Frequently asked questions about Art at Parliament
Why does Parliament House have an art collection?
The contemporary art collection at Parliament House was part of principal architect Romaldo Giurgola’s original vision for the building. He believed that by involving artists and craftspeople from the earliest stages of the development, he could express the character of the Australian landscape and people as an integral part of the building’s design.
That vision is carried on today through an acquisition program that sees around 50 contemporary Australian works added to the collection each year.
Which artworks will I see on my visit?
During your visit you will see some of our most significant pieces, such as the Magna Carta, the Great Hall Tapestry, and Tom Roberts’ ‘Big Picture’, as well as all of the completed Prime Ministerial portraits from the Historic Memorials Collection. You will also see works from our collection as part of our ongoing temporary exhibition program in the Presiding Officers' Exhibition Area.
Can I search the collection online?
Not at the moment, but we are working on it! Over the next three years, we are undertaking a major project to digitise every single item in our collection so that it can be made available online. In the meantime, take a look at some of the highlights of our collection in our new online galleries.
Who decides which artworks hang in parliamentarians’ offices?
All parliamentarians are able to select works from the collection to hang in their office at Parliament House. The works are allocated according to a policy that takes into account the office held, seniority, and the size of the suite.
How are new works bought for the collection?
An Art Advisory committee, which includes the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, their deputies and an advisor from the National Gallery of Australia, approves all new purchases for the collection. The committee meets twice a year to consider a list of prospective new pieces, which is prepared by the Department of Parliamentary Services.
What kinds of artworks does Parliament buy?
We purchase works by Australian artists. Having works selected for Parliament House places emerging and mid-career artists in the same company as the luminaries of Australia’s art world.
While being included in the collection is undoubtedly an honour, we ensure the benefits extend much further than that. We believe artists should also reap the full financial benefit from the sale of their work, and so every addition of a contemporary work to the Parliament House Art Collection directly supports an Australian artist. We only purchase pieces directly from the artists themselves, or from their nominated art centre, gallery or agent. This approach ensures the authenticity of the pieces in the collection, and allows us to forge relationships with established and emerging artists across Australia.
Can I donate an artwork to the collection?
The Gifts Collection only accepts gifts made to the Parliament from parliaments and governments of Australian states and territories; the Parliaments and governments of other nations; and selected international and national community service organisations. The acceptance of these gifts is at the discretion of the Presiding Officers.
Gifts of artwork are occasionally accepted for the Rotational Collection, providing they meet the criteria set by the Art Advisory Committee. Gifts are generally not accepted from artists where such a gift would initiate that artist’s representation in our collection. The Parliament is not a registered cultural organisation and does not participate in the Cultural Gifts Program.
Potential donors are strongly encouraged to contact us via email before offering a gift to the Parliament House Art Collection.
Can I stage an exhibition at Parliament House?
From time to time, Parliament House will exhibit externally curated exhibitions in addition to its own program. These exhibitions are subject to approval by the Presiding Officers. Potential exhibitors should consider the following before applying to exhibit at Parliament House:
- All exhibitions are to be a minimum of six weeks in duration.
- Exhibition proposals must be received at least 12 months in advance of the opening date of the exhibition.
- Exhibition content must have an Australian focus; be relevant to the Parliament; have educational value and be in keeping with the dignity of the site.
- Exhibitors must meet all costs including insurance, catering, installation and removal, signage, transport, storage and all costs associated with associated functions.
- Solo exhibitions are not supported for display at Parliament House, as they would effectively provide parliamentary sponsorship and endorsement to the work of a single individual or a commercial enterprise
- Parliament House does not permit the sale of works from exhibitions.
For further information about exhibitions at Parliament House, please email us.
How do I request the loan of an artwork from the collection?
The Parliament regularly lends artworks from the collection to a range of institutions across Australia for the purpose of temporary exhibitions and displays. If you would like to request a loan, please send the request either via mail to:
Director, Parliament House Art Collection
Department of Parliamentary Services
PO Box 6000
Canberra ACT 2600
Or via email.
Your request should contain the following information:
- the name and address of the borrowing institution;
- the title and display dates of the exhibition for which you are seeking to borrow work;
- full citations for each work that you are seeking to borrow where possible;
- your agreement to pay all costs associated with the loan and to provide adequate insurance coverage for the loan; and
- contact details for someone who can discuss the loan with us.
In the case of a travelling exhibition, it must be stated clearly in the letter if you are seeking to borrow the works for a tour. If this is the case, the names of the proposed venues and their display dates must be included in the request.
How do I request an image of an artwork from the collection?
The Parliament regularly supplies images of collection items for a variety of publications and purposes, including education and research. To request an image, please download and fill in the Reproduction and Publication Request form and email it to us.
Please supply all of the requested detail about the proposed usage of the image and be aware that in some cases a fee will apply. Make sure to give us as much information as you can to assist us in assessing your request.
Please note that in instances where the artwork is in copyright, permission must be sought and granted by the rights holder prior to us supplying an image.
How are portraits commissioned?
Portraits of every Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives, President of the Senate, as well as other distinguished individuals, are commissioned as part of the Historic Memorials Collection. The subject may choose their preferred artist, and the Department of Parliamentary Services manages the contract. The artist is required to first produce a study, which must be approved by the subject and advisors from the National Portrait Gallery. Finally, the Historic Memorials Committee, which is chaired by the Prime Minister of the day and includes five other parliamentarians, must approve the final portrait for inclusion in the collection.
There has been at least one exception to this general rule, though. Gough Whitlam (Prime Minister 1972-1975) felt that Clifton Pugh’s Archibald Prize-winning portrait of him was so outstanding that he insisted Parliament acquire it, rather than commission another.
Where are the portraits of the most recent Prime Ministers?
Portrait commissions are generally completed within three to five years of a Prime Minister leaving office. The length of time to complete a portrait varies considerably between the commissions and depends on the availability of the artist and the sitter, as well as the artist's working style.
Can a subject be represented by a photograph instead of a painting?
At its very first meeting in 1911, the Historic Memorials Committee engaged in robust debate about whether or not a photograph might be commissioned instead of a painting. The Committee's resolution was to commission photographs of all parliamentarians and only commission paintings of its highest officeholders, something that it has continued to do for more than 100 years.
What happens if a subject doesn't like their portrait?
Prior to undertaking a portrait commission, each artist is commissioned to produce a 'study', which is a half-size version of the finished work. The study must then be approved by the subject and the advisor from the National Portrait Gallery before the commission can proceed. If the subject rejects the study, further changes may be negotiated between the subject and the artist, or a new artist can be selected to undertake the commission.
Why are the portraits different sizes?
New portrait commissions for Prime Ministerial portraits specify a size limit to ensure they can be hung within Members' Hall. Prior to 1988 and the opening of Parliament House, Prime Ministerial portraits were hung in Old Parliament House and many of the early large portraits reflect the grand architecture of King's Hall.
The prevailing economic conditions can also impact on portrait commissions. For example, Joseph Cook (Prime Minister 1913-1914) opted for a more modest-sized portrait as the commission was undertaken in the midst of World War I in an atmosphere of financial hardship.
Did we answer your question?
If not, please email us.