Ballarat bound #1: The Art Gallery of Ballarat

So what if the Aussie dollar is dropping?? I’m still on the road:  Geelong a couple of weeks ago; Ballarat this weekend! Who needs to go further than 100 kms from home?? Wot larks!

I’d been disappointed to miss the Anne Frank travelling exhibition that closed recently at the Jewish Museum and when I found that it had headed off to the  Ballarat Gold Museum, I thought I’d follow it.  Then there’s the new Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) which opened just last month, and a scientific drawing exhibition from Museum Victoria on show at the Ballarat Art Gallery.  So, all in all- a good reason to go!


For those of you not familiar with Ballarat, it’s a large provincial gold-rush town about 100 km north-west of Melbourne.  Enormous wealth poured into both Ballarat and the similarly-sized Bendigo  in the early 1850s and is expressed in its grand architecture and densely-woven civic culture.


First stop- the  Art Gallery of Ballarat, the oldest and largest regional art gallery in Australia (yet another manifestation of the wealth brought by gold, no doubt).  There were two temporary exhibitions that we were interested in, both as it happens  touring exhibitions from Melbourne-based institutions.

The first was The Art of Science: Scientific illustrations from Museum Victoria, featuring 300 years of scientific drawings from nature.  Birds and wildlife dominated the first room, with pictures by John Gould and his illustrators, various French and British naturalists who had come to Australia in the late 18th century and several plates from Audubon’s Birds of America.   I’m often fascinated by the very first scientific drawings of -for example, Australian fauna- that are really grappling with trying to depict something that has not been seen before and yet don’t quite capture it properly.  Possibly it’s lack of skill, or perhaps it’s because the painter is reaching after comparisons and analogies that don’t work.

There was a chronological and conceptual narrative  in the way that the works were displayed in this exhibition.  The illustrations in the first room tried to replicate reality as accurately as possible, then the exhibition moved on to scientific depictions of the unseen through the  reconstructions of fossils and then finally magnification as a form of hyper-seeing.

Stairway leading up to galleries, Art Gallery of Ballarat

Stairway leading up to galleries, Art Gallery of Ballarat

All of which formed an interesting juxtaposition with the exhibition in the adjoining rooms Living Traditions: The Art of Belief  from the NGV which showed man’s attempts to draw or respond through art to something definitely unseen (and in my opinion, not real at all).

Then upstairs briefly to look for Mr Judge’s Grand-dad’s contribution to the Gallery.  Most major  galleries in Australia have a Web Gilbert somewhere tucked away.  Here’s Ballarat’s:

'Psyche' by C. Web Gilbert, Art Gallery of Ballarat

‘Psyche’ by C. Web Gilbert, Art Gallery of Ballarat

A pie for lunch (what else?) then next stop- The Museum of Democracy at Eureka.

5 responses to “Ballarat bound #1: The Art Gallery of Ballarat

  1. I was in Ballarat in May for the second day of the Ballarat Heritage Festival … and unfortunately did not get to the Gallery of the Museum of Democracy, which we’d heard was great. But what we did see and you top photo reminded my of it was its wonderful Victorian (as in 19th century England not the state of Victoria!) streetscape. It apparently has the best street of Victorian buildings outside of England.

  2. I too loved the Ballarat Heritage Festival; spouse and I made a weekend out of it including great hotel, fine food and excellent book buying. We saw the Anne Frank Travelling Exhibition (elsewhere), the gorgeous Ballarat Synagogue and the Ballarat Gold Museum, but not the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka. Clearly, from what you say, MADE has only opened this year.

    • I didn’t realize that there was a Ballarat Synagogue, although when I think about it, there would be one given Ballarat’s prominence. And yes, MADE is a recent museum.

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