The Rainforest comes home to HOTA Gallery
Today, we celebrated another milestone moment in our preparation to open the new HOTA Gallery as the stunning painting, The Rainforest by William Robinson, was hung on the walls for the very first time.
As the inspiration for the design of the new HOTA Gallery, The Rainforest shows the Botan Creek winding its way through the Beechmont rainforest where Robinson, Australia’s foremost landscape painter, lived at the time it was painted.
At more than 5m long this stunning painting, which is also the most valuable work in the City Collection, is breathtaking in scale and will be a real highlight in the Collection Gallery before it’s inclusion in Lyrical Landscapes: The Art of William Robinson from 31 July.
A controversial acquisition
The Gold Coast has a strong track record of commissioning and acquiring significant artworks but there was a great deal of controversy over the acquisition of The Rainforest for the City Collection.
In the early 90s The Rainforest captured the imagination of Gold Coast’s art loving community. While now widely considered an incredibly valuable piece of art, its acquisition is an incredible tale of pre-social media crowd funding.
Enclosed is a small bit of money – I hope it might help to purchase 1/16th of one tiny droplet in the mist of the beautiful, magnificent ‘Rainforest’ Anne Nony Mous
So reads a mystery donor’s note stapled to a $100 note in response to a public call by Director of the Gold Coast City Gallery, Fran Cummings (nee Considine), to raise $80,000 to purchase the majestic painting.
The painting of the Gold Coast hinterland had just been awarded the 1990 Wynne Prize for landscape painting; a prestigious Art Gallery of New South Wales award. Painted across two panels, the eye meanders across the canvases, following the curve of Botan Creek, which later joins the Coomera River as it winds its way through the Beechmont rainforest. A meditation on a landscape where time seems suspended, the painting captured the imagination of Gold Coast’s art loving community.
Despite tremendous public good will, Cummings’s fundraising appeal was soured by a loud dissenting voice, the late John Millington, art critic at the time for the Gold Coast Bulletin. Cumming’s initially sought $30,000 from Gold Coast City Council to contribute to the acquisition of The Rainforest and Millington was critical that any Council funds should be spent on the painting. Millington stated he would be ‘dropping a line to the Mayor, Lex Bell, saying I like the idea but they are being ripped off to pay that’. He believed The Rainforest to be valued somewhere around $20,000-$30,000. Millington took aim at the commission from the sale of the painting that would go to the commercial dealer, the economic climate in which financial support was being sought from Council, he questioned the ‘prestigious’ nature of the Wynne Prize, and made negative comments about Cumming’s management of the collection.
Cummings understandably took umbrage to these comments writing to the Gold Coast Bulletin Editor: ‘Professionally and publicly, the painting ‘Rainforest’ has been accorded the accolade it deserves. It is regarded as not only the most important painting this artist has produced to this date but a great work in its own right. The public love it as a painting and want it for our Collection and the business community has rallied to the cause. Mr Millington however seems hellbent on preventing its acquisition whilst creating another issue through which to attack me.’
Millington managed to rouse public opinion over the merits of acquiring The Rainforest, such as Alderman Athol Paterson who did not support financial expenditure on the painting, which he described as a ‘genuinely beautiful work’. He goes on, ‘But I will be arguing strongly in council against buying it…I along with many other ordinary citizens have had to curtail a lot of expenditure by not branching out into luxury items – and the council should exercise the same restraint’. Southport florist and city council aldermanic candidate Dawn Crichlow said the painting would be ‘an excellent investment’ and a tourist attraction at a cost to ratepayers of only $30,000 ‘Anyone in council opposing the purchase of Rainforest for financial reasons is guilty to both cynical electioneering and political grandstanding,’ said Mrs Crichlow. ‘Thirty thousand dollars for this sort of investment is a small price to pay, considering the vast amounts of money squandered by the council’s finance committee on the Southport Mall without any return at all.’
Doug Hall, then Director of Queensland Art Gallery provided his support for the proposed acquisition, ‘I can’t say whether the council should buy it or not but a painting like that by an artist of Robinson’s standing is certainly worth the money – Robinson has well and truly got a niche in Australian art history. Buying the painting is not a punt, it’s a sound investment.’
With some gentle persuasion from Cummings, Gold Coast businesses including solicitors, accountants, architects, medical professionals and engineers each contributed $1,000 toward the acquisition of The Rainforest. Despite the controversy generated by Millington, the Gold Coast Bulletin donated $5,000. Undeterred by the setback in funding, Gold Coast City Gallery achieved the remarkable feat of crowd funding $80,000 to acquire William Robinson’s The Rainforest for the people of the Gold Coast.
Fast forward to today and The Rainforest is now valued at around $1m and is considered a work of great significance. And you’ll be able to see it in pride of place as part of Lyrical Landscapes: the Art of William Robinson in the new HOTA Gallery from 31 July.
There’s no doubt we Gold Coasters have a special connection to the beautiful environment in which we live, from the beaches to the hinterland. It was therefore most fitting that The Rainforest, a lyrical exploration of an ancient landscape and place of wonder, was chosen as the inspiration for the design of the new HOTA Gallery.
Like The Rainforest, the new HOTA Gallery will be a trail-blazer full of wonder, discovery, creation, beauty, spectacle and scale. It will be filled with multiple ideas, an unfolding experience of viewpoints and trails that challenge us to dig deeper and get lost in creative ideas. It will have aspects of light and dark; points of discovery – both internally and externally.
Preparations behind the scenes HOTA Gallery are full steam ahead as we get ready to open on Sat 8 May.
William Robinson, The rainforest 1990, oil on canvas, 188.0 x 492.5 cm, Collection, HOTA Gallery. Acquired through funds from Gold Coast’s business and art loving community 1991 © William Robinson/Philip Bacon Galleries.
 Gold Coast Bulletin, ‘$80,000 painting a rip-off, says expert’, c. 29 January 1991, page unknown
2 Gold Coast Bulletin, ‘$80,000 painting a rip-off, says expert’, c. 29 January 1991, page unknown
3 Gold Coast Bulletin, ‘Controversy puts funding in spotlight,’9 February 1991.
4 Gold Coast Bulletin, ‘Alderman hits bid to buy $80,000 painting’, 5 February 1991, page unknown
5 Gold Coast Bulletin, ‘Aldermen told $80,000 painting a bargain for city’, 6 February 1991, p.5.
6 Gold Coast Bulletin, ‘Aldermen told $80,000 painting a bargain for city’, 6 February 1991, p.5.