Artists Melbourne Uncategorized

Ahhh, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

Yesterday I intended to go to the blockbuster exhibition at the NGV. When I got there I thought “Monet can wait”, and I went on a guided tour of the general collection instead. A great decision! The guide, Julia, was wonderful, very knowledgeable and interesting. One of the things I really appreciate about tours like this is that the guides show me paintings that I would walk past. I might not always like them, but guides like Julia give me so much more, explaining symbols, the history of the work and so on. They explain why that work should there with all the other glorious things.

Before I take you to two that Julia showed me yesterday I have to show you two exhibits in the foyer.

The blockbuster I didn’t see (but will!) is ‘Monet’s Garden’. As we know he is famous for his water lilies. Celeste Boursier-Mougenot has reworked this concept to create a stunning, zen-like acoustic installation.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen
Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Here it is as the whole. Yes, they are simple white bowls.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen, in the foyer of the NGV
Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen, in the foyer of the NGV (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

It is a circular pond. A pump moves the water, which causes the bowls to float and move. If that graceful movement was not enough, there is the sound that they make as they gently collide, like the bells in a temple. As you can see from the photo so many people were entranced, sitting, watching, listening. If you are passing by, pop in and have a look. You won’t be disappointed.

Also in the foyer is this gorgeous creation. Again it was very eye catching!

Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer
Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer

This (taxidermic) deer is covered in various sized glass beads. I loved the effect, but found it a little disturbing.

Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer
Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer

Now our tour continues up a few levels of the gallery, to look at two very different paintings of the Virgin Mary. First, the paintings:

Sassoferrato: 'Madonna in prayer' (Italian, painted about 1640-50)
Sassoferrato: ‘Madonna in prayer’ (Italian, painted about 1640-50)
Bernardo Cavallino: 'The Virgin Annunciate' (Italian, painted about 1645 - 50)
Bernardo Cavallino: ‘The Virgin Annunciate’ (Italian, painted about 1645 – 50)

They were both about the same size, painted around the same time, both Italian. While they are paintings of the Virgin Mary, they are very different interpretations. (And I have walked past both paintings a number of times without stopping to look!)

The sign next to Sassoferrato’s Madonna (the first painting) said “a classic example of the Catholic Church’s emphasis during the Counter-Reformation on reaffirming devotion to the Virgin Mary.” It is a beautiful painting, showing Mary as she is usually portrayed, demure, devoted, and wearing blue robes.

Then there was the second painting. It would have been paired on an altar with a painting of the Archangel Gabriel announcing the dramatic news to Mary. Cavallino has painted this work so wonderfully. He uses highlights to emphasis his message. The light falls onto Mary’s face. Her expression is somber, and I think the red around her nose indicates that she has been crying. This is not the usual portrayal of the Annunciation, which show Mary ecstatic and filled with joy. Instead she is a young woman who has just received some overwhelming news. She is human, her emotions are real.

However, her hands are also highlighted. They are held in a position that shows acceptance, acceptance of the news from Gabriel. For me, it is a very moving painting. She   is challenged but also courageous and dignified.

I am so glad that Julia made me really look at these two paintings.

11 replies on “Ahhh, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)”

I love the NGV’s general collection, and we try to spend time there when we are in Melbourne, which isn’t often enough. The 2 foyer pieces are extraordinary… love the bowls… but different… I agree with you about the deer being disturbing… I got a cold shiver as I looked at it.
That’s the thing you need with the NGV, and any good gallery is time to wander, and also utilise the benefits of the guides. The 2 Virgin Mary paintinsg are lovely, and despite having an affection for religiouc iconography, I think I prefer the second realer representation. Great post 🙂


Thanks EllaDee. 🙂 I agree about the two Madonna paintings. The first was beautiful and serene, but the human aspect of the second resonated with me.

And the deer….I kept thinking of carbuncles and boils! Do you get to the gallery in Sydney very often? It is ages since I have been there, and, honestly, have forgotten what treasures are there.


It’s ages since I went to the Sydney art gallery also. My friend who lives in Canberra and I usually go if there’s a big travelling exhibition but I don’t find the permanent works as attractive as Melbourne’s. I may wander by and see what’s new 🙂


You are right Anne our gallery is a true treasure. I too was mesmerised on Monday by the floating bowls. I had to take a movie to capture the beautiful sounds, it is so contemplative and the brilliant blue so stunning. A great installation. Thank you for your discussion on the Madonna’s, very interesting.


I was also fascinated by the number of people who just sat, watching, listening. Even the groups of school kids. I smiled to myself as I watched a teacher move children away from the edge of the pond. They really didn’t want to go, but I could see her thinking that one of them might break one of the bowls! (That was me, in a past life!!)


Compliments, Anne, especially for the comparison between the two Madonnas. Yet, I doubt that Cavallino’s masterpiece “would have been paired on an altar with a painting of the Archangel Gabriel announcing the dramatic news to Mary”. If we compare it with another famed “Virgin Annuciate”, by Antonello da Messina in Palermo, Sicily, we might rather guess that the announcing angel has been cut off. Mary’s “problem” is an early modern loneliness.


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