Armidale artist James White explains what happens to the art you acquire and tells us about his new exhibition at Gallery 126 – Wish I Was There!
There has been recent media interest in a $35m bequest of contemporary art to the Art Gallery of NSW. It raises the issue of “If you buy paintings because you enjoy them, what happens to these artworks down the track?”
A very interesting question. I look back to my grandfather F G (George) White (1885 – 1953), who collected art painted largely by the Impressionists. He had a large collection, including works by his friend Elioth Gruner. When the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) failed to acquire Spring Frost (which was rejected for entry in the 1919 Wynne Prize), George happily purchased it. After Gruner died, George donated Spring Frost to the Gallery – at which point it was very happy to receive it. Collecting art was an abiding interest for George, but his 13 children showed little interest in the paintings. Upon his death, his collection was divided up, and each child received at least five significant paintings. These included several Streetons, including a triptych (the American fleet in Sydney Harbour), Blamire Young, Arthur Fullwood, Tom Roberts, Gruners and other Impressionist artists.
What happened to these artworks in the next generation?
What we now regard as a wonderful collection of Impressionist artworks had little importance to my father and his siblings. So much so, that my mother recounts finding a rather ‘nice’ frame at an op shop and thinking that the watercolour painting by Blamire Young of the Sydney Wharves might suit it nicely.
Unfortunately, the painting didn’t quite fit – so she took to it with a bread knife and hacked the side off it! Dad sold his Streetons to send my brothers and myself to boarding school, so bit by bit George White’s collection dissipated. Other brothers sold their Gruners and Streetons during hard times, as they lacked any attachment to the artworks.
Do you collect artworks, James?
I do. My wife and I began acquiring paintings some forty years ago and are still adding to the collection now. What will we do with them? Interesting point, so I spoke to my son.
He says they all have monetary value, but the sentimental value of them is far greater. To him, selling is not an option, because he realises you could never replace them – prices are now too high. So we may be lucky, and our acquisitions may live through another generation.
Do you have any advice for people collecting artworks?
Just that maybe it is a point worth considering. We happily purchase the artworks we enjoy, but do our children have the same tastes? Will they appreciate your purchases in years to come? But the most important thing, is still to buy what you like. Don’t stop collecting because of it. I consider artworks on the walls of a home can enhance it immeasurably and provide considerable enjoyment.
What can people expect to see in your exhibition at Gallery 126?
A surprise – something quite different. As clichéd as it may seem, the content of my new exhibition started with a dream. It stayed with me and annoyed me, so I sketched it. Then the artworks just started flowing; one led to another and another.
I could see people living their lives in one environment while dreaming of a life in another – “Wish I was there”! These artworks are all about the dreams people hanker for – the wide open spaces, the sunsets and sunrises, sky and stars, whatever you want.
But they are only dreams.