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The coastline south-east of Melbourne has charmed and inspired many artists. As a teenager, Boyd spent three years living in Rosebud with his grandfather, during which time he painted Beach at Rosebud with Mt Martha in distance, 1938; in 1955, the vibrant classic Lovers in a Boat at Hastings.

More recently Euan Macleod spent a week at the Police Point Artist in Residence at Portsea and was enamoured of the coastline at Point Nepean; he later donated several works to the gallery.

MPRG’s senior curator Danny Lacy says MPRG: FIFTY will see some of the permanent collection on display for the first time in years. Of the gallery’s permanent 1845 works, last year only nine were on display to the public: just half of one per cent.

Detail of Arthur Boyd's 'Lovers in a boat at Hastings' c.1955, oil on perspex, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

Detail of Arthur Boyd’s ‘Lovers in a boat at Hastings’ c.1955, oil on perspex, Mornington Peninsula Regional GalleryCredit:Courtesy Mornington Peninsula Gallery

Works on paper and prints, even by significant artists, are available for a fraction of the cost of paintings. McCulloch used that knowledge to great advantage, amassing a staggering 1000-odd works on paper for the gallery by the time he retired in 1991. Those pieces make up the mainstay of the MPRG’s collection.

Lacy says the biggest challenge was how to summarise 50 years of collecting. He and collections curator Narelle Russo subdivided one of the big, hangar-like galleries into six rooms during shutdown to create an extra 100m of wall space.

Four of these walls will remain after this show “so we can curate these smaller thematic focused displays from the collection,” Lacy says. “We’ve never been able to do that before.”

Three rooms are dedicated to images of the Mornington Peninsula, gorgeously different representations of the coastline from classic, gold-framed works from the 1850s through to recent contemporary pieces.

Crowd, 1970, original artwork by John Hopkins. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Gift of the artist 1974. Represented by Australian Galleries - Melbourne and Sydney.

Crowd, 1970, original artwork by John Hopkins. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Gift of the artist 1974. Represented by Australian Galleries – Melbourne and Sydney. Credit:Courtesy of MPRG

Several winners of the national works on paper awards from the last 15 years will be shown, along with work by female printmakers of the 1970s and 1980s. A massive piece by Locust Jones, Geronimo 2011, measuring 10 metres long and a metre high, is a highlight.

One of the large rooms will display a ‘collection kaleidoscope’ with more than 60 works grouped according to colour: contemporary and historical works with sculptures dotted throughout. This creates some startling juxtapositions: Jon Campbell’s Golden Backyard 2004, depicting a backyard cricket game, sits alongside a work by feminist activists Guerilla Girls.


“It’s trying to break down the hierarchies of how we display things,” Lacy says. “We wanted to get as many works out in a salon hang, for which you need some sort of parameter … it’s a great way to get the collection out en masse.”

Lacy pays homage to McCulloch, who he describes as influential and well-connected, a real champion of artists. “He also knew donors well and was the driving force behind the collection in the first 20 years,” he says. “The idea of those new rooms is to have a space for the collection so people understand what a rich depository it is.”

Senior curator at the gallery since 2016, Lacy’s connection with MPRG is personal – his grandmother used to volunteer there and he visited as a child. “We’re trying to make art accessible to everyone… and constantly reinforce that it’s an open-door policy.”

Those doors re-open on July 1, and talks, symposiums and workshops will also be offered online.

MPRG: FIFTY is at Mornington Peninsula Gallery from July 1–November 22, 2020

Kerrie is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald

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