Art is everywhere in Broken Hill, this outback area seems to be a magnet for artists, with galleries scattered all round, both along Argent Street, the main thoroughfare, in the suburbs, and also the outlying townships.
It all started back when the town became rich on the back of the discovery of a huge silver deposit. In the mid 1800’s it was a shanty town of struggling prospectors living in tents and improvised buildings. Now there was money to erect impressive council buildings. One of the first was the Town Hall built-in 1890. On our first day wandering along Argent Street and being impressed by the wide streets and the many heritage buildings including this beautiful and extraordinarily ornate Town Hall, designed by Adelaide architect Whittal in the Victorian Classical Revival style. It was one of the first of the truly ornate structures to grace the streets of Broken Hill. But what really caught my eye was this, an open door, inviting us into a world of art..An opportunity to go inside and see what was on offer. Today it is the Civic Centre that acts as the congregation point for Broken Hill’s large-scale entertainment events. This week it is hosting the “West Darling art society’s” annual art show. An interesting selection of local artists works.It was lovingly restored back in the 1970’s, but it came just a whisker from being demolished and a modern structure put in its place. The Historical Society arranged a protest to save the architectural treasure from demolition more than 40 years ago. Thankfully they succeeded.
I was surprised that we were the only ones looking round the exhibition.
What I really wanted to see was the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, it is the oldest regional art gallery in New South Wales and the second oldest art gallery in Australia after the State Gallery in Sydney. It started in 1904 when George McCulloch (one of the founders of BHP) donated three paintings. The collection was originally housed in the Technical College Museum and moved to its current site in 1970.
Now located in a restored heritage building, the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery is as beautiful as the collection of works within.
It is now housed on the main street of Broken Hill in a grandiose two-story heritage building. Built in 1885 and formerly the well-known Sully’s Emporium hardware store, the imposing building was purchased by the Broken Hill City Council in 1998 and underwent an award-winning restoration to become a truly beautiful gallery space. Many of the buildings original features were preserved, including external Sully’s signage that shouts its heritage loud and proud to all who pass. What else would you expect in Australia’s first Heritage-listed city?
It is indeed a beautiful building and as I entered I was greeted by this over life-sized poster. The renowned Broken Hill artist Pro Hart is an icon here and around Australia (another post about him soon) The prize showcases work in any media which reflects the spirit and diversity of the Australian Outback. We were just lucky enough to be here during the last week of the exhibition.
The public are asked to vote for their favourite and this is what I chose. I love the feeling of being drawn into the bush and lost in the wilderness.
It was 2 floors of diverse art. Jack was drawn to this very large painting in the general gallery, he loved the complexity of it and the sheer overwhelming emotionWhen doing this post I checked it on the internet and it has an amazing story. Jack really has an eye for art, this is the back story of this magnificent painting…
Poisoning, vandalism and an artist’s dramatic death surround one of the most valuable paintings in a regional art gallery in New South Wales.
Vae Victis, the sack of Morocco by the Almohades was exhibited by Arthur Hacker at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1890, then was purchased by Broken Hill Proprietary Company director George McCulloch.
The massive oil painting caught attention at the time for its scale — it measures more than 1.5 metres by 2.7 metres — and its subject matter featuring female bodies exposed and strewn across a scene of pillage.
Rumours of a death curse
Broken Hill locals like to talk in conspiratorial whispers about the painting having some kind of curse surrounding it.
It is a difficult claim to measure objectively, but there were some strange deaths associated with the painting.
The first was that of a Broken Hill art gallery caretaker, who mixed up medicine bottles in 1914.
“He was quite unwell and was in the habit of going to the laboratory at the technical college and drinking something for it,” Mr McCallum said.
“One day he grabbed the wrong bottle and drank cyanide. That was quite sad.”
The next death was that of the artist himself, found dead in his house in 1919.
“A police officer noticed Mr Harker’s door was open,” Mr McCallum said.
“Thinking something was amiss he entered to find the artist in his pyjamas, sprawled across the vestibule, dead.”
Mr McCallum said it looked like a case of life imitating art.
“He almost seemed to be emulating what he had painted in Vae Victis.”
I, on the other hand, chose a far gentler painting. It was the beauty of the light, radiating peace, that captured my artist’s eye.I will finish this post with a gallery of some of the street art scattered around the city.
There are about 40 galleries and we only managed to see about 10 of them. Plus there were many other things that we didn’t have time to fit in. I really hope we do manage to get back one day for another visit.
In the next post I will take you to visit those famed “Brushmen of the bush”….
This week I am taking you into the world of art and joining the Len’s-artist photo challenge with Tina’s invitation to take you through an open door .