Things to do in Melbourne #2 — Moreau at NGV International

Gustave Moreau has turned out to be something of a surprise package. I rolled up to NGV International for its Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine exhibition expecting a bunch of, well, second-tier oil-rendered classical views of some cool myths, and was pleasantly enlightened.

Mr Moreau, painting in the 19th century and not someone whose works I was acquainted with, might have started in such terrain, but his use of wide-ranging cultures, abstract elements, patterns and different media, proved there was a lot more going on.

Lady Macbeth by Moreau

Lady Macbeth by Moreau

I loved his Salome series — sadly, this exhibit of more than 100 of his works did not include a couple of key pieces referenced with working sketches — and two exquisite pieces, one showing three sirens as the vaguest of shapes lurking on the shadowed shore, the other a featureless Lady Macbeth roaming the gloomy castle with a taper. There were others, of course, ghostly renderings, emotive splashes of bright oil amidst the dark, textures of oil and inlaid pieces of coloured stones. This article from The Australian gives a much more informed overview.

The Apparition by Moreau, showing Salome encountering the ghost of John the Baptist

Also showing, and free, is Unnerved, a survey of modern art from New Zealand on loan from the Queensland Art Gallery. There are a lot of photographs, a striking sculpture of a seal balancing a piano, and some audio-visual presentations, as well as paintings and installations. Post-colonial themes abound. I particularly liked Lisa Reihana’s large digital images reflecting Maori heritage.

It’s impressive that a collection such as this is free.

I can also recommend lunch at Persimmon, a restaurant tucked away at the rear of the gallery flanked by water features and offering a view of the gardens. For $55 a head, we enjoyed two courses — we had a prawn salad each for starters and lamb backstrap and pork belly for mains, with a glass of chianti and coffee, and tickets to Moreau. The food was delicious — note that the kitchen shuts at 2.30pm, though the restaurant hours are till 4pm, and the gallery’s till 5pm.

Note that you’ve got till the end of February to catch the Rock Chicks exhibition at the nearby Arts Centre: free, and a wonderful introduction to the history of women in Australian rock and pop.

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