Open main menu

The Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), established as the National Gallery of South Australia in 1881, is located in Adelaide. It is the most significant visual arts museum in the Australian state of South Australia. It has a collection of almost 45,000 works of art, making it the second largest state art collection in Australia (after the National Gallery of Victoria). As part of North Terrace cultural precinct, the Gallery is flanked by the South Australian Museum to the west and the University of Adelaide to the east.

Art Gallery of South Australia
LocationNorth Terrace, Adelaide, Australia
TypeArt gallery
DirectorRhana Devenport[2]

As well as its permanent collection, which is especially renowned for its collection of Australian art, AGSA hosts the annual Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art known as Tarnanthi, displays a number of visiting exhibitions each year and also contributes travelling exhibitions to regional galleries. European (including British), Asian and North American art are also well represented in its collections.



The South Australian Society of Arts, established in 1856 and oldest fine arts society still in existence, held Annual exhibitions in South Australian Institute rooms and advocated for a public art collection. In 1880 Parliament gave £2,000 to the Institute to start acquiring a collection and the National Gallery of South Australia was established in June 1881.[3] It was opened in two rooms of the public library (now the Mortlock Wing of the State Library), by Prince Albert Victor and Prince George. Most works on display were acquired through a government grant. In 1897, Sir Thomas Elder bequeathed £25,000 to the art gallery for the purchase of artworks.[4]

In 1889 the gallery moved further east to the Jubilee Exhibition Building, and then to its present site in 1900, in a specially designed building (now the Elder Wing)[5] designed by architect Owen Smythe and built in Classical Revival style by Messrs Tudgeon. Originally built with an enclosed portico, a 1936 refurbishment and enlargement included a new facade with an open Doric portico.[4]

Major extensions in 1962 (including a three-storey air-conditioned addition on the northern side), 1979 (general refurbishment, in time for its centenary in 1981) and 1996 (large expansion) increased the gallery’s display, administrative and ancillary facilities further.[5][4][6]

The building is listed in the South Australian Heritage Register.[4]

In 1940 an act of parliament separated the gallery from the public library and museum, established its own board and changed its name to the Art Gallery of South Australia.[5]

As of 2019, the building houses 64kWh worth of battery storage as part of the Government of South Australia Storage Demonstration project, powered by three 7.5kW Selectronic inverters. This reduces the consumption of power from the state grid.[1]

AGSA has about 780,000 visitors each year.[1]


AGSA director Nick Mitzevich addressing Museums Australia conference delegates, 2012

As of May 2019, the AGSA collection comprises almost 45,000 works of art.[7] Of the state galleries, only the National Gallery of Victoria is larger.[8]

Australian artEdit

The Gallery is renowned for its collections of Australian art, including Indigenous Australian and colonial art, from about 1800 onwards. The collection is strong in nineteenth-century works (including silverware and furniture) and in particular Australian Impressionist (often referred to as Heidelberg School) paintings. Its twentieth-century Modernist art collection includes the work of many female artists, and there is a large collection of South Australian art, which includes 2,000 drawings by Hans Heysen and a large collection of photographs.[9][10]

Heidelberg school works include Tom Roberts' A break away!, Charles Conder's A holiday at Mentone, and Arthur Streeton's Road to Templestowe.[6] The mid-twentieth century is represented by works by Russell Drysdale, Arthur Boyd, Margaret Preston, Bessie Davidson, and Sidney Nolan, and South Australian art includes works by James Ashton and Jeffrey Smart.[citation needed]

The Gallery became the first Australian gallery to acquire a work by an Indigenous artist in 1939, although systematic acquisition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art was not realised until the mid-1950s.[11] The Gallery and now holds a large and diverse collection of older and contemporary works, including the Kulata Tjuta collaboration created by Aṉangu artists working in the north of SA.[9]


European landscape paintings include works by Jacob Isaakszoon van Ruisdael, Salomon van Ruysdael, Joseph Wright of Derby,[10] and Camille Pissarro.[12] Other European works include paintings by Goya, Francesco Guardi, Pompeo Batoni and Camille Corot.[10]

There is a large collection of British art, including many Pre-Raphaelite works, by artists Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Morris & Co.. Other works include John William Waterhouse's Circe Invidiosa (1892) and The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius (c.1883); William Holman Hunt's Christ and the Two Marys (1847) and The Risen Christ with the Two Marys in the Garden Of Joseph of Aramathea (1897); and John Collier's Priestess of Delphi (1891). Works by British portrait painters include Robert Peake, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Lely and Thomas Gainsborough.[10]

Sculpture includes works by Rodin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Jacob Epstein[10] and Thomas Hirschhorn.[9]

The Asian art collection, begun in 1904, includes work from the whole region, with focuses on the pre-modern Japanese art, art of Southeast Asia, India and the Middle East. The Gallery holds Australia’s only permanent display of Islamic art.[9]

Exhibitions and collaborationsEdit

As well as its permanent collection, AGSA displays a number of visiting exhibitions each year[13] and contributes travelling exhibitions to regional galleries.[14]

1906: The Light of the WorldEdit

In 1906, when William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World was on display, 18,168 visitors crammed through the gallery in less than two weeks to see it.[5]

2016 BiennialEdit

In 2016, the gallery participated in the large "Biennial 2016" art festival with its "Magic Object" exhibitions.[15]


Since 2015, AGSA has hosted and supported events connected with Tarnanthi (pronounced tar-nan-dee), the Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. The 2015 exhibition was said to be the "most ambitious exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in its 134-year history".[16] In association with the Government of South Australia and BHP, an expansive city-wide festival is staged biennially (in odd-numbered years), alternating with a focus exhibition at the gallery in the years in between.[17]


Ramsay Art PrizeEdit

In 2016, a new national $100,000 acquisitive art prize for artists, open to Australian artists under 40 working in any medium, was announced by the Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill. Supported by the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation, it is the country's richest art prize, awarded biennially. Chosen by an international judging panel, all finalists are exhibited in a major exhibition over the winter months at the Gallery.[18] There is also a non-acquisitive Lipman Karas People’s Choice Prize based on public vote, worth $15,000.[19][20]


In its inaugural year, over 450 young artists submitted entries. From the 21 finalists selected for the exhibition, Perth-born artist Sarah Contos, now based in Sydney, won the prize for her entry entitled Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye.[19][21]


In 2019, 23 finalists were chosen from a field of 350 submissions.[22][23] Vincent Namatjira won the prize with his work Close Contact, 2018, a double-sided full-body representation of a man, in acrylic paint on plywood.[24][25]


Selected Australian works

Selected international works

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Art Gallery of South Australia". Zen. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  2. ^ AGSA: Our team
  3. ^ Anderson, Margaret. "Art Gallery of South Australia". SA History Hub. History Trust of South Australia. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d "Art Gallery, North Terrace, 1926 (photograph)". SA Memory. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d "Art galleries". Adelaidia. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  6. ^ a b Barbara Cooper and Maureen Matheson, The World Museums Guide, McGraw-Hill, (1973) ISBN 9780070129252
  7. ^ "Visit". Art Gallery of South Australia. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  8. ^ "Adelaide: Art Gallery of SA Extensions". Architecture Australia. May – June 1996. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 19 May 2007.
  9. ^ a b c d "About the collection". AGSA. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Art Gallery of South Australia :: Collection".
  11. ^ "Our History". Art Gallery of South Australia.
  12. ^ "Art Gallery of South Australia acquires $4.5 million French Impressionist painting". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 22 August 2014. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  13. ^ "Art Gallery of South Australia :: Exhibitions :: Past Exhibitions".
  14. ^ AGSA Touring Exhibitions 2011 Archived 3 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Van der Walt, Annie (10 May 2016). "Biennial 2016: A Thread Runs Through It"". Adelaide Review. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  16. ^ "About the Festival". 2015 Tarnanthi. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  17. ^ "TARNANTHI: Our annual national celebration of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art". Art Gallery of South Australia. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  18. ^ "Ramsay Art Prize: Media release" (PDF). 2016. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  19. ^ a b Dexter, John (26 May 2017). "Sarah Contos Wins Inaugural Ramsay Art Prize". Adelaide Review. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  20. ^ "Ramsay Art Prize". AGSA. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  21. ^ Coggan, Michael (26 May 2017). "Ramsay Art Prize won by artist Sarah Contos for quilt 'celebrating women in all their glory'". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  22. ^ "$100,000 Ramsay Art Prize finalists announced for 2019" (pdf). AGSA. 2019. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  23. ^ Marsh, Walter (30 April 2019). "Ramsay Art Prize 2019 finalists revealed". Adelaide Review. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  24. ^ "Ramsay Art Prize 2019". AGSA. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  25. ^ Smith, Matthew (24 May 2019). "Indigenous artist Vincent Namatjira wins the $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 15 June 2019.

Further readingEdit

  • Thomas, Daniel (2011). "Art museums in Australia: a personal account". Understanding Museums. - Includes link to PDF of the article "Art museums in Australia: a personal retrospect" (originally published in Journal of Art Historiography, No 4, June 2011).

External linksEdit