About the NGV
National Gallery of Victoria
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square NGV International 180 St Kilda Road About the NGV

NGV Women's Association

In December 1959 the State Government of Victoria announced the appointment of Roy Grounds (later Sir Roy) as architect of the long-awaited new building complex which was to become the National Gallery of Victoria and The Arts Centre (originally called the National Art Gallery and Cultural Centre) located in St Kilda Road, Melbourne. This exciting advent in Melbourne’s cultural life produced a ‘period of feverish activity’ [1] and an intensive public appeal was launched throughout the State.


Tommy Watson
Pitjantjatjara born c. 1935
Awilyulu 2003
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
199.0 x 147.5 cm
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Susie and Michael Hamson, Fellow, and through the National Gallery Women�s Association, Governor, 2003
© Tommy Watson, courtesy of Irrunytju Community Inc


Peter Booth
born England 1940, arrived Australia 1958
Winter 1993
oil on canvas
203.4 x 396.5 cm
Presented by the National Gallery Women's Association, 2002
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Peter Booth, 1977/Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney


Various artists
Kulyayi and Nyirla 1999
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
185.0 x 385.0 cm
Presented through the National Gallery Women's Association and the NGV Foundation by the Orloff Family Trust, Fellow, 2002
© The artists, courtesy of Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency

During this period Mrs Elizabeth Summons was presiding over a Women's Council for fundraising and awareness for Melbourne's then Museum of Modern Art. This was an initiative of John and Sunday Reed (whose home was to become Heide Museum of Modern Art) and a group of inspired Melbourne business and professional people. In recognition of her success, Mrs Summons was invited to convene a new Women’s Council, officially the Women’s Committee of the Cultural Centre Building Committee, ‘to reach out into society and spread the word about the Gallery [in order] to form the foundation of the broadest possible support base’ [2]. In February 1961 Mrs Summons met with the initial group of twenty-three women and their work began. The public of Melbourne and regional Victoria participated in their numerous and imaginative activities and the profits helped to finance the building of the Gallery, The Arts Centre’s spire, its endowed seating and the acquisition of two artworks for the Gallery [3] – a foretaste of things to come. Most importantly the activities of the committee helped to generate the public’s infectious enthusiasm for this major building project which would enrich Melbourne and Victoria.

The purpose-built Gallery housed the State’s distinguished art collection. Following completion of the building in December 1967 the Gallery Council proposed that a Fund Raising Committee (sic) - which included Elizabeth Summons - be formed to assist with the NGV’s purchasing capacity [4]. The majority of the Women’s Council, having established a strong momentum and goodwill in the community during their fundraising, chose not to wind down on achieving the goal of £40,000 for the Building Committee. Rather, they were anxious to re-direct their indefatigable energies to the NGV and the students of the National Gallery Art School (or Gallery School).

In 1963 John Brack, the artist-Director of the Gallery School, alerted Elizabeth Summons to the dire state of the art students’ needs [5]. As a result a dedicated committee was established by the Women’s Council, the Women’s Committee for Student Welfare. This small active body immediately arranged for the facilities to be improved and for ‘three scholarships, each of £150 a year for three years from generous donors’ to be provided [6]. It is with great pride that the current committee claims Peter Booth as the first recipient (1963) of the student scholarships.

The Women’s Council [7], together with a fresh group of invited individuals, became known as the National Gallery Women’s Association (NGWA) in February 1969. Mrs Summons deliberately chose an extraordinarily eclectic group with widely diverse backgrounds, religions, interests and skills and included ‘representative[s] of science and industry as well as the arts, members of the diplomatic corps and quite a number of professional people’ [8]. Their objectives, set out in the constitution, were to raise funds for the acquisition of artworks for the NGV and for Encouragement Awards for art students of the Gallery School (now the Victorian College of the Arts, or VCA). The constitution also required that the committee support the NGV Director, the Director’s deputies and the Trustees.

In the spirit of this change of direction, one of the committee’s early projects, in 1967, made through a special appeal to the women of Victoria, was to raise funds to commission sculptor Norma Redpath to create a large bronze coat of arms of the State of Victoria. This plaque is now sited prominently over the main entrance to the Gallery. And by chance, one of the committee’s recent major acquisitions is the painting Winter by Peter Booth, recipient of the first student scholarship from the Women’s Council. In 2002 the NGWA donated $150,000 for the work in celebration of the opening of the NGV’s new gallery for Australian art - The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia in Federation Square.

The program of fundraising activities of the committee was initially and remains arts-related in keeping with the collections and exhibitions of the NGV. From its inception more than 40 years ago, originally as the Women’s Council and then throughout its various formats, the committee has either raised funds for full or partial payment of acquisitions proposed by the Gallery, or has acted occasionally as the entity through which artworks have been donated. Similarly, the committee has been the conduit for monetary donations. In this manner the Gallery has acquired a combined total of over 100 works. The committee also provides memorial books for the Library and has in the past supported different departments of the NGV. Through providing specific funds for the Gallery the NGWA became a Governor of the NGV Foundation. It has helped to fund other special activities, such as The Great Eighteenth Century Exhibition (1983) and the Gallia Collection Exhibition (1984). As well in 1997 it hosted a party held to announce the winner of the Contempora5 Award and also to encourage the younger generation into the Gallery.

In 2004 the committee of 55 women evolved again to be re-named the National Gallery of Victoria Women’s Association (NGVWA), while retaining the original constitutional objective of fundraising for NGV acquisitions and for VCA art student Encouragement Awards [9]. In addition, it was decided to establish a memorial trust in honour of Elizabeth Summons, who had led the committee for 20 years ‘as a true ambassador of the National Gallery … [She] was stylish and amusing … and a connoisseur of modern art who had a genuine wish to assist and encourage young artists’ [10]. With her influence, tenacity and ‘hitherto unrealized talent for leadership, administration and political networking’ [11] as well as her discerning taste, generosity and quick wit, Mrs Summons determined the direction taken by the Women’s Council through its evolution to the NGVWA. In keeping with two of her passions, travelling and the NGV, the trust - the Elizabeth Summons Curatorial Travel Scholarship - was inaugurated to enhance the travel opportunities, locally or overseas, of NGV curators. The first Scholar, Roger Leong, Curator of International Fashion and Textiles, has recently been announced.

Louise McO. Green
Convenor, Archives Sub-committee, NGVWA

Past Presidents

Mrs Elizabeth Summons MBE


Mrs Joan McNicoll


Mrs Lyn Williams AM


Mrs Patricia Macdonald


Mrs Joan Clemenger


Mrs Patricia Davies


Mrs Mary Archer


Mrs Anita von Bibra


Mrs Diana Morgan


Mrs Sandra Velik


Dr Christine Ramsay


Mrs Dinah Whitaker


Mrs Susan Hamson


Mrs Ann Bennett


Mrs Sarah Guest



  1. Birth of a Gallery, text, Dr Eric Westbrook, Director, NGV (1956 - 1973); published by Macmillan to mark the opening of the NGV in St Kilda Road in 1968; p. 14.
  2. Quoted from lecture ‘Exiles and Emigrants, the story of an exhibition’ delivered by Patricia Macdonald, 23rd February 2006. Mrs Macdonald is the guest curator of the NGV exhibition and is a past President of the NGWA which she joined in 1975.
  3. Arthur Boyd, Romeo and Juliet, ceramic tiles, purchased 1965; and Emilio Greco, Bust of Iphegenia, bronze, purchased 1966.
  4. The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 - 1968: a search for a collection; Leonard B. Cox; published by National Gallery of Victoria, 1970; p. 384.
  5. Mrs Elizabeth Summons in conversation with the author.
  6. Cox, op.cit. p. 324.
  7. The original Women’s Council was restricted to a maximum membership of 24. Mrs Mary Crean, one of those members, explains: ‘Realizing there was a need to augment numbers for fundraising, the Women’s Council formed an Entertainments Committee. Although there were now two committees, they worked together as one.’ The Entertainments Committee met separately and formally, with a representative attending the Women’s Council monthly meetings. Subsequently, during the NGWA presidency of 1982 – 1984 and with the changed restrictions regarding membership numbers the two groups were amalgamated.
  8. Macdonald lecture, op.cit.
  9. Encouragement Awards are allotted within the VCA and are currently valued at an annual figure of $10,000.
  10. Quoted from the eulogy delivered by Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV (1999–) at the funeral of Elizabeth Summons, 12th August 2003. (Two other eulogies were delivered at the funeral.)
  11. Mr Neil Clerehan ‘A woman of influence in Victoria’s arts heritage’, Obituary, The Age, Wednesday 13th August 2003, p. 17.


The author would like to acknowledge with warmest thanks the kind co-operation, the considered opinion, the thought and care, the generous voluntary involvement, the professionalism, the prescience or the patience of the following people:

Mr Peter Booth
Mr Neil Clerehan
Dr Louis Green
Mr Robin Hunt
Mr Philip Jones
Mr Geoffrey Tolson, Archivist, NGVWA

Mr David Belzycki, Co-ordinator of Cataloguing
Ms Maureen Jones, Personal Assistant, Chief Financial Officer
Mr Terence Lane, Senior Curator - Australian Art
Ms Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director (Australian Art), ex officio member NGVWA
Ms Elizabeth O’Keeffe, former Chief Operating Officer
Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director
Mr Michael Watson, Senior Librarian
Ms Judy Williams, Head, NGV Foundation and Fundraising

Mrs Nicci Baker, Archives Sub-committee
Mrs Mary Crean, Life Member and original member from 1961
Mrs Diana Gaze
Mrs Sarah Guest, President
Mrs Suzanne Hunt, Archives Sub-committee
Mrs Barbara B. Kane, Website Editor and Publicity Officer
Mrs Penny Lewisohn, Associate Member
Mrs Patricia Macdonald, Associate Member, past President
Mrs Diana Morgan, past President
Dr Christine Ramsay, Life Member, past President
Mrs Myra Scott, Archives Sub-committee
Mrs Lyn Williams AM, Life Member, past President


NGV: Art like never before