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National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship

NGV Travelling Scholarship medal

NGV Travelling Scholarship medal

In March 1869 an Exhibition of Works of Art, Art Treasures, and Ornamental and Decorative Art opened in the Great Hall of the Public Library. The exhibition was a key event in the establishment of the National Gallery of Victoria. The three month-long display proved popular with the public, raising enough money to allow the trustees of the library to give donations to the Melbourne Hospital and the Benevolent Asylum and invest the remaining £450. Seventeen years later it was decided that this investment would form the basis of the National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship Fund.

The travelling scholarship was to be awarded to the best work exhibited by students at the National Gallery art classes. The winner received a stipend of £150 per year, for three years, to travel and study in the 'principal art centres of Europe'. The scholarship was probably instituted as a result of the widespread belief, expressed by the chairman of the trustees, Sir George Verdon, that '[n]o one can be considered educated as an artist who has not seen the works of the old masters'. In the competitive colonial environment, Verdon noted that the scholarship was 'the crown of our system of teaching in the art schools of Victoria.' The scholarship also had acquisitive conditions to ensure the gallery's collection expanded. Over the course of the three years the winner was required to paint a copy of an Old Master, a nude study and an original composition and present them to the gallery. Originally, eligibility for the scholarship was confined to students of the gallery art school, but in 1898 the terms of the award expanded to allow students from outside to be considered, albeit only under 'certain conditions'.

The inaugural award of the travelling scholarship and gold medal took place at the second annual exhibition of students' work in 1887. John Longstaff won the scholarship for his painting "Breaking the News". The next year Longstaff embarked on a program of study at Paris and later London. In 1894 Longstaff presented his composition "The Sirens" to the gallery.

In 1890 a design was created for medals presented to the winner of the travelling scholarship and for special awards. The design featured the winged Victory and a modified version from Horace: Victoria fronde coronat (Victoria, or Victory, crowns with bays). On the reverse was a wreath composed of Victorian flora; the border was inscribed "National Gallery of Victoria, Australia". For the scholarship, the centre of the wreath was inscribed "Travelling Scholarship" and the edge of the medal engraved with the name of the winner of the award.

In the mid 1890s the scholarship was caught up in wider controversy about the exodus of Australian artists to Europe. The Argus argued that the trustees, through the scholarship, were taking away artists who had 'shown their competency to join and lead' the Australian school of painting and sent them 'to Paris to swell the ranks of a huge army who hope ... to put new life into worn-out subjects'. Yet, as art critic Bernard Smith observed, in the Australian colonies 'art was a dubious luxury' that most could not afford. In this context it was unsurprising that those Australian artists who could afford to do so, left for Europe.

The last person to be awarded the scholarship was Rick Amor in 1968. At this time the value of the scholarship had declined significantly and Amor chose to remain in Victoria rather than travel abroad. By 1970 the original fund was deemed insufficient for its purpose.

In 1971 the NGV travelling scholarship was replaced by the Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Scholarship. The scholarship (later fellowship) was established by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and offered every two years. This award acknowledged the long history of the Murdochs with the gallery (Keith had been a trustee of the gallery, 1933-1939, and then chairman, 1939-1952) and 'maintained the spirit' of the original travelling scholarship.

Additional Resources

Citation details

'National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

NGV Travelling Scholarship medal

NGV Travelling Scholarship medal


Year Established
  • 1887
Year Ended
  • 1968

Related Persons

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