National Gallery of Victoria says it has received largest cash donation in the nation’s history

LLONDON. The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne has received the largest cash donation for the acquisition of art in Australian history. The gift comes from the Ukrainian-born, Australian-based industrialist Victor Smorgon and his wife Loti and is part of a A$150m ($141m) campaign for the purchase of works. At the request of the Smorgon family, the museum has declined to disclose the exact amount of the gift, revealing only that it is over 10% of the total campaign ($A15m).

The “Masterpieces for Melbourne” campaign, launched on 21 May, seeks to raise the total funding target in time for the institution’s 150th anniversary in 2011. The museum has already secured $A45m ($42m). Of the total, A$50m ($47m) will go towards the immediate purchase of works. Another A$50m will go to an endowment fund for acquisitions, while a further A$50m raised from bequests will be used for future acquisitions.

According to NGV director Dr Gerard Vaughan, the campaign aims to increase the museum’s buying power so it can re-enter the art market and once again establish itself as a top purchasing museum. Like most Australian museums, the NGV does not receive government funding for acquisitions and consequently its collection is the result of private philanthropy.

According to the NGV, in the past five years it spent on average less than A$6m ($5.8m) per year on acquisitions. The new funds will be used to fill gaps in its collection, especially early 20th-century modernism, as well as to build its contemporary Australian, Asian and old master collections.

The Smorgons have a long history of philanthropy in Australia, having donated money and works to several institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, as well as the NGV. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, the Smorgons’ grandson, Peter Edwards, said: “Loti and Victor see the value in works being made available to the public.”

Emily Sharpe

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