This focus exhibition features one of the Gallery’s favourite paintings, Sydney Long’s Art Nouveau masterpiece Pan. Displayed as part of the group of works by Long from the Gallery’s collection, the exhibition emphasises the significance of Pan’s symbolist aesthetic to Australian painting practices at the end of the nineteenth century.
A work considered groundbreaking when it was first exhibited in 1898, Pan epitomises Sydney Long’s symbolist-inspired visual language of bush-idylls. Fusing a decorative style with mythological subject matter, Long presented an alternative vision of the Australian landscape; painting it not in terms of its representational qualities, but transforming the environment into an arena of sensation and emotion.
Born in Goulburn in 1871, Long arrived in Sydney in the early 1890s and, while studying under Julian Ashton, began exhibiting works in 1894. From early in his career Long was considered an exceptional landscape painter of poetic imagination. Pan reveals how Long adopted the distinct aesthetic of symbolist and Art Nouveau practices which dominated European art at the time, despite the fact that he did not study overseas until much later in his career. Long developed an intuitive ability to reinterpret the international practices he studied in journals as well as the work of local artists to present a unique and culturally relevant art form in Australia.
While Pan is today considered one of the gems of the Australian collection, its history in the Gallery has been a turbulent one. Originally purchased from the Society of Artists exhibition in Sydney in 1898 by the Gallery’s Trustees, it was de-accessioned and returned to the artist four years later as part payment for another work by Long, Flamingoes in 1902. Once it left the Gallery, Pan’s composition appears to have been reworked by the artist, and then went through a series of private collections before it was purchased by then Gallery Trustee Sir J.S. McGregor, who fortunately returned it to the Gallery as a gift in 1943.
The exhibition is accompanied by a brochure catalogue and curator Denise Mimmocchi will give a floor talk on Wednesday 1 July, 2009 at 5.30pm.