A Brief History of the Gallery
Founded in 1884, the Art Gallery of Ballarat is the oldest
regional art gallery in Australia and was the first to be built
outside a capital city in the overseas dominions of the British
Empire. The Gallery is the oldest and largest regional gallery
in the country, housed in a heritage-listed building which is one
of the oldest purpose-built galleries in the country.
The original building at 40 Lydiard Street North, which is still
the core of the Gallery, was opened by Alfred Deakin on Friday 13
June 1890, having taken three years to construct.
In Ballarat, the 1880s witnessed building on a grand scale in
the centre of the city. It was home to many citizens whose
background and inclinations led them to the view that an art
gallery was an essential element of a civilised and modern city. Of
these, the most important was undoubtedly James Oddie.
The 'Father of Ballarat'
Having come to Ballarat as a digger, Oddie made a fortune as a
real estate agent and subsequently as a banker. He had liberal
attitudes both in terms of politics and culture and was a firm
believer in the potential of people to lift themselves up through
hard work and education. He saw an art gallery as a way for
his fellow citizens to look beyond their everyday lives and be
inspired and edified by the Fine Arts.
In 1885 Oddie gave the new Gallery a painting he had
commissioned from noted artist Eugene von Guerard, showing Ballarat
in its early days as a tent city. This painting, 'Old Ballarat as
it was in the Summer of 1853/54' is still at the heart of the
The Collection Grows
The Gallery holds an exceptional collection, built up
lovingly, intelligently and often with inspiration over 120 years.
An important factor in the growth was the George Crouch Prize for
contemporary art, which ran from 1927 till the 1970s.
Established by Federal MP Richard Crouch, a native of Ballarat and
son of an early pioneer, as an acquisitive art prize in
memory of his father, the Crouch Prize was for many years one of
the most prestigious art prizes in the country.
The Crouch Prize ensured that the Gallery continued to build its
collection of Australian art at a time when any other regional
galleries were suffering from a lack of energy and investment.
Crouch also established a prizes for watercolours in memory of his
sister Minnie and gave the Gallery his remarkable collection
of medieval manuscripts and early printed books, the only
Australian holding of such items outside the capital cities.
The Gallery Comes into Public Hands
In 1979, the Gallery Association gave the building and
collection to the Ballaarat City Council, which undertook to
operate the Gallery for the benefit of the Ballarat community
and visitors. The Association kept a stake in the ownership of
the collection and has continued to have close involvement
many aspects of the life of the Gallery.
The period of the early 1970s also saw the Gallery start to take
seriously its custodianship of the original flag from the 1854
Eureka Stockade. This unique and beautiful relic, which had been
held by the Gallery since 1895, underwent conservation works and
was put on permanent display in 1973. Serious attention has been
given to the acquisition of works of art that help to interpret the
story of Eureka.
The Gallery Now
The focus of the Collection is to present the history of
Australian Art to the current time through paintings and works
on paper with selections of sculpture and decorative arts, also
looking closely at the work of regional artists and works depicting
the growth of Ballarat. Recent purchases and donations have
expanded on the holdings of modern Australian sculpture and opened
up a new vista of collecting - the art of the indigenous peoples of
Australia's Top End.
The Gallery building has changed and evolved in response over
the years to the expansion of the collection and reflecting
the place the gallery has had in Ballarat's cultural life. The
first addition to the 1890 building came in the 1920s, with
the addition of two large gallery rooms on the upper
In 1987 the City of Ballaarat expanded the Gallery into the
Bones Building, a group of shops adjoining the existing building in
Lydiard Street. The latest expansion came as part of the 2001
Centenary of Federation, when the Gallery building was
extended through to Camp Street as part of the Camp Street arts
precinct, which also includes the University of Ballarat Arts
Academy and Alfred Deakin Place.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is one of Australia's great art
galleries. It remains at the heart of Ballarat's cultural life and
offers residents and visitors a vigorous and exciting program of
exhibitions, as well as providing an opportunity to walk through
the entire span of Australia's art history.