Gough Whitlam, patron of the arts, passes at age 98 - Art Collector

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into hand of traditional landowner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory, 1975. Photograph: Mervyn Bishop. Courtesy: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1994  Australia’s 21st Prime Minister Gough Whitlam passed away yesterday at the age of 98. Whitlam, who served as Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975, was a devoted patron of the arts.

He played a fundamental role in developing an official means that allowed Indigenous peoples to claim, control and enhance their cultural inheritance by funding the development and promotion of traditional and contemporary arts practices.

This was done through the establishment of the Australia Council, which bought works direct from artists and allowed ‘cultural exchange’ to museums and galleries in the USA and Canada. The council is said to have enabled a wider understanding of Australia’s Indigenous culture, and in doing so enabled the achievements of Indigenous artists to help reposition Indigenous culture as an important part of Australia’s identity.

Another core part of Whitlam’s support for the arts was to increase its financial support, with government funding allocation doubling from 1973 to 1974, and again in 1975.

Whitlam was the chairman of the National Gallery of Australia from 1987 to 1990. The current Charman Allan Myers AO QC today stated “we are greatly saddened by the news of the death of Gough Whitlam and he will always be remembered as visionary of the arts in Australia”.

Whitlam launched the construction of the National Gallery of Australia and opened the first Biennale of Sydney in 1973. He also purchased Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for 1.3 million (setting the record for the highest price paid for a piece of modern art), stating “the enjoyment of the arts is an end in itself.”


Emily Cones-Browne


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