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Room filled with paintings hung 'salon' style at the NGV
Photograph: Visit Victoria

Ten artworks at the NGV every Melburnian should see

While the NGV is best known for its roster of blockbuster exhibitions, it’s also home to one of the world’s most impressive collections

Written by
Ben Neutze
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Since it was founded in 1861, the National Gallery of Victoria has been busy amassing the best art from Australia and all across the world. Now, after a century and a half of collecting, the gallery has arguably the country's most significant collection of art, ranging from milestone European works from every major artistic movement to contemporary masterpieces by Australia's finest.

We asked the NGV's curatorial team to pick ten works that Melburnians should familiarise themselves with, from across the collection's whole spectrum. You can see them at both of the gallery's major spaces: NGV International on St Kilda Road and NGV Australia at Federation Square.

RECOMMENDED: The best art galleries in Melbourne.

Françoise Gilot, ‘Blue Eyes (Les Yeux Bleus)’ (1956)
Françoise Gilot, ‘Blue Eyes (Les Yeux Bleus)’ (1956). © Françoise Gilot, courtesy of Vincent Mann Gallery.

1. Françoise Gilot, ‘Blue Eyes (Les Yeux Bleus)’ (1956)

Where you can see it: Lvl 2, NGV International.

Why it matters: Françoise Gilot was a leading figure in the mid-20th century Parisian art scene. This was the first work from the significant 'School of Paris' to enter the NGV collection.

Grace Cossington Smith, ‘The Bridge in Curve’ (1930)
Grace Cossington Smith, 'The Bridge in-curve' (1930). © Estate of Grace Cossington Smith.

2. Grace Cossington Smith, ‘The Bridge in Curve’ (1930)

Where you can see it: Lvl 2, NGV Australia.

Why it matters: Grace Cossington Smith's paintings of the Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrate it as a powerful symbol of technology and modernity. By painting the emerging, rather than completed bridge, Cossington Smith also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.

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Emily Kame Kngwarray, ‘Anwerlarr Anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming)’ (1995)
Emily Kam Kngwarray, 'Anwerlarr Anganenty (Big yam Dreaming)' (1995). © Emily Kam Kngwarray/Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia.

3. Emily Kame Kngwarray, ‘Anwerlarr Anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming)’ (1995)

Where you can see it: ‘Anwerlarr Anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming)’ will be on display at the NGV Australia from May 2022.

Why it matters: Emily Kame Kngwarray's monochrome work, painted continuously over two days, is one of the most visually striking and recognisable pieces in the NGV Collection.

Camille Pissarro, ‘Boulevard Montmartre, Morning, Cloudy Weather (Boulevard Montmartre, Matin, Temps Gris)’ (1897)
Camille Pissarro, ‘Boulevard Montmartre, Morning, Cloudy Weather (Boulevard Montmartre, Matin, Temps Gris)’ (1897). National Gallery of Victoria.

4. Camille Pissarro, ‘Boulevard Montmartre, Morning, Cloudy Weather (Boulevard Montmartre, Matin, Temps Gris)’ (1897)

Where you can see it: Lvl 2, NGV International.

Why it matters: This was the first impressionist work purchased by the NGV (in 1907). At this time, it was one of the first impressionist works purchased by a museum anywhere in the world.

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Korea, ‘Books and Things (Chaekgeori)’ (late 19th century)
Korea, ‘Books and Things (Chaekgeori)’ (late 19th century). National Gallery of Victoria.

5. Korea, ‘Books and Things (Chaekgeori)’ (late 19th century)

Where you can see it: Lvl 1, NGV International.

Why it matters: This has become the most significant Korean work in the NGV Asian Collection: a rare, important example of the chaekgeori (translated as “books and things”) genre of painting representing Korea's unique aesthetics and philosophical aspects of scholarly practice.

Giambattista Tiepolo, ‘The Banquet of Cleopatra’ (1743-44)
Giambattista Tiepolo, ‘The Banquet of Cleopatra’ (1743-44). National Gallery of Victoria

6. Giambattista Tiepolo, ‘The Banquet of Cleopatra’ (1743-44)

Where you can see it: Lvl 2, NGV International.

Why it matters: Giambattista Tiepolo is regarded as one of the leading 18th-century painters and ‘The Banquet of Cleopatra’ is considered to be his masterpiece. The painting is physically impressive in terms of both its scale and its vivid colour, and has long been a favourite among the millions of people who visit the NGV. 

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Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons, ‘Cape, shorts, socks and boots’ (2014)
Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons, ‘Cape, shorts, socks and boots’ (2014) from the Blood and Roses collection spring-summer 2015. Collection of Takamasa Takahashi © Comme des Garçons.

7. Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons, ‘Cape, shorts, socks and boots’ (2014)

Where you can see it: Currently not on display.

Why it matters: Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important figures in contemporary fashion and this is a fabulous example of her innovative design that was first celebrated in the 2019-2020 Collecting Comme exhibition. It was then acquired by the NGV.

Hannah Brontë, ‘Umma’s Tongue – Molten at 6000°’ (2017)
Hannah Brontë, 'Umma’s Tongue – molten at 6000°' (2017). National Gallery of Victoria.

8. Hannah Brontë, ‘Umma’s Tongue – Molten at 6000°’ (2017)

Where you can see it: ‘Umma’s Tongue – Molten at 6000°’ will go on display as part of the NGV International's Queer exhibition, opening December 2021.

Why it matters: Another (relatively) recent acquisition for the gallery, the work exemplifies Brontë’s art, which deals with women's empowerment and Indigenous stories. This emerging contemporary artist works across photography, textiles and video.

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Mary Beale, ‘Portrait of a Lady’ (c 1680)
Mary Beale, ‘Portrait of a Lady’ (c 1680). National Gallery of Victoria.

9. Mary Beale, ‘Portrait of a Lady’ (c 1680)

Where you can see it: Lvl 2, NGV International.

Why it matters: Among the first professional female painters and businesswomen of her time, Mary Beale was highly successful among nobility and was able to support her family through her work. 

Reko Rennie, 'Initiation' (2003)
Reko Rennie, 'Initiation' (2013). © Reko Rennie, courtesy blackartprojects, Melbourne.

10. Reko Rennie, 'Initiation' (2003)

Where you can see it: 'Initiation' will be on display at the NGV Australia from May 2022.

Why it matters: Reko Rennie is a Melbourne-based artist known for exploring his Indigenous identity through a mix of contemporary mediums from vibrant sculptures, to animation and music.

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