THE CRUTHERS COLLECTION OF WOMEN'S ART
Australia’s largest stand-alone collection of art by women, the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art is a testament to what can be achieved by focused, intelligent private collecting on a limited budget.
The Cruthers family began collecting Australian art in 1974. From the outset Sheila Cruthers was drawn to work by women artists. Among her first purchases were self portraits by Kate O’Connor and Elise Blumann, which set her on a course of collecting self portraits. She also purchased new work by younger artists. Other family members collected different art – the work of mid 20th painters, mostly male, and contemporary art.
Sheila quickly decided to pair every self portrait she bought with another work by the artist, a collecting concept she called “The artist and her work”. Janine Burke’s pioneering book Australian Women Artists 1840s-1940s, published in 1981, was a useful tool to understanding the range of little known women artists. By the early 1980s more work was being purchased on the east coast, and when Jim and Sheila relocated to the US for work in 1983, the task of locating appropriate art fell to John Cruthers, by then based in Sydney. New purchases were despatched to New York and installed in the family apartment. There were frequent visitors including museum directors and curators, writers, historians and art critics, artists, gallerists and collectors.
Jim and Sheila returned to Perth in late 1989 and the collection was displayed in the family home in Mosman Park. The house was renovated to create a women’s art gallery off the living room, and later a large gallery for contemporary women’s art. The collection was regularly opened to visitors and works frequently made available for exhibition.
In 1994 the family was asked to display its women’s collection as part of the National Women’s Art Exhibition, an umbrella event of over 140 exhibitions nationwide to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first International Women’s Day. In the company of women – 100 years of Australian women’s art from the Cruthers Collection ran at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts in February-March 1995, accompanied by a catalogue. It comprised about 170 works by 75 artists.
Positive responses from viewers and critics encouraged the family to concentrate on women’s art and the collection grew quickly, now known as the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art. After the exhibition Modern Australian Women 1925-1945 at the Art Gallery of SA in 2000, which included key CCWA works, the family decided the CCWA was worth preserving and making available to the Australian public. Negotiations to gift the CCWA to the University of Western Australia began in 2002 and a Deed of Gift was signed in June 2007. At UWA the CCWA has its own curator and exhibition program, and has grown to over 600 artworks.
REG GRUNDY AC OBE AND JOY CHAMBERS-GRUNDY COLLECTION
At its highpoint in 2006, the Grundy Collection contained more masterworks of Australian art than some Australian art museums. Although numbering less than 150 works, it was a model of scholarship and connoisseurship, with a focus on absolute quality.
Reg and Joy Grundy decided to collect Australian art in 1987. Having not lived in Australia since the late 1970s, they engaged John Cruthers to work with them on the collection, from his base in Sydney. Their objective was to present the best of Australian art to the world, via display in several Grundy residences around the world.
Within four years a collection structure was developed to achieve this objective. Rather than a museum-style survey, which would necessarily include much work of historical interest only, the collection focused on the twelve major Australian artists whose work would read best with overseas audiences. Each of these artists would be collected in depth to show the way their art developed and the range of their practice. Their work would be surrounded by single works by other notable artists. In terms of individual artworks, the collection’s objective was to look for “striking works”.
As they are intensely private people, Reg and Joy Grundy did not promote the collection, although works were always made available for retrospectives and other exhibitions. But when a little over half of the collection was offered for sale at Bonhams in June 2103, there was widespread astonishment at the works it contained. In the resulting auction, slightly over 40% of the works sold were purchased by art museums.
THE LEPLEY COLLECTION OF ABORIGINAL ART
The Lepley Collection provides a useful survey of the development of Aboriginal painting since the early 1970s. In addition to the purchase of artworks, the collectors have contributed to Aboriginal art in many other ways.
Barrie and Jude Lepley collected their first Aboriginal artworks – two large bark paintings by Mick Kubarku – in the 1980s. Later they purchased several works by leading Utopia artists. They began working with John Cruthers in 2007. Regular flying trips followed, to Aboriginal communities where the art was being made. The collection has focused on major works by major artists across almost 30 Aboriginal art centres.
In addition to purchasing artworks, the collection has contributed to Aboriginal art by funding special projects such as residencies in communities, a commissioning program aimed at younger artists, assistance with return to country programs and the staging of exhibitions and related publications. In 2012 the Lepley Collection supported the exhibition Spinifex: People of the Sun and Shadow, the first survey of the art of the Spinifex people, held at John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University, Perth. The collection also has a website to make the collection and its resources available to those professionally involved in Aboriginal art.