Imported British art, as opposed to locally produced art, was considered most appropriate for Australian colonial galleries generally, so inexorably linked were this country’s cultural aspirations to the Empire, and so acute were local pretensions to English civilisation.
This didn’t preclude a certain pride in local artistic achievement or indeed the acquisition of some Australian watercolours. However, the emphasis of the early collecting policy, if such a name can be given to the process, was squarely fixed on contemporary British art.
In August 1874 the trustees established the London Selection Committee and appointed artist Nicholas Chevalier and critic Colin McKay Smith to advise on and undertake the purchase of watercolours.
By mid 1875 Chevalier and Smith had reported back that the expenditure of the initial sum had been made. Six landscapes by Oswald Brierly, John Henry Mole, Paul Naftel, Thomas Miles Richardson Jnr, Henry Brittan Willis and Josiah Wood Whymper – all reproduced here – marked the modest beginnings of the collection, and set a pattern of collecting watercolours that would continue for some three decades.