Gold and the Incas

I love going to the National Gallery of Australia on New Year’s Day. It’s not too crowded and I think that looking at art is a fine way to get the year off to a good start. This was my first visit to see the latest NGA ‘blockbuster’ show Gold and the Incas. The subtitle, the Lost Worlds of Peru, gives a far more accurate summary of what’s on display. Yes there is a lot of gold, not to mention silver and precious stones on display, but to my eye it is the masterpieces of ceramics and textiles that are the outstanding elements of the exhibition. And BTW there’s not much from the Incas because the conquistadores nicked or melted down most of the good stuff. What is on show are artefacts from a number of cultures that existed in what is present day Peru, most of whom none of us has ever heard of.

A Huari vessel in the shape of a llama, 67 cm high, 600-1,000AD.

A Huari vessel in the shape of a llama, 67 cm high, 600-1,000AD.

The lighting is kept very low in most of the rooms so doing drawings was a challenge. There  were also not many benches where you could sit to draw. Gallery rules allow for only the use of pencil and paper so most of my efforts were limited to quick sketches and taking notes for future reference. I subsequently decided to make a composite image of my drawings and then add colour to give some idea of what we saw.

Composite image of my sketches of 1 January 2014, with added watercolour and acrylic.

Composite image of my sketches of 1 January 2014, with added watercolour and acrylic.

Apart from the llama and the face mask most of the other sketches are just parts of larger objects. In case you were wondering about the strange grey and black blob on the left hand side it is actually a person silhouetted against a large cloak that is covered in squares of beaten silver. People, including myself, seemed to be quite transfixed by this piece and often stood still long enough for me to draw them. The burial mask illustrated above also has an interesting provenance as it is one of the items of ‘tribal art’ that was collected by the Surrealist artist Max Ernst. The NGA purchased Ernst’s collection in 1985.

Having made my initial sortie I plan to go back and try to selectively draw some of the other works on display. This exhibition runs until 21 April 2014.

View from above, 1 February 2013

There’s no doubt that one of the best things about membership of the National Gallery is the view from the Member’s Lounge, looking down over the Sculpture Garden.

After seeing the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition we repaired to the Member’s Lounge for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. I remembered that while I had no pen and paper I did have the new wonder-phone which had a ‘sketchpad’ function. Away I went with a series of quick sketches using my phone’s stylus. Unfortunately I hadn’t worked out at this stage how to change the background so everything was on a grid!

Tress and paving;


warning sign’s for slippery surfaces;


a bench and light-pole;


and this strange ‘found’ shape that my partner described as “a whale with a tumour”, in one of the paving slates.


Later in the evening I found out how to change the background. Also a quick fiddle with some of the pre-set objects in the program.



Finally got to the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia today. Somewhat of a celebration of my rapidly recovering knee which allowed me to get around the show without falling over.

A very impressive show. I particularly enjoyed seeing his oil paintings on cardboard where he allowed so much of the substrate to show through. His draftmanship was evident in his ability to depict his subject with apparently effortless strokes, with no need to work the whole surface. Here is a small example from his work Woman curling her hair of 1891.


The oil was thinned with turpentine to promote rapid absorption into the cardboard. When i first saw these works I thought they were pastels. I presume that, amongst other things, this technique made it very easy for him to carry his work around, particularly when he was painting in the brothels.

Of equal interest to me were his smaller lithographs using crayon, where again fine and delicate lines were all he needed to convey the subject.

The exhibition runs until 2 April 2013.