Tue, 21 Jan 2020 - 06:33
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Statement on the passing of James Mollison AO

On behalf of the Australian Government I want to acknowledge the significant contribution of the late Mr James Mollison AO in the cultural and artistic life of our nation.

Mr Mollison was instrumental in setting the direction for the fledgling National Gallery of Australia and building an inspirational national collection to complement the long established state collections.

As the Gallery’s inaugural director from 1971 to 1990, Mr Mollison, guided by the 1966 Lindsay Report, built a collection with a distinctive focus – on Australian art, modern international art and works of art representing the cultural achievement of Australia’s neighbours in southern and eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands. 

Mr Mollison brought rigour and strategy to the acquisition of works for the National Gallery. His decision to purchase the iconic Jackson Pollock painting Blue Poles in 1974, at a cost of $1.3 million, was controversial at the time. With the passage of time it has come to be seen as a master stroke. 

Art historian Patrick McCaughey observed that “never had such a painting moved and disturbed the Australian public”.

Today, Blue Poles is recognised as one of the most significant works of the twentieth century – and one of the most significant pieces in the National Gallery. It forms part of a collection which includes many other important acquisitions overseen by Mr Mollison, such as the Aboriginal Memorial and Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.

During his almost 20 years of service to the National Gallery, Mr Mollison oversaw the development of the national collection and the gallery building in Canberra, which continue to be appreciated by both national and international audiences.

Mr Mollison continued to provide generous mentorship to gallery leaders in his retirement.

The Australian Government extends its condolences to the family and friends of Mr Mollison.