Thanks to the success and growth of the Gallery, we have outgrown our current facilities, so we are currently planning an exciting major redevelopment of the Gallery. If funding is secured the redevelopment will increase our exhibition and education spaces to provide more opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the arts.
Bendigo Art Gallery was founded in 1887 in Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Year.
Known as Sandhurst until 1891, Bendigo was a major goldmining area during the early 1850s. The town’s prosperity was evident in the Victorian architecture and the leisure and interests of the residents.
1887 Sandhurst Fine Art Gallery established
Keen to promote the arts and encouraged by a groundswell of public interest and by the considerable success of the 1886–87 Bendigo Juvenile and Industrial Exhibition, a group of locals promoted the idea that a picture gallery should be established within the town. In order to lay down a solid foundation for a new gallery, the citizens supporting this initiative sought donations, subscriptions, and subsidies from the colonial government in Melbourne.
As a result of the combined energies of its various proponents, Sandhurst Fine Art Gallery opened in July 1887 at the Bendigo School of Mines, in McCrae Street.
1890 a new home in View Street
When it was decided that the Gallery required a building with a commanding presence, the former Bendigo Volunteer Riflemen’s orderly room in View Street was chosen - initially at a rent equivalent to $2 per year in today’s currency.
Erected in 1867, the building that had formerly housed the orderly room of the Bendigo Volunteer Riflemen had a distinctive polychromatic brick facade and a commanding presence in keeping with the Gallery’s role as an important civic institution.
William Charles Vahland (1828–1915), the German-born architect who, in partnership with Robert Getzschmann (1824–1875), had designed the original building, was employed to convert it into a permanent home for the Gallery. Advice about the interior, appropriate hanging methods, and the ongoing selection of works for the fledgling collection were sought from the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, George Frederick Folingsby. The display area within the new Bendigo Art Gallery was aptly named Victoria Court, a reference to the founding of Sandhurst Fine Art Gallery in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. This area is now named Bolton Court after William May Bolton who was an invested figure in the Gallery for 35 years.
It soon became apparent, however, that more space was needed for the display of the rapidly expanding collection. A generous pledge of £50 from the government formed the basis of a building fund, which was then increased substantially by a £1443 bequest from local resident George Drury (1826–1890). Drury had arrived in Australia in 1854 from Kent in England, initially to try his luck as a gold prospector. By the time of his death in 1890 he was a wealthy and highly respected member of the Sandhurst community. When the Gallery was extended in 1897, the new gallery space was given the name Drury Court, in recognition of George Drury’s great generosity.
By 1905 a third gallery, funded by public subscription (matched pound for pound by the Victorian Government), had been added. Alexandra Court (now Abbott Court), named for England’s new Queen, was designed by the leading Bendigo architect William Beebe (1857–1920) and opened to the public in August 1905, along with a refurbished Drury Court. Both galleries were designed in the grand European tradition, with polished kauri floors, ornate plaster arches and cornices, and diffused natural light admitted by ceiling skylights.
The 1960s and ‘70s
The Gallery’s original red and white Victorian brick facade and its Victorian and Edwardian galleries remained largely intact until 1962, when a modern two-storey salmon-coloured brick façade was added to the View Street entrance. This development included new offices and three new galleries. In 1976 an east wing was added.
An adjacent building, the Australian Natives’ Association Hall (est. 1890), had been demolished and had been replaced by the ANA Motor Inn. In an era when grand theatres were being torn down, and petrol stations built in their stead, the Gallery was very much a part of the new streetscape.
1990s a new beginning
For most of its history, the Gallery had survived on bequests and government subsidies. But by the 1990s the Gallery’s interiors – with their hessian-covered walls and linoleum-tiled floors – and the building’s facade were dated, and it lacked essential climate and humidity controls and adequate security to protect the collection.
To confirm the Gallery’s future, update its facilities and reestablish it as an important and innovative regional gallery, a new agreement was made between the Gallery’s Board and the City of Greater Bendigo. Our Board retained responsibility for artistic matters, while the City assumed control of all operational functions.
1998 a major redevelopment
When a $1 million contribution was received from the Victorian Government in 1995, an ambitious redevelopment program was launched.
Karl Fender of the Melbourne-based architecture firm Nation Fender Katsalidis, led the purchase and demolition of the neighbouring ANA Motor Inn, the removal of the Gallery’s 1960s facade, the refurbishment of the 19th-century galleries, and the construction of new gallery spaces, shop, and administration area.
Standard museum environmental control, and security systems were also put in place, and storage facilities were upgraded. The Gallery launched this stage of its redevelopment in December 1998.
In August 2001 the Sidney Myer Work on Paper Gallery and the Gallery Café opened. Both were funded primarily by The Sidney Myer Centenary Celebration 1899–1999, with additional support from the R H S Abbott Bequest Fund.
Sidney Myer – local retailer
The noted retailer and philanthropist Sidney Myer (1878–1934) established his first business in Bendigo more than 100 years ago. The Gallery commissioned artist Janet Laurence to create the Sidney Myer Commemorative Sculpture to acknowledge his remarkable contribution to the community and the arts in Australia. The breath we share, 2002–03, was installed outside the Gallery Cafe in early 2003.
2014 gallery expansion
In March 2014 we opened a new contemporary wing of galleries designed by Karl Fender, of Fender Katsalidis Architects.
This $8.5 million re-development, located at the rear of the Gallery, added 600 square metres of gallery space as well as specialist storage solutions for the Gallery’s extensive and diverse collection. An expanded and refurbished Gallery Cafe was also launched to coincide with the opening of the new wing.