AGNSW will host one of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia.

The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland is one of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia.

Spanning a period of 400 years from the Renaissance to Impressionism, the exhibition includes over 70 paintings and drawings from the National Galleries of Scotland and is presented as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2015-2016.

“The Greats is a statement of unequivocal artistic excellence – each piece in this exhibition is of extraordinary quality. We are excited to provide Australian audiences the rare opportunity to come face to face with such unique and masterful artworks,” said Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Michael Brand.

Visitors to The Greats will also experience the Scottish National Gallery’s famous interior with part of the exhibition space inspired by the Edinburgh gallery’s octagonal rooms with fabric walls of a sumptuous red – the traditional colour on which to hang old master paintings.

Featured works include the most outstanding names in Western art, including Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Poussin, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Monet, Degas, Gauguin and Cézanne. The exhibition also marks the first time these artworks have been exhibited in Australia, with the exception of Rembrandt’s A woman in bed (1647) and Seurat’s La Luzerne, Saint-Denis (1884–85).

Sandro Botticelli’s The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child ‘The Wemyss Madonna’ (1485) is an exhibition highlight. Painted in Florence during Botticelli’s mature years, the work depicts the Madonna Child beside a rocky outcrop, framed by roses and flowers. Botticelli’s simple composition – inspired by the work of Filippo Lippi – is unusual in two respects: canvas paintings were still uncommon at this time and the Christ Child was rarely shown asleep.

Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch (1795) is another highlight. The oil painting depicts the serene skater Reverend Robert Walker, minister of the Canongate Kirk, as he glides across the ice. Painted during the Scottish Enlightenment, it was practically unknown until about 1949, but has since become one of Scotland’s best-loved paintings.

A variety of associated public and education programmes will accompany the exhibition, with the gallery hosting guided tours, lecture series, late night programmes, and a suite of other events designed to facilitate audience engagement with artworks. In addition, a classical soundtrack will be included in the exhibition audio guide, designed to complement the chronological exhibition across seven rooms. Visitors can enjoy Josquin’s Ave Maria, Rameau’s Overture from Nais, JC Bach’s Sinfonia Concertante in E Flat Major and Fauré’s Pavane among others well-known works, with the compilation soundtrack available for purchase from ABC Classics.

Presented exclusively in Australia by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, this is a rare opportunity for Sydneysiders to experience, contemplate and appreciate the grandeur of The Greats.


The Greats runs at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until February 14.

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