Experimental gentlemen

The worlds of colonial art and rock music might seem like odd bedfellows, but they come together in a new exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art.

Art Exhibition previously on at Ian Potter Museum of Art in Victoria, Australia.
From Saturday 19 March 2011 to Sunday 25 September 2011

The city and harbour of Sydney from near Vaucluse 1852 image Fern tree valley, Van Diemen’s Land c. 1847 image

Published by Ian Potter Museum of Art on Friday 11 February 2011.
Contact the publisher.

Experimental gentlemen is a stunning showcase of the Grimwade collection, featuring a veritable who’s who of Australian colonial art–including John Glover, Eugene von Guérard, John Skinner Prout and Augustus Earle. From indisputable masterpieces like William Strutt’s Bushrangers, Victoria, Australia, 1852 (1887), through to rarely seen treasures such as Alexander Shaw’s A catalogue of the different specimens of cloth collected in the three voyages of Captain Cook (1787), it shows a changing vision of the country we inhabit.

The exhibition has been curated by Potter guest curator Henry F. Skerritt, who was awarded the prestigious 2010 Grimwade Internship at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, to research the Grimwade collections of the University of Melbourne.
Skerritt, who studied Fine Art at the University of Melbourne, is also the lead singer of the Melbourne based rock group The Holy Sea. Skerritt is no stranger to colonial Australia; The Holy Sea’s 2010 album Ghosts of the Horizon also explored colonial themes, from the arrival of Cook to the 2004 death in custody of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee.

The title of the exhibition comes from an 18th century term used to describe wealthy young virtuosi like Joseph Banks or Charles Darwin, who travelled the world in search of adventure and novelty. According to Skerritt, “Stepping into the gallery will be like diving into the pages of a Boy’s Own Adventure novel. There is nothing reverential or traditional about Experimental gentlemen; we want to reinstate the sense of wonderment and awe that inspired explorers and adventurers to risk their lives in the pursuit of new sights and experiences.”

“It is easy to forget how challenging the marvels of the new world were to these adventurers. What appears commonplace to us now, was once so startling that it sent seismic reverberations through the old world, challenging the way Europeans thought about art, life and their place in the universe.”

This sense of wonderment is precisely in keeping with the spirit of the Grimwade collection, bequeathed to the University of Melbourne by Sir Russell and Lady Mab Grimwade. Comprising over 600 artworks, 1000 books and a trove of photographs and archival materials, the Grimwade collection is one of the largest and finest colonial collections in Australia.

Sir Russell Grimwade (1879-1955) was fiercely passionate about fostering the development of an Australian historical narrative–so much so that in 1934 it inspired him to transport Captain Cook’s cottage from Yorkshire to Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens.

Skerritt says, “Nowadays people might consider Grimwade to be something of an eccentric, but he was committed to celebrating Australia’s pioneer heritage. It was a heritage he felt closely connected to and I think he would be thrilled to think that 50 years after his death, people were still finding new ways to make the story of the past relevant through his collections.”