute also to the Liaison Committee which was established by Council to provide a forum on policy and public interest decisions involved in the management of the Gallery and Museum.

Although the collection has focussed on Australian painting of the period 1900-1950 and particularly works from the Sydney Modernist School, good examples are held of all periods from the 1880s onwards.

The current Acquisitions Policy of the Manly Art Gallery and Museum is to concentrate on works which illustrate the development of Modernism in Sydney up to 1950 and more recent works reflecting this theme.

Lady Askin Ceramics Room

Following the Lady Askin Bequest of 1984, the Gallery and Museum has established the Lady Askin Ceramics Room containing an impressive survey tracing the development of studio work in Australia. This part of the collection represents a scholarly resource for students studying ceramics.

In furthering the role of the Museum, the Manly Art Gallery and Museum now seeks to develop an authoritative collection of beach culture from the late 19th century to the present day. This will consist of objects acquired through purchase, donations and sponsorship that reflect changing attitudes towards, and use of the beach. Where appropriate this development will feature Manly's unique role.

To this end the Manly Art Gallery and Museum in May 1993 received on permanent loan from David Jones Australia the "David Jones Collection" consisting of 89 objects dating from 1910 and including men's and ladies swimming costumes, beachwear and accessories.

 In 1998, the directorship of the Gallery was assumed by Therese Kenyon who has endeavoured to ensure that the community continues to play a vital role in the life of the gallery, contributing in so many ways – not least directly through gifts, sponsorships and bequests and a team of dedicated volunteers who help the full time staff with day to day administration.

In 2003, the bequest by Theo Batten gave the Gallery further means to expand its collection and undertake new arts projects, more storage and online collection.

Compiled by Katherine Roberts from Manly Art Gallery & Museums archives and research by Heika Costin-Neilsen.

                 Council_logo_black                  GDF_logo          BHFA_logo_black                 
Copyright Manly Art Gallery & Museum 2009.  Funded by Manly Council and the Gordon Darling Foundation.  Created by Banziger Hulme Fine Art.
  Site Map