The Mosman Art Collection is a long-held point of pride within the Mosman community. Mosman’s unique location surrounded by stunning harbour foreshores and beautiful bushland has inspired generations of artists since the late 19th century. Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton were among a large number of artists who painted in the area from the artists' camps at Mosman Bay, Little Sirius Cove and Balmoral. They established an artistic tradition in Mosman which has been upheld by scores of artists, writers, and poets ever since.
The Mosman Art Collection is an historically important and unique collection of paintings and works on paper which have been collected since Mosman Municipal Council’s commencement in 1897. The collection’s primary focus is Australian painting, and the core of the collection has been formed through the annual, acquisitive Mosman Art Prize, first established in 1947 by the artist, architect and arts advocate, Alderman, Allan Gamble.
Over time the Mosman Art Prize has developed to become Australia’s most prestigious municipally funded art prize with a national profile. It regularly attracts over 800 entries annually and currently offers over $40,000 in prizes. The resulting collection of modern and contemporary paintings reflects developments in Australian art practices since 1947.
The Mosman Art Collection also includes many significant works by Australian artists which have been acquired through several generous donations. In 1945 Alderman Keith Cowlishaw made a donation of 15 works from his personal collection of Australian Colonial and early twentieth century paintings including artworks by Conrad Martens, William Henry Raworth, William Whitney, Wiliam Lister Lister, James Howe Carse, and Valentine Delaware among others.
Neil Balnaves AO, a long term Mosman resident, made a pledge in 2010 to donate a million dollars worth of paintings from his personal art collection to the Mosman Art Gallery and municipality. The Balnaves Gift is unquestionably the most important donation ever to be received by Mosman Council featuring sixteen Australian Impressionist and early twentieth century artworks significant to the Mosman including key works by 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.
On Thursday 19 March 2015 esteemed Australian artist John Olsen AO OBE gifted a new painting of Sydney Harbour to the Mosman Art Collection. Titled, The Rolling Sea and that Streeton Painting, this new work is a significant acquisition for the Gallery, the municipality of Mosman and for the greater audiences of Sydney. Olsen’s painting was inspired by Arthur Streeton’s iconic Sydney Harbour 1895, a piece included in The Balnaves Gift.
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 artists 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 will bring considerable pleasure and joy to the many visitors who engage with this stunning collection of paintings in our beautiful newly refurbished Mosman Art Gallery. Together these works form a substantial historical addition to the Mosman Art Gallery Collection, and will provide particular focus and value for our education program.
Neil Balnaves AO has forged a long and distinguished career in Australian business. In 2010 he was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to business and philanthropy. The Mosman Art Gallery is indebted to Neil Balnaves AO for his selfless generosity in giving The Balnaves Gift to the municipality of Mosman in this outstanding statement of his philanthropic leadership.
“Mosman has given me a lot in my life – and I am delighted to give something back…” Neil Balnaves AO