Grahame King and the National Gallery of Australia.

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Grahame King and the National Gallery of Australia.


Butler, Roger

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Grahame King and the National Gallery of Australia.
by Roger Butler

When I was appointed Curator of Australian Prints at then Australian National Gallery in 1981, one of my first duties was to separate the printed works from the rest of the collection. Sifting through this great treasure trove of prints and drawings, there were many old friends, prints I had seen over the years when a student and later, researcher. Among the many were 12 lithographs by Grahame King.

I had never met Grahame, but I knew of his untiring work in promoting prints, and in particular his role in the formation of the Print Council of Australia, yet I had seen few of his works. I particularly remember Aftermarth and Gothic from that first viewing.

I got to known Grahame better when I was organising the First Australian Print Symposium in 1989. Grahame, of course, was a key speaker relating to us the early days of the Print Council. Never one to promote his central role be began his talk by reminding his audience that
”over those years literally dozens and dozens of people have given hundreds of hours of their time to make this day possible”.

Grahame’s lithographs were considered essential items for the National Gallery’s comprehensive Australian print collection, and. during the early 1990s another 7 prints were acquired from his Survey Exhibition of Lithographs 1962–1990 at Eastgate Gallery. This purchase included early lithographs such as Nocturne, and Predatory bird which had been shown in the important travelling exhibition Prints ‘63 an exhibition by Studio One Printmakers of which Grahame was a member.

Five years later, when Grahame and Inge were on one of their regular trips to Canberra, we discussed the possibility of forming a complete collection of Grahame’s prints at the National Gallery. A few weeks later some 158 prints were generously offered to the Gallery as a gift from Grahame and Inge King.

Of course the gift came wonderfully documented, Grahame providing a wealth of information – proper titles, dates, size of edition and paper (how I wish other artists were so precise in recording their work).

Such a collection of prints also puts an onus on the Gallery to make sure that the works are accessible to those who want to see the work for their own enjoyment or for study. To this end Grahame also provided copyright for the Gallery to put images of all his works on the web. This has allowed a younger generation of viewers to asses his contribution to printmaking in Australia as both an artist and ambassador for the print medium.

Grahame was also instrumental in the founding of the Australian Print Workshop. It was appropriate that he was at the opening of the exhibition placemade: Australian Print Workshop at the National Gallery in 2004, and that at the dinner afterwards colleagues and friends were able to raise a glass to celebrate Grahame’s 90th birthday and his contribution to Australian art.

© Roger Butler
Senior Curator, Australian Prints and Drawings National Gallery of Australia