A passionate Melbourne art lover with a deep connection to Ballarat has decided it's time to part with his collection of 250 Australian works, built up over 60 years.
Dr Graeme Williams OAM fell in love with Australian art and artists while studying architecture at RMIT in the 1960s. Part of the architecture course curriculum was a subject called Fine Arts, he says, and it found him spending hours at the State Library in Swanston Street, Melbourne.
"They had a slide recognition test," he recalls.
"You had to recognise famous paintings like Botticelli's Birth of Venus and John Brack's Collin St. 5pm and works like that. And I used to take myself over to the art library at at the State Library. Every lunchtime I used to sit there and just go through art books. And I just developed a love of art."
So much so that, aside from building a formidable collection of works by artists including Brett Whiteley, Sidney Nolan, Inge King, Marion Borgelt, John Brack, Rupert Bunny and Russell Drysdale, Graeme Williams also undertook a doctorate in art history at Federation University in Ballarat, cementing a long personal relationship with the city.
See the full collection here:
"It's rumored, or it's legend that one of my relatives was Bentley, whose pub was burned in the Eureka Stockade, Mr Williams said.
"When I was young, my mother would drive us up to Ballarat to see relatives. And Anne Beggs-Sunter, who was one of the supervisors of my doctorate, has written a history of the Art Gallery, which I've read."
The pressing hand of time has led Dr Williams to consider the future of his collection, as well as the death of two of his children. He would like to keep the body of the collection together and create a memorial to his late son and daughter, Antony and Tess.
"I started thinking I wasn't sure whether my executor could quite understand what I'm doing, so I've decided to do this during my lifetime. I'm 71, I had a heart arrest four or five years ago. I was clinically dead. You never know how long you have left.
"I realised I was old at 70. I turned 50, nothing changed; I turned 60, nothing changed. I was still racing windsurfers into my late 60s. And all of a sudden now I feel like I don't know whether I could go out and do a windsurfing race or anything."
He says his beloved collection should be in the public view.
"I'd like to have them on public display. I'm not worried about any mention of me, but maybe for my two children. Some people say, 'Why didn't you sell the work?' I actually know what I'm doing. I didn't want to see it disappear all over the place. I'm trying to set things up for when I go, trying to complete things.
"I've been pretty pleased with some of the things I've done: my masters degree, doing my doctorate, getting an Order of Australia. I can look back with pride on a lot of things that I've been involved with. It's been good. I've enjoyed art. Even now I am judging the Mission for Seafarers Art Prize here in Melbourne."
Aside from enjoying close friendships with many of the artists whose works he purchased, Dr Williams has also enjoyed a long membership of The Savage Club in Melbourne and has written his Masters on its extensive art collection.
"Of the living artists in my collection, I'm friends with nearly all of them," Dr Williams says.
"I've inhabited the world of the artists. Late last century I joined the Savage Club. I initiated artist lunches once a month for 15 years. And I got various speakers in: practising artists, art historians, curators, gallery directors,.. a fantastic breadth of people I had coming in and speaking.
"I initiated artist dinners where I had an artist sitting at every table. Most of the artists joined; about 60 visual artists joined the Savage Club. And I had a poster done every year, a limited edition work all done by club artists. They put something back into the club in return for their membership. I'd call upon them to prepare this poster."
Dr Williams's love of the club is palpable. He is able to recall its foundation in Australia, and the foundation of its art collection, with startling, precise detail.
"They were based on the London Savage Club, which was founded in 1857, in London," he says.
I'm 71, I had a heart arrest four or five years ago. I was clinically dead. You never know how long you have left.Dr Graeme Williams OAM
"When the members were founding it, they had to think of a name. They thought 'The Shakespeare Club' and things like that were far too pretentious. So they called it 'The Savage Club' after Richard Savage, who was a bastard poet. He was a contemporary of Alexander Pope and Joshua Reynolds and the guy who wrote the dictionary, Dr Johnson.
"There's been a number of Savage Clubs formed around the world since then, based on the London Savage Club. To be a member, you had to be an artist, a musician, an actor in London. They changed it to let in men of science and, and then men of law, you know, because they needed people who could afford to pay fees, I suppose.
(It seems apposite to point out at this stage in the article The Savage Club does not admit female members.)
"Anyhow, the Melbourne Savage Club was based on the London Savage Club, and it was founded in 1894, coming out of the Metropolitan Music Society. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra came out of the Savage Club; it had free membership to musicians and actors, but in 1901 two members decided that wasn't good enough.
"Alf Vincent, who was a cartoonist with The Bulletin, and a guy named Randolph Bedford, otherwise known as 'Reckless Randolph', who was a politician and a businessman,but also a journalist; they got the constitution changed to allow painters and journalists and writers to get into the club free of charge.
"And so in 1901 so most of Victoria's major male artists joined the club. That included (Arthur) Streeton and (Tom) Roberts, (Fred) McCubbin and (John) Longstaff and William McInnes. Savage members won 12 out of the first 15 Archibald Prizes. Sir William Dargie was a member; it became a real club of the arts, and they've all left works to the club.
"So it's got a magnificent black and white collection. Mark Knight the cartoonist for the Herald Sun is a member. HOP (Livingston York Yourtee (Hop) Hopkins) the famous cartoonist, there's a collection of his work; Sir David Low who did the Colonel Blimp series in England; Alex Gurney who drew Bluey and Curley, they were all members. Phil May was a member.
"They did posters for all the house dinners every Saturday night, once a week. People would get up and sing and smoke cigars and just have a good time. But Streeton and people like that did the posters, you know."
Of his own collection, Dr Williams admits it reflects his taste for realism and the human form, a roll call of mid-to-late 20th Century Australian artists. Some are extremely well-known, like Sidney Nolan; others are less so but respected for their work, like Geoffrey Ricardo and David Frazer.
"I like figurative works and the sort of super-realist works like Julia Ciccarone and Rick Amor and David Keeling. They all paint realistic-looking scenes, imaginary but super-realist. I enjoy that sort of work, the figurative.
"I understand abstract work, but it's not what I collect. I don't collect Aboriginal work. You can't be all things. Some people collect by name and reputation; I collect work that I like. Most of the artists are Victorian. There are interstate artists like Brett Whiteley, but basically they're Victorian artists, most of the works."
Having had over 200 art works salon-hung in his Melbourne home for so long, is it a terrible wrench to let them go?
"I remarried two years ago," Dr Williams says.
"My wife has four daughters, and they... don't have the same taste as me. So works were being taken out of the bedrooms and hung in the passageway, and then the works in the passageway went into the bedrooms, and of course you don't have unhindered access to a teenage girl's room, so I couldn't always enjoy the work.
"We're looking for new house, and I didn't feel that I could hang these works in a new house. I'm actually going to miss a lot of the work, Geoff Ricardo's work and Thornton Walker's and John Wolseley's. Rick Amor's. I mean, there's some wonderful works that I'm losing; some of my favourite works.
"But I'm philosophical. The works will be donated in the memory of my two late children."
And in that, Dr Williams hopes, will be an enduring memorial to their lives.