Prints, Printmaking and Philanthropy: University of Melbourne symposium

Prints, Printmaking and Philanthropy: the University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne’s much-anticipated symposium ‘Prints, Printmaking and Philanthropy’ starts today. James Noonan reports.

30 September, 2019
In Printmaking, Q&A


Giorgio Ghisi; Raphael, Allegory of Life, 1561, engraving image (sheet trimmed to image) 38.2 x 54.1 cm, Baillieu Library Print Collection, the University of Melbourne. Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton 1959.

With one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of artworks in the world, the British Museum houses some three million prints and 50,000 drawings within its walls. For 50 years now, Melbourne University’s Harold Wright and Sarah and William Holmes Scholarships have taken graduates of universities in Australia and New Zealand to these collections, and given them the opportunity to intimately study works that are rarely loaned or exhibited, frequently having a profound impact on their careers and lives thereafter.

In 1961, celebrated print artist, collector, and mentor Harold Wright died following a life marked in part by the cultivation of significant print collections around the world. Following his death, his widow, Lily Isobel Holmes, used the funds from the sale of his personal collection, as well as her own donations, to establish those two scholarships at the University of Melbourne: one in the name of her late husband, and the other in those of her parents. It was a powerful act of philanthropy that has continued to carry through the decades, affirming and transforming the careers of more print scholars with every year that passes.

Melbourne University’s Forum theatre will seat 150 people for Prints, Printmaking and Philanthropy, a symposium (30 September-2 October) celebrating the half-century of these unique and extraordinary scholarships in ‘one of the largest gatherings of print scholars, curators, artists and printmakers ever seen in Australia’. The talks will cover three elements of print: exhibitions, collections, and presses, and will broadly endeavour to map the impact of philanthropy in Australasian print.

Keynote speakers include some of the most prominent figures in the Australian print world: Senior Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Australia Roger Butler, Victoria University in Wellington’s senior art history lecturer David Maskill, distinguished independent curator and writer Irena Zdanowicz, and Senior Curator of International Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, Ted Gott. Ushering in the themes of the anniversary celebrations, these speakers will open the forum.

A sundry of well-informed perspectives will be offered on a broad range of topics, including the ties between Australian and British print cultures, experimental DIY printmaking practices, the habits of print collectors and curators, and eighteenth-century prints, as well as a pair of masterclasses for attendees to soak in.

Kerrianne Stone, one of the event’s convenors as well as Curator of Prints at the University of Melbourne, travelled to the British Museum as a scholarship recipient in 2015. ‘The staff of the Department of Prints and Drawings were incredibly generous,’ she says of her time there. ‘With their spaces and knowledge and I was able to look through the collection at my own pace. Being part of such a large museum and being allowed access to their collection is a privileged and transformative experience.

‘The foundations for a culture of philanthropy have been laid by patrons like Harold and Isobel Wright and the Gordon Darling Foundation, who want to nurture and ensure the future of the print field. That culture still exists through people who gift prints to institutions or create innovative opportunities for intellectual exchanges.’

Showing alongside the symposium is Horizon Lines, an exhibition exploring the ambitions of Northern and Italian printmakers (and their collectors and scholars) during the Renaissance, and into the etching revival. The showcase has been open since August in the university’s Bailieu Library, another one of the several anniversary activities celebrating the Harold Wright and Sarah and William Holmes Scholarships’ 50th anniversary. It will run until 8 December.

Prints, Printmaking and Philanthropy is on 30 September-2 October. See Melbourne University website to register