The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

public Eu­gene von Guer­ard, 1856. Col­lec­tion Gee­long Gallery. Pur­chased through the Gee­long Art Gallery Foun­da­tion with the support of the Vic­to­rian govern­ment, the Aus­tralian govern­ment, the City of Greater Gee­long and nu­mer­ous com­mu­nity and other donors, 2006. On dis­play, Gee­long Gallery, Vic­to­ria. In 1996 one of Aus­tralia’s colo­nial mas­ter­pieces was bought for al­most $2 mil­lion by Bri­tish com­poser An­drew Lloyd Web­ber, renowned for mu­si­cals such as Phan­tom of the Opera, Cats, Je­sus Christ Su­per­star and Evita.

Lloyd Web­ber wanted to buy Eu­gene von Guer­ard’s View of Gee­long for his col­lec­tion be­cause he was cap­ti­vated by grand 19th-cen­tury paint­ings. He also wanted one out­stand­ing paint­ing to rep­re­sent each of the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth coun­tries, and chose View of Gee­long to rep­re­sent Aus­tralia.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Lloyd Web­ber wasn’t the only party in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing the work. At the auc­tion, one of the most de­ter­mined was Vic­to­ria’s Gee­long Gallery, which con­sid­ered it a most de­sir­able ac­qui­si­tion but couldn’t out­bid the $1.98m.

Af­ter the sale, Lloyd Web­ber agreed to lend the paint­ing to Gee­long Gallery for sev­eral weeks. It was put on dis­play and crowds of peo­ple came to see it be­fore it left the coun­try.

For nearly 10 years View of Gee­long hung in Lloyd Web­ber’s house in Lon­don. How­ever, in mid-2005 he de­cided to sell it. Through Christie’s auc­tion house he made an ex­clu­sive of­fer to Gee­long Gallery with first right of re­fusal. The price tag was close to $4m.

What en­sued was a pas­sion­ate na­tional fundrais­ing cam­paign. The Gee­long coun­cil threw in money, as did the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments, and the cor­po­rate sec­tor. More than 700 com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als sup­ported the ac­qui­si­tion. In 2006 the money was raised and at the time it was the most ex­pen­sive Aus­tralian paint­ing pur­chased by a public in­sti­tu­tion.

The paint­ing now hangs in the Gee­long Gal-

Oil on canvas; 89cm x 154.5cm

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