Timeline

1871

24 April

Meeting to establish an Academy of Art 'for the purpose of promoting the fine arts through lecture, art classes and regular exhibitions’ is held in Sydney.

1872

The first exhibition of colonial art, under the auspices of the Academy, is held at the Chamber of Commerce, Sydney Exchange.

1874

Apsley Falls by Conrad Martens is commissioned by the trustees and purchased for £50 out of the first government grant of £500. This is the first work on paper by an Australian artist to be acquired by the Gallery.

1875

Mount Olympus, Lake St Clair, Tasmania by WC Piguenit is purchased through a gift of 50 subscribers. This is the first oil painting by an Australian artist to be acquired by the Gallery.

April

The Gallery’s collection is first housed at Clark’s Assembly Hall in Elizabeth Street and open to the public on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

1877

July

A memorial display of three paintings by Adelaide Ironside at Clark’s Assembly Hall is the Gallery’s first solo exhibition of an Australian artist.

1879

August

A wooden fine arts annexe of nine rooms is built for Sydney’s International Exhibition and the national collection is moved there from Clark’s Assembly Hall. It is located in the Domain at the western entrance of the Botanic Gardens.

1880

20 September

The Fine Arts Annexe is officially opened as 'The Art Gallery of New South Wales’.

1882

22 September

The destruction of the Garden Palace by fire places pressure on the government to provide a more permanent and secure home for the national collection. See photos of the Garden Palace on Flickr

1883

The name of the Gallery is changed to 'The National Art Gallery of New South Wales’.

1884

Architect John Horbury Hunt is engaged to submit designs for the new art gallery.

1892

Eliezer Montiefore, a founding trustee and president of the trustees, is appointed the Gallery’s first director.

1895

George Edward Layton is appointed secretary and superintendent.

1897

The inaugural Wynne Prize is awarded to Walter Withers for The storm.

1899

Gallery is incorporated by an Act of Parliament.

1900

Perceval Ball suggests that the empty panels on the façade of the Gallery be filled with bas-reliefs illustrating the arts and industries. It is later decided to depict the various eras of art.

1905

Gother Victor Fyers Mann is appointed secretary and superintendent. He is renamed director and secretary in 1912.

1906

Over 300,000 people come to the Gallery during March and April to see Holman Hunt’s painting Light of the world.

1922

The inaugural Archibald Prize is awarded to WB McInnes for Desbrowe Annear.

1929

James Stuart MacDonald is appointed director and secretary.

1936

The inaugural Sulman Prize is awarded to Henry Hanke for La Gitana.

1937

John William Ashton is appointed director and secretary.

1938

Nora Heyson is the first woman to win the Archibald Prize with her portrait of Madame Elink Schuurman, the wife of the Consul General for the Netherlands.

Electric light is temporarily installed at the Gallery, which remains open at night for the first time.

1943

William Dobell wins the Archibald Prize for Joshua Smith. Two other entrants, Mary Edwards and Joseph Wolinski, take legal action against Dobell and the trustees on the grounds that the painting is not a portrait as defined by the Archibald Bequest. The case is dismissed in the Supreme Court. This is followed by an appeal and an unsuccessful demand to the Equity Court to restrain the trustes from handing over the money.

1945

Hal Missingham is appointed director and secretary.

1958

A new Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1958 is passed and the Gallery’s name reverts to 'The Art Gallery of New South Wales’.

1969

Construction begins on the Captain Cook wing, which is opened to the public in May 1972.

1971

Peter Phillip Laverty is appointed director.

1975

The exhibition Modern masters: Monet to Matisse is the first of the modern blockbusters to be held at the Gallery, attracting 180,000 over 29 days.

1976

The Biennale of Sydney is first held at the Gallery. The newly opened Sydney Opera House was the location for the inaugural Biennale of Sydney in 1973.

1978

Edmund Capon is appointed director.

1979

The departments of contemporary art and Asian art are founded.

1980

The Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980 establishes the 'Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust’. It reduces the number of trustees to nine and stipulates 'at least two of whom shall be knowledgeable and experienced in the visual arts’.

1988

Bicentennial extensions to the Gallery by Government architect Andrew Andersons double the size of the Gallery, providing expanded display space for the permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, a new gallery for Asian art and an outdoor sculpture garden.

1993

Kevin Connor wins the inaugural Dobell Prize for Drawing for Pyrmont and city.

1994

Yiribana Gallery, dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, is opened.

2003

January

A new conservation studio is completed.

January

An Art After Hours program is initiated, with an extended late night opening of the Gallery every Wednesday. It also includes a weekly series of free talks, films and other special events. In its first year it attracts just under 2000 visitors each Wednesday night.

March

The inaugural Australian Photographic Portrait Prize is won by Greg Weight for Railway blues Jim Conway.

May

A new function room is opened at the end of the entrance court, with a restaurant situated in the northeast corner, overlooking the harbour.

May

The Art Gallery Society of New South Wales celebrates its 50th anniversary.

June

A new upper level exhibition space is opened. Named the Rudy Komon Gallery, it includes 550 square metres of exhibition display area.

October

The new Asian galleries are opened, designed by Sydney architect Richard Johnston of Johnson Pilton Walker. The first temporary exhibition held in the new space is of Dadang Christanto’s They give evidence, a work subsequently acquired by the Gallery.

2004

February

An exhibition of Man Ray’s work sets an attendance record for photography exhibitions, with over 52,000 visitors.

March

A legal challenge is mounted against the award of the Archibald Prize to Craig Ruddy for his David Gulpilil, two worlds. The challenge claims that the work’s media disqualifies it from being awarded the prize.

April

A program of community ambassadors provides the Gallery with regular Asian language tours and cross-cultural perspectives on the collection.

October

The acquisition of Cy Twombly’s Three studies from the Temeraire 1998-99 is widely reported, creating some controversy about Gallery acquisitions.

December

The Anne Landa Award is established. It is Australia’s first award exhibition for moving image and new media.

20 December

The Nelson Meers Foundation Nolan Room is opened, with a display of five major Sidney Nolan paintings gifted to the Gallery by the Foundation over the past five years.

2005

26 May

myVirtualGallery is launched on the Gallery’s website.

26 September

The former Gallery boardroom is reopened as a new display space for paintings, sculptures and works on paper by Australian artists from the collection.

2006

May

Justice Hamilton rules in favour of the Gallery over the disputed 2004 award of the Archibald Prize to Craig Ruddy.

19 October

James Gleeson and his partner Frank O’Keefe pledge $16 million through the Gleeson O’Keefe Foundation to acquire works for the Gallery’s collection.

2007

10 June

A 17th-century Dutch painting by Frans van Mieris I, A cavalier (self-portrait), is stolen from the Gallery. Its whereabouts remain unknown.

28 August

The Belgiorno-Nettis family donates $4 million over four years to the Gallery to support contemporary art.

2008

The Gallery purchases Paul Cézanne’s painting Bords de la Marne c1888 for $16.2 million – the highest amount paid by the Gallery for a work of art.

February

The NSW Government announces a grant of $25.7 million to construct an offsite storage facility.

3 April

The gift of the John Kaldor Family Collection to the Gallery is announced. Valued at over $35 million, it comprises some 260 works representing the history of international contemporary art. The new offsite storage facility will allow space within the Gallery to display the collection.

2009

September

The refurbishment of the 19th-century Grand Courts is celebrated in the Gallery’s inaugural 'Open Weekend’.

2010

February

The new purpose-built off-site collection storage facility begins operations.

March

The awarding of the Wynne Prize to Sam Leach for Proposal for landscaped cosmos causes controversy due to the painting’s resemblance to a 17th-century Dutch landscape.

25 November

The Gallery announces Mollie Gowing’s bequest of 142 artworks plus $5 million to establish two endowment funds for acquisitions: one for Indigenous art and a larger one for general acquisitions.

2011

13 March

The First Emperor: China’s entombed warriors closes, having attracted more than 305,000 people since opening on 2 December 2010.

20 May

The new contemporary galleries are launched, including the John Kaldor Family Gallery as well as our first dedicated photography gallery and a refurbished works-on-paper study room. Developed as a result of the Kaldor family gift (see 2008), together with funds donated by the Belgiorno-Nettis family, this new 3300 square metres of exhibition space brings the Gallery’s total display area to 11,000 square metres.

3 August

Edmund Capon announces he will retire as director of the Art Gallery of NSW at the end of 2011 after 33 years in the role.

2012

10 February

Dr Michael Brand is announced as the new director of the Art Gallery of NSW, assuming the role in mid 2012.

25 March

Picasso: masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris closes after attracting almost 365,000 visitors – the largest number ever to an exhibition at the Gallery.

19 July

Michael Zavros wins the inaugural Bulgari Art Award with The new Round Room.

16 October

Kenneth Reed announces his intention to bequeath to the Gallery his entire private collection of 200 pieces of rare and valuable 18th-century European porcelain valued at $5.4 million.

2013

6 March

The Gallery unveils a strategic vision and masterplan, under the working title Sydney Modern, with a proposal for a major expansion and renewed focus on serving a global audience. The aim is to complete the project by 2021, the 150th anniversary of the Gallery’s founding in 1871.