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