By water: artworks from the personal collection of Kerry Stokes AO

An exhibition focusing on water which has held a fascination for, and has challenged the perceptions of Classical and Romantic artists for centuries, opened at the Museum of Sydney on 30 June 2001.

By Water was a diverse exhibition featuring rare artworks by prominent artists and photographers, interesting objects, charts and a rare collection of books not previously seen in NSW. These items were chosen from the personal collection of Kerry Stokes by Curator John Stringer, reflecting Kerry Stokes’ personal interests that include history, exploration and art.

Water has volatile properties which artists have used to bring an emotional mood to landscape painting. Classical artists for example, idealised the planet by showing water as a calm natural resource. Romantic artists, however, were more obsessed with the power of nature seeing water as an inspiring but potentially threatening, violent force.

Water also looms large in the life of most Australians - either by its absence in Australia’s interior or its abundance on the coastline. Quite apart from sustaining each organism in our food chain, water covers an immense portion of the earth’s surface. As John Stringer remarked, 'It is hardly surprising that water has such an intense focus in our culture and collections’.

Over 80 pieces were especially chosen for By Water ranging from Dutch paintings and maps of the 17th century to publications, manuscripts and navigation instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries. From the 19th century on, By Water presented an intriguing mix of fine art from overseas as well as Australian works that covered both western and Aboriginal traditions.

Acknowledging the indigenous perspectives on water, By Water included mid and late 20th century works by Aboriginal artists Ngulmarmar and Janangoo Butcher Cherel.

Images by Bonaventura Peeters, Oswald Brierly, Conrad Martens, Louis de Sainson, Lewis Roper Fitzmaurice, Norman Lindsay and Frank Hurley spanned a period of 4 centuries. There was an extraordinary three volume set of The South Polar Times signed by Antarctic explorer Shackleton and a display of coins personally collected by Kerry Stokes during the mission to recover the wreck of the Batavia from the Indian Ocean in 1963.

Kerry Stokes, AO has been collecting for almost three decades; focussing chiefly on Australian masters. He considers himself a custodian rather than an owner.

30 June 2001 - 25 November 2001

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