In 2010, Neil Balnaves AO made a pledge to donate a million dollars’ worth of paintings from his personal art collection to the Mosman Art Gallery and municipality. This was realised through the donation of sixteen Australian Impressionist and early twentieth century artworks significant to the Mosman area, the most important donation ever to be received by Mosman Council. The Balnaves Gift includes key works by several of Australia’s most distinguished artists: Arthur Streeton, Conrad Martens, Will Ashton, Henry Fullwood, Elioth Gruner, George Halstead, James Ranalph Jackson, Matthew Charles Meere, Adelaide Elizabeth Perry, Sydney Long, Ethel Carrick Fox and Margaret Preston.
The suburb of Mosman has long held a fascination for artists due to its unique natural beauty - its stunning harbour foreshores and idyllic bushlands which elicit a sense of sanctuary and escape. The area has inspired generations of creatives since the first Aboriginal artists of the Cammeraigal and Borogegal clans. The paintings made in the late 19th century at Mosman’s ‘Artists Camps’ at Curlew Camp and Sirius Cove, especially those by Arthur Streeton, have become iconic images alongside those Impressionists of Victoria’s Heidelberg school. Painted at a time of burgeoning nationalism, in a time of deep economic depression and rapid industrialisation, these images are central to the Australian visual aesthetic.
The Artists Camps and the surrounding harbour foreshores continued to attract important artists to Mosman well into the 20th century, providing inspiration for yet another generation of artists including Will Ashton, James R. Jackson and Margaret Preston. A pioneer of the modernist idiom in Australian art, Margaret Preston has remained one of our most celebrated Australian artists and was based for much of her long career in Mosman.
The significance of The Balnaves Gift is that the artworks capture the changing face of Sydney’s harbour foreshore, surrounding landscape and social customs. They define important movements within Australian art history, providing audiences a unique window to understand the area’s past and reflect on Mosman’s rich artistic legacy. The Balnaves Gift continues to bring considerable pleasure and joy to the many visitors who engage with this stunning collection of paintings.
Neil Balnaves is a long-term Mosman resident, who has forged a long and distinguished career in Australian business. In 2010, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his services to business and philanthropy. Mosman Art Gallery is indebted to Neil Balnaves AO for The Balnaves Gift and his outstanding statement of philanthropic leadership.