In the 1850s immigrant artists in Victoria found it difficult to live by their profession. A 'Victorian Fine Arts Society' exhibited works in 1853 but soon lapsed. Exhibitions were subsequently held by the Society of Fine Arts, but their premises were inadequate, and the need for a National Gallery became manifest.
In 1863 the Government agreed to form a Commission on Fine Arts. The Commission was responsible for choosing sculptures and paintings for a new picture gallery to be housed in the Public Library in Russell Street. Redmond Barry argued for original and 'modern' works of art to be selected, rather than the European masters favoured by many colonists. The first exhibition opened in the Picture Gallery on 24 December 1864. Its success supported the Commissioners' case for a new wing to be built onto the Public Library to house the Gallery of Art.
The National Gallery of Victoria was incorporated in 1870, although it dates its inception to 1861. It was the first public gallery in Australia.
In 1867 the National Gallery of Victoria Art School opened. The School's graduates included Fred McCubbin, Tom Roberts, Rupert Bunny, Clara Southern, Joy Hester, Clifton Pugh, Fred Williams and Arthur Boyd. In 1973 the School of Art became the first school of the Victorian College of the Arts.
In 1904 Businessman Alfred Felton, died leaving a bequest of 383,163 pounds. Half of the interest earned was available to buy works for the Gallery.
Under the National Gallery of Victoria Act 1966 the National Gallery of Victoria was 'established and conducted at the Victorian Arts Centre' in St Kilda Road and at other sites as specified by the Governor in Council. A Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria was also established. A building designed by Roy Grounds was constructed on the St Kilda Road site. It was opened on 20 August 1968. Its Leonard French-designed stained glass ceiling was the largest glass ceiling in the world.
At the end of the twentieth century, the Gallery returned once again to its former Russell Street location, where it exhibited some of its collection while renovations were carried out on the St Kilda Road building. The Gallery opened a new branch at Federation Square in 2002 under the title 'Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square'; in 2003 it re-opened the St Kilda Road building, now re-badged 'NGV International'.
Victorian College of the Arts website http://www.vca.unimelb.edu.au/admin/admin_links/about/about.html
Australian Science at Work, University of Melbourne, website http://www.austehc.unimelb.edu.au/asaw/biogs/A001275b.htm
Web Arts http://www.web-arts.com.au/GALLERY/NGVIC.html
Galbally, A. (1995). Redmond Barry: An Anglo-Irish Australian.