The famous depiction of federal parliament’s inaugural sitting in 1901 will be the centrepiece of the National Gallery of Australia’s annual summer exhibition.
And as far as Arts Minister George Brandis is concerned, that’s just how things should be.
“To my regret it is hung a little obscurely in a room in Parliament House which doesn’t do justice to its grandeur,” he said of the painting by Tom Roberts.
It will be the first time the landmark painting, known as the Big Picture and on permanent loan to Australia from the Queen, will be moved in nearly 30 years.
Senator Brandis waxed lyrical about the painting’s grandeur, sense of history and significance while announcing the exhibition of Roberts work on Wednesday.
If the exhibition did nothing more, prominently displaying the painting of the opening of Australia’s first parliament in Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Hall would be enough.
But, as gallery director Gerard Vaughan was quick to point out, that’s not all the exhibition will do.
It will bring together more than 130 of Roberts works spanning his whole career, including 53 portraits and 53 landscapes.
Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin are considered the originators of the Heidelberg school of Australian impressionism that captured life in the outback and events of national importance.
Dr Vaughan also views Roberts as a cultural warrior.
“Not everyone in the Melbourne art establishment in the 1880s and 1890s … responded positively to this new, fresh, naturalistic, plein air style which Roberts and his mates introduced,” he said.
“When they criticised it, Tom Roberts fought back.”
The exhibition runs from December 4 to March 28, 2016.