Art Gallery of Western Australia

h i s t o r y

Founded in Perth 1895 with the purchase of the nucleus of an art collection by the Perth Museum, the Art Gallery was opened as part of the museum by Sir Alexander Onslow, administrator of the colony, on 31 July 1895. The foundation stone for the Beaufort Street wing of the museum and gallery was laid by HRH The Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) on 24 July 1908. For many years the institution was known as the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of WA. The Library was placed under separate administration in 1954 and in 1959 the Museum was separated from the gallery (which was referred to as the Western Australia Art Gallery), with a board of trustees responsible to the Government for the control of the gallery. In 1978 the name was changed to the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In 1997 the Art Gallery, Museum and Library were again combined, together with other agencies, to form a Ministry for Culture and the Arts.

A contract for a new art gallery building was signed in February 1977 on the site bounded by James Street, Beaufort Street and Roe Street and the new building, with nine galleries on two levels was opened on 2 October 1979. In 1982 the adjacent old Police Court building (1905) in Beaufort Street was transferred to the Art Gallery Board. Now named the Centenary Galleries, this building has been restored to house the Gallery’s heritage collection and was opened on 28 July 1995, the Gallery’s centenary year. It expanded the Gallery display space by 25% and provides a suite of galleries on two floors.

The Centenary Galleries

The Perth Police Court building is an important element in the evolution of court building in Western Australia as part of a vigorous era of public building following the gold discoveries of 1885-86 and the granting of representative government in 1870.

The original designer of this superb old building was the Public Works Department Chief architect, John Grainger, assisted by Hillson Beasley, who brought the project to completion in 1905 for a cost of 17,826 pounds.

The ground floor contained Police, Local and Coroner’s Courts with offices for Coroner, justices, solicitors, witnesses, jury and Bailiff, and holding cells for prisoners on trial.

The building reflects a late nineteenth century interpretation of the French Renaissance style, unusual in Perth architecture of the period.

Western Australian materials were used extensively, including Donnybrook stone, for the building facades, jarrah for floors and interior furnishings and stained glass feature panels. The ornate ceilings, which are marvellously maintained, are Australian-manufactured pressed metal and add an ambience that is reminiscent of a bygone era.

In 1982 the Courts were moved to the newly erected District Court Building and a program commenced for the use of the Police Court for Art Gallery purposes.

In 1991 the Gallery was granted funding of $1.1 million from a Federal Government Heritage Properties Grant and $2.8 million from the West Australian Government to restore the building and transform it from courtrooms to galleries.

The linking of the Centenary Galleries and the Gallery provided a challenge of how to successfully and sensitively connect the 1979 Art Gallery with 1905 technology and building practices.

The need for de-humidified air-conditioning to ‘preserve’ artworks, reduction of ultra violet light, special gallery lighting and control requirements, security requirements, smoke detection, public access and disabled access presented planning and constructional challenges that required regular communication between designers, documenters, builder and conservation architects.

The galleries on the ground floor feature many of the Gallery’s 19th century paintings and decorative arts, together with a superb display of turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau. Displays in galleries on the first floor concentrate on art produced in or referencing Western Australia, which range from sketches made by the first visitors sailing into King George Sound to prints, paintings and craft items by contemporary Western Australian artists.


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