I went to the Rupert Bunny exhibition media preview at the NGV at Federation Square. It was what I expected. There was orange juice, tea, coffee and nibbles (mini hot-cross buns and full-size lamingtons). Followed by speeches by NGV Director Gerard Vaughan, Arts Minister Peter Batchelor and the assistant curator, Elena Taylor (as the curator, Deborah Edwards was delayed flying in from NSW).
There was about 50 something people in media pack – I only recognized a couple of people – no TV reporters and only a couple of photographers. There was a reporter with a cool looking microphone digital recorder combination but most weren’t even taking notes. Most of them, I assume, were going to crib from the NGV media kit. In the “media kit” there is a bookmark, an A4 handbill, notes from the exhibitions and a media release from the Minister for Arts.
After the speeches the gallery doors smoothly slide open. Elena Taylor, the assistant curator gave a quick tour of the exhibition followed by impromptu speeches from Peter Batchelor and Gerard Vaughan. Although the exhibition is subtitled “artist in Paris” all of the speakers were keen to emphasize the local connection with Rupert Bunny. Bunny was born in Melbourne, received his early training in painting at the NGV school and returned to Melbourne at the end of his life. Peter Batchelor remembered paintings by Bunny that hung for a time in the Victorian Premier’s office. Batchelor demonstrated that he can think about the arts, noting the influence of the Ballet Russes on Australian culture, and didn’t mention party politics.
The speeches exhorted the media to “get out the message” to promote the exhibition. But I am not going to proscribe this exhibition to anyone, there is no need to see this exhibition; it will not change your life, your view of the world, or make you a better person or artist. Rupert Bunny was a dedicated follower of art fashions, making him a popular but not a significant artist. He started painting in a symbolist style, and following the example of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he painted some British Christian images before painting his wife and model, Jeanne Morel for the next decade. To prevent himself from falling asleep, like many of the women in his paintings, Bunny changes his style in 1912 to suit the modern fashion. Post-WWII he changed style again and turned to painting landscapes.
If you like Rupert Bunny’s paintings you will like this exhibition; it is the first major retrospective since the artist’s death. Some of the paintings have been recently cleaned by the conservation staff at the NGV and were looking fresh and bright. I don’t like Bunny’s paintings, I hate his pallid pastel colors and his insipid themes, but I found the exhibition interesting perspective on art history and I was glad that I didn’t have to pay the admission fee. I met my neighbor, Marge on the train coming home from the media preview; she was on her way back from her u3a choir practice. Marge didn’t like Rupert Bunny’s paintings either.