Australian Art
Prints, drawings + illustrated books

The first Australian prints were acquired by the Government in the 1940s to decorate official residences. These were mostly historical, along with a few contemporary prints. With the appointment of James Mollison as Interim Director of the Australian National Gallery in 1977, the acquisition of contemporary prints commenced and comprehensive groups of prints by key artists were purchased. Acquisitions in this period included the prints of Sydney Long, George Baldessin, Arthur Boyd, and screenprints from the alternative print workshop, the Earthworks Poster Collective.

In 1978 the appointment of Daniel Thomas as Senior Curator of Australian Art saw a widening of the collection and an art historical approach to acquisitions. In this same year an important group of modernist linocuts of the 1930s and 1940s, and the first New Zealand prints entered the collection. The position of Curator of Australian Prints was advertised in 1980 but not filled. Martin Terry, Curator of Australian Drawings, supervised the collection until a curator was appointed the following year.

When Roger Butler was appointed Curator of Australian Prints, Posters and Illustrated Books in 1981 his brief was to systematically form a comprehensive collection of Australian works - as such a collection was not being formed by any Australian art museum or private collector.

ROSE, David On the road to Oberon 1994 Collection of the National Gallery of Australia Gift of the artist John Olsen Tree frog 1973 National Gallery of Australia, Purchased 1974 © John Olsen. Licensed by Viscopy.

Australian art museums, including the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria, had concentrated their efforts on acquisition of old master prints - and now hold substantial and important collections.

By contrast, Australian libraries had built up substantial pictorial collections of Australian historical material. Of particular note in this area are the State Library of New South Wales and the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

The collection policy of the Gallery differs from both of these institutions - their emphasis is history, the Gallery's is art. But, of course, there are many overlaps. Whilst some essential display items from the nineteenth century have been, and will continue to be acquired, the Gallery will not duplicate the historical collections of these institutions.

The collecting emphasis for the Gallery has been on artists prints post-1880. In 1982 a number of key artists were identified whose work would be collected in depth: among them Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and John Mather from the nineteenth century; Margaret Preston, Ethel Spowers, Noel Counihan and Jessie Traill from the 1920s to 1940s; John Brack, Fred Williams from the 1950s to early 1960s; and alternative print workshops from the 1970s and 1980s. Other artists' works were collected to represent the best of their production.

Since 1989 acquisitions of contemporary prints (post-1960) have been purchased from the Gordon Darling Australasian Print Fund. These acquisitions have been wide ranging and include the work of established artists such as Bea Maddock and John Olsen, younger artists such as Bronwyn Piggott and Ken Orchard, and those who were new to printmaking, such as Mike Parr. Selective acquisitions from alternative print workshops have continued.

In collaboration with the Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Wally Caruana, a unique collection of prints by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists has also been established, now numbering over 600 works from 1968 to the present. This collection includes Koori artists such as Karen Casey who works in Melbourne, as well as traditional artists such as Banduk Marika from Yirrkala and Bede Tungutalum from Nguiu, Bathurst Island.

Margaret Preston Pink jug 1925, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased 1973 © Margaret Rose Preston Estate. Licensed by Viscopy.

In response to Australia's multicultural make-up, a concerted effort has been made to acquire prints by first and second generation Australians - Henry Saulkauskas was a post-war settler while Nicholas Nedelkopoulos is Australian born of Greek parents. Art produced by migrants from Asia is the latest in our cultural mix.

Artists, their relatives and friends, dealers and collectors have recognised the National Gallery's commitment to building a comprehensive collection of Australian prints and significant gifts have resulted. Donations have included definitive groups of prints by Lionel Lindsay, Bea Maddock, Barbara Hanrahan, Tony Coleing, Alun Leach-Jones and Mary Macqueen.

The breadth and depth of the collection is now widely appreciated due to exhibitions (both within the Gallery and those travelling), publications and lectures to both the general public and art specialists.


    Prints and printmaking Australia Asia Pacific provides a gateway for information on printed images from Australia and the Asia Pacific region. The focus of the site is prints and printmaking by artists from Australia, Aboriginal Australia, the Torres Strait Islands, Papua New Guinea, Maori and Pakeha Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific region including , New Caledonia, Nuie, Samoa, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands. The site also includes references to prints and printmaking in China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Selected publications

All works are National Gallery of Australia publications unless otherwise stated.

  • At home in Australia  Peter Conrad, 2003, National Gallery of Australia, in association with Thames and Hudson
  • Australian Art in the National gallery of Australia, Anne Gray, editor, National Gallery of Australia 2002
  • Australian folk and popular art in the Australian National Gallery John McPhee, 1988
  • Building the collection Pauline Green, editor, 2003
  • Federation : Australian art and society 1901-2001  John McDonald 2000
  • Grace Cossington Smith  Deborah Hart, editor 2005
  • Home sweet home: works from the Peter Fay collection, 2003
  • Joy Hester and friends Deborah Hart, 2001
  • National Sculpture Prize and exhibition, 2005, 2005
  • National Sculpture Prize and exhibition, 2003, 2003
  • Place made: Australian Print Workshop  Roger Butler and Anne Virgo editors 2004
  • Read my lips: Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman  Kathryn Weir 1998
  • Tales of the unexpected: aspects of contemporary Australian art,  Deborah Hart, 2002
  • The Antipodeans: challenge and response in Australian art 1945-1965, 1999
  • The Edwardians: secrets and desires  Anne Gray; with essays by Ann Galbally, 2004
  • The prints of Margaret Preston: a catalogue raisonné Roger Butler, 2005
  • Uncommon world: aspects of contemporary Australian art 2000
  • For more National Gallery of Australia publications visit the library catalogue online