Art Gallery NSW AGNSW, located in The Domain in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, is the most important public gallery in Sydney and one of the largest in Australia. The Gallery’s first public exhibition opened in 1874. Admission is free to the general exhibition space, which displays Australian (from settlement to contemporary), European and Asian art. A dedicated Asian Gallery was opened in 2003.
In 1883 John Horbury Hunt, an architect in private practice, was engaged by The Art Gallery of New South Wales AGNSW Trustees to design a permanent gallery. Though Hunt submitted four detailed designs in various styles between 1884 and 1895, his work came to nothing apart from a temporary building in The Domain. With raw brick walls and a saw-tooth roof, it was denounced in the press as the “Art Barn”.
Newly appointed Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon, secured the prestigious commission over John Horbury Hunt in 1895. Vernon believed that the Gothic style admitted greater individuality and richness ‘not obtainable in the colder and unbending lines of Pagan Classic.’ The Trustees were not convinced and demanded a classical temple to art, not unlike William Henry Playfair’s Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, opened in 1859.
Vernon proposed that his oval lobby lead into an equally imposing Central Court. His plans were not accepted. Until 1969 his lobby led, by a short descent from the entrance level, to the three ‘temporary’ northern galleries designed by Hunt.
In 1909 the front of the Gallery was finished and after this date nothing more was built of Vernon’s designs. In the 1930s plans were suggested for the completion of this part of the Gallery but the Great Depression and other financial constraints lead to their abandonment.