The outstanding collection was left to the University in 2017, by former Sydney lawyer and company director Neville Grace. Grace studied Arts/Law at the University, graduating in 1951, and was a generous donor to the institution throughout his life.
The decision to donate the paintings to the University was made late in Grace’s life, prompted by learning the Chau Chak Wing Museum was being built.
Brendan Aubusson, a legal colleague who knew Grace for more than 40 years and became a close friend, also attended auctions on his behalf. Aubusson remembers Grace as having an “eye for an investment” but his being overwhelmingly motivated to collect because of a genuine love of art.
Grace’s interest in post-impressionist Australian paintings started in the early-1970s. He particularly favoured seascapes and the still life genre. His first impressionist purchase was Emanuel Phillips Fox’s Blossoms (c. 1904), which is part of the bequest.
A great strength of the Grace bequest to the University is a remarkable group of 27 paintings by Emanuel or his wife Ethel Carrick Fox. They include scenes of France, Italy, Africa, India and Australia, including Carrick Fox’s 1919 work La plage Francais, along with still lives and portraits.
Many of the paintings donated by Neville Grace have not been on public exhibition in recent years.
Mr Grace’s generous bequest will allow the public to see many of these wonderful Australian paintings when the Chau Chak Wing Museum opens in 2020.
Grace went on to become increasingly interested in the Heidelberg School painters, purchasing works by artists such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton. Among those works given to the University are several magnificent paintings of Venice by Streeton and the Foxes.
Palazzo Labia, Venice (1934) by Arthur Streeton will be exhibited alongside St Mark’s Square, Venice (1907) by Ethel Carrick Fox and Doge’s Palace Venice (c.1907) by Emanuel Phillips Fox.
Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney said, “Mr Grace’s generous bequest will allow the public to see many of these wonderful Australian paintings when the Chau Chak Wing Museum opens in 2020. They will enhance the cultural and social contribution the Museum will make to the community.”
Other highlights of the collection are Untitled [Seated Arab] (c. 1884) by Tom Roberts, South Sea Beauty (1881) by Nicholas Chevalier, On the beach, St Jean de Luz (1924–25) by Roy de Maistre and Nambucca Heads NSW (1920) by Elioth Gruner.
David Ellis, Director Chau Chak Wing Museum said, “We are delighted Mr Grace entrusted his finely curated collection to the University. The paintings are a significant addition to the University’s collection of 20th century Australian art.”