Rivers in Australia at National Library of Australia Treasures Gallery

Image off NLA Website for this exhibition

The National Library does a great job of targetted historical exhibitions. This small show in the Treasures Gallery bring together rich maps, books and photographs to portray a historical insight to the place of Rivers in Australia. A land of vast dry areas also features great flooding rivers. There are some maps of early Canberra and a great photograph of the flooded city before the finishing of Lake Burley Griffin. For the history geography buff it is a great half an hour visit.The National Library is still about the only institurion to ban photographs. These artifacts are all in th epublic collection and lots of them are very old. Still puzzles me.

Exhibition is on till September 12 and the website is: https://www.nla.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/rivers-lifeblood-australia

A Nation Imagined: The Artists of the Picturesque Atlas at National Library of Australia

Landscape painting from NLA page for exhibition

This amazing exhibition finishes this weekend. The roots for this show was a collaboration between the National Library and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia was published between 1986-9 and this exhibition focusses on the artists who contributed to the work. The three principal artists were Julian Ashton, A. Henry Fullwood and Frank Mahony As usual with NLA exhibitions the display is rich with great historical source material and great information from the curatorial staff. The NLA is the only institution I know of in Australia that prohibits use of cameras in their exhibitions. I do not remember any material in this display younger than 100 years old which is puzzling.

This is a link to the documents that are available on Trove if you do not get into the Library this weekend.


Waving the Red Flag – Chinese posters 1949 – 1976 @ National Library of Australia

The National Library does history beautifully. Right now there is a remarkable exhibition of Chinese posters from the early Mao era. They are classic, They are stylistic, They embody a fabulous insight into both Chinese history and culture. There is a visual beauty in the twenty simply hing images that draws the eye.

Sample pics are below do not give anything like the strikingness of the real images.


Melodrama in Meiji Japan @ National Library of Australia

Exhibition branding for Melodrama in Meiji Japan It is wonderful how many generous people enrich us all with their art gifts to public institutions. The exhibition at the National Library is the result of a collector’s generosity.

100 gorgeous woodblock prints recording the introduction of melodrama into pictorial story telling traditions 100 years ago in Meiji Japan. The elegance of Japanese illustration is there in every print. The emotion and restrained dignity of the images is engaging. The textual explanation is rich and demanding and the experience of the exhibition gives a great historical insight to a period of change in the society of Japan as it absorbs some influences of the west. It also marks a flowering in woodblock printing before more technological techniques took over.

There was a no photographs policy in an exhibition of prints that are all around a hundred years old in public ownership so to look at some samples I have included the web page below.



The Band Played On @ National Library of Australia

The National Library of Australia runs great historical document exhibitions. The Band Plays On was an exhibition that showed the sheet music and ephemera connected with World War One popular songs. The famous and popular songs are on the walls in the music etc. An exhibition like this is uniquely able to give a sense of the sentiment at the time on issues such as nationalism.

A few pics below of the exhibits

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The Sell – Australian Advertising 1790s – 1990s @ National Library of Australia

The National Gallery does great work in historical retrospectives of elements of Australian life. The current exhibition is a classic. It streams from the first printed advertisement printed in Sydney in the early 19790s the end of the 20th century.

These detailed histories draw on vast collections available in the NLA  There are remarkable early newspapers, there are gorgeous travel posters, there are printers stages for posters, there is a set of Redheads match box covers over a few decades showing their changes and style differences.

One sad omision is the creative approaches to cigarette advertising. While it is illegal now during its life it was a truly stunningly creative part of advertising. In this large show there is one Paul Hogan ad and two anti cigarette works.

I am amazed that the National Library has this no photographs policy. Nearly all this stuff is theirs or ours and is out of copyright. Lots of the rest is out on the internet. No pictures here an not much support on the website of this remarkable coverage of a significant element of Australian history.



Athol Shmith – Fashion Photographs @ National Library of Australia

26 November 2016- 16 July 2017

The blurb for this exhibition reads

Elegant, bold and often experimental, Melbourne photographer Athol Shmith (1914–1990) worked in fashion, theatre, advertising and portraiture for decades. Shmith’s have been called ‘perhaps the finest of all Australian fashion photographs’. He is said to have directed every aspect of a shoot, whether at his studio at the ‘Paris end’ of Collins Street, at friends’ houses or outdoors. Much of his work was for Melbourne boutiques Le Louvre and La Petite, as well as for Myer.

In 1979, Shmith gave the Library a large collection of his prints, negatives and transparencies. Most are fashion photographs and came with few details on why or when they were taken. He later visited the Library and identified many of the models.

This small exhibition, drawn entirely from the Library’s collections, showcases his fashion photography. https://www.nla.gov.au/exhibitions/athol-shmith-fashion-photographs

The collection of photographs are truly remarkable. The poses, the clothes, the models,  all speak of high quality design and creativity and excellent use of light. Every picture posed against vacant or stunning backgrounds is a credit to the art of black and white fashion photography. A great collection of artistry.

Below are some naughty phone snaps to give you the vibe of his remarkable works,

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Australian Sketchbook – S T Gill@ National Library of Australia

Australian Sketchbook the Colonial Life and Art of S.T Gill

The National Library is amazing at documenting and exhibiting important features of Australian history. The current exhibition is awesome on both of those. S.T. Gill sketched and painted Australian cities and countryside.during the second half of the 1800s.

The works record society – both the wealthy and and the poor. The artist creates a sympathetic record of the indigenous population. Gill has created a vivid picture of the built form of the goldfield settlements as they were growing. There are vibrant portraits of social life, sporting events and other elements or colonial society.

The guy has a fun sense of human foibles and is able to show the flaws in all human beings. It is not a quick pop in type of exhibition, rather there is lots of details to absorb in both the images and the text on the wall.  There are over 200 images that demonstrate Gill’s insight into his society.

There is a prohibition on photography in the room so I have included the website link below on which are embedded several sections and several of the pictures in each section.


There is a great page for the National Museum of Australia on Gill with lots of pictures.



Hardy Wilson’s Peking @ National Library of Australia

HW National

Hardy Wilson created a striking set of representations of Peking in the 30s. The gift Wilson has is for detail. These creations are not very colourful but they build clarity through use of line and contrast. Wilson understands the unique nature of built form in China and records the detail with care.

No Photographs allowed but the website page has a set of pictures from the exhibition so I have included it below.


Celestial Empire – Life in China 1644-1911 @ National Library of Australia

Occasionally I make a point of going to the first day of an exhibition. I have been looking forward to this one since I first heard about its coming maybe six months ago. A comprehensive exhibition on the Quing Dynasty from 1644- 1911 drawn almost exclusively from the resources of the National Library of China would be hard to make a mess of.

Walking into the crowded space today immediately confirmed my expectations that this would be exhilarating. The first object was a huge blue and white map on fabric that must have been 12 sq mtr. Around the corner there was an abundance of hand drawn maps and story books, maps, building plans, rich, beautifully coloured illustrations and massive paintings of 3D map like paintings on silk scrolls.

In the centre of the gallery there is one of those fun glass topped touch screen map devices. I spent 20 minutes on it. There were translations of documents, information flags on map locations, historical photo collections and exquisite painting reproductions linked to elements of the main map. I guess I got less than half way round and will go back for more.

I plan to go back for several more visits. I was almost shocked that it was free. The quality of the objects exhibited and the helpful amount of detail in the text was enjoyable. As there is a photograph ban in the gallery I have included the webpage link and a picture of a horse drawn carriage from the foyer of the Library.

It was a privilege to view this material and chatting with several Chinese visitors I got some insight into some of the untranslated text. Thanks NLA staff – it was awesome.


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