Why You Need to See The Great Wave in Person

Jen is a fourth year art history student, though this is her first year at Unimelb (she’s from NZ, don’t hold it against her). When she’s not at uni, Jen will be out getting to know Melbourne and all it has to offer.

It’s an image you know; you’ve seen it everywhere. As a poster, a bag, a billboard. You’ve seen it as small as a postcard and as big as a building. But you’ve never actually seen it.

It seems to be so deeply embedded in visual culture that you probably wouldn’t realise that The Great Wave off Kangawa is rarely on display. As it is a woodblock print, several impressions were made by Hokusai, one of which the NGV purchased in 1909. But you won’t come across it in the Japanese Art section of the gallery. Because the prints were coloured with vegetable based dyes, it is feared they will fade drastically unless kept in pristine condition away from light and in a temperature controlled setting. To put this into perspective, the British Museum is currently displaying their copy for the first time in over five years.

Source: Jen Newton

Luckily, an exhibition at the NGV dedicated to Hokusai is displaying not one, but two copies of The Great Wave: their copy and another belonging to a Japanese gallery.

This is an amazing opportunity to not only see The Great Wave in person but also compare it to another copy. When standing in front of it I heard other gallery-goers try to find the disparities, like those ‘spot the difference’ pictures for kids. And I can tell you what distinguishes the two, and all of The Great Waves around the world, because I stood in front of them and really looked, long and hard, with my face right up close to the glass, like you should do when you go.

The difference can be seen in the way Hokusai himself applied the dye in the background. You can actually see his brushstrokes on the surface, which is not as smooth as you would think. This can only be seen by looking at the original prints, and not just photos of them. There is nothing like seeing a work of art up close—it’s like seeing a band live instead of just on Spotify.

Source: theaustralian.com.au

The Great Wave is probably smaller than you would have thought. Here’s the prints next to the curator of the exhibition for reference.

The intimate size makes you go right up close and really appreciate the artistic skill and creative vision of Hokusai. Not only as an Arts student but as a New Zealander, I urge you to not take exhibitions like this for granted—we don’t get anything like this back home! You have immediate access to two versions of one of the most famous images in the world right here in Melbourne, and as a student it only costs $13 to see not only the two Great Waves but also 174 other prints by Hokusai that are also included in the exhibition.

The print isn’t even 200 years old and it’s already in danger of fading; it won’t be around forever. Go see it—this may be your only chance!

Source: Jen Newton

The Hokusai exhibition is on at NGV International until October 15th.

How to Become an Expert on Van Gogh in an Afternoon

Jen is a fourth year art history student, though this is her first year at Unimelb (she’s from NZ, don’t hold it against her). When she’s not at uni, Jen will be out getting to know Melbourne and all it has to offer.

van gogh
Image source: Jen Newton

As I’m sure you know (because there are banners, signs, billboards and even trains covered in advertisements), the NGV has an exhibition of Van Gogh’s paintings on right now. And before you roll your eyes and say, ‘ugh another Arts student trying to make me go to some art thing I won’t be interested in’, read on, because the NGV has gone fully out of its way to help those without Art History degrees appreciate the art in front of them. You’ll see these works through completely different eyes and maybe finally understand why we Arts students rave on about this sort of stuff.

Before you even enter the exhibition, you’ll watch a 9-minute video about Van Gogh’s life, giving you a bit of a background into who he was. You’ll be told about where his love of nature came from and why he liked painting fields so much. You’ll also find out some great facts, like why Van Gogh actually chopped off his ear (and no, I’m not going to tell you – you’ll have to go to the exhibition to find out).

Van Gogh meme
Image source: Meme Center

After that you’ll walk through a whole timeline of information explaining what he got up to and why his style changed a bit over time. There are even interactive screens so you can find out as much as you want to about Van Gogh’s life before you see his paintings. Throughout the exhibition several quotes by Van Gogh can be found all over the place, telling you his inner thoughts about painting, nature and life itself.

Van Gogh quote
Image source: Jen Newton

Then you’ll find yourself amongst a collection of the prints Van Gogh owned and used as sources for his own works. You’ll see examples of peasant and landscape scenes, and once you see the actual Van Gogh paintings, you’ll see how he was influenced by these prints, notably through their depictions of the seasons and nature.

Van Gogh exhibition
Image source: Jen Newton

Next you’ll see some Japanese woodblock prints: they may seem out of place, but these were all the rage in Europe in the nineteenth century. Van Gogh was one of many artists to be influenced by their focus on nature, thick use of line and flat style.

And now you’re ready to experience the overwhelmingly entrancing greatness that is Van Gogh!

Nigel Van Gogh
Image source: Meme Center

The exhibition takes you through each of the seasons, beginning with Autumn, then Winter, then Spring and finally Summer. Each painting hangs alone on a wall, allowing you to take each one in individually and fully appreciate them all. The paintings in each of the seasons are displayed chronologically so you can see Van Gogh’s development. Because of the film at the beginning and all the information provided on the walls as you go through the exhibition, you’ll know why he started painting with brighter colours and in a thicker and more expressive style.

Van Gogh exhibition
Image source: Mel Hot or Not

It’s incredible to have all of the seasons shown together like this because it shows us just how dedicated Van Gogh was to producing these paintings. Just look at his Snow-Covered Field with a Harrow from 1890 (below). You can imagine Van Gogh freezing his arse off in the snow but staying out there just to find the exact blue to match the tones of the snow on each of the different surfaces. With this work and countless others in the exhibition, the paint is so thick that the canvas still looks wet, as if Van Gogh has only just walked away after finishing it.

Snow-Covered Field with a Harrow (after Millet)
Snow-Covered Field with a Harrow (after Millet), 1890.
Image source: Jen Newton

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly the reason why you need to go to this exhibition. Nothing compares to seeing a Van Gogh up close. Of all the art in the world, his is the most intriguing to see in person. You can’t even begin to comprehend the physical presence of the paint just from photographs or the effect that standing in front of one of these paintings will have on you.

Van Gogh painting
Close up of Roses and Peonies, 1886.
Image source: Jen Newton

The exhibition is on until the 9th of July, so you have lots of time to decide to go and give art a chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you can learn about Van Gogh’s art through this exhibition and how it will help you appreciate him as one of history’s greatest painters.

Side note: While I was writing this, my non–Arts student flatmate said, ‘weren’t you disappointed because The Starry Night wasn’t there?’ Please don’t be a fool and think that New York’s MoMA is going to hand over that masterpiece to anyone, let alone Australia. However, this exhibition does include Wheat Field with Cypresses, which is also very famous and depicts the same peculiar tree as The Starry Night.

Five Galleries Near Campus That Aren’t the Ian Potter

Jen is a fourth year art history student, though this is her first year at Unimelb (she’s from NZ, don’t hold it against her). When she’s not at uni, Jen will be out getting to know Melbourne and all it has to offer.


The uni gallery has a lot to offer and it’s a great place to go and clear your head for a bit before getting back to that essay, but if you’ve already seen the current exhibition, you’re probably wanting somewhere else to go.

Luckily for you and your need for cultural stimulation (or simply a break from uni and its stresses) there are other places nearby that you can go and get your art fix.

These galleries are all small exhibition spaces and collections, meaning they are perfect for that quick study break before you have to go back to the real world – and they are definitely worth a look.

Rathdowne Galleries

rathdowne galleries.png
Source: Rathdowne Galleries

Situated in the gorgeous Rathdowne Village, this gallery gives you three for one and a little bit of everything between them. The first gallery houses a fine collection of early Australian and contemporary prints, meaning whatever you’re in to, they’ll have it. You can also see a grand display of Asian art dating anywhere from last year to a few centuries ago; these are pieces that the owners personally collected while living there.

If you keep going further into the space, you’ll end up in Australia’s oldest gallery, the Joshua McClelland Print Room, which was established over 90 years ago. 103-year-old Joan McClelland is still very much a part of its operation, and if you happen to go to the gallery when she’s around, I bet she would have some incredible stories to share. Her daughter and son-in-law, Phillipa and Bill, run the gallery day to day and are extremely happy to answer any questions students have about art and the history of their pieces.

Sutton Gallery

sutton gallery.png
Source: Nick-D

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find any excuse to end up on Brunswick Street, so when you’re there next, make sure to check out Sutton Gallery. Do not be fooled by the industrial façade: the interior has the perfect feel of wide open spaces, bright lighting and lots of wall space that suits contemporary art so well. New exhibitions are put on every six weeks: the last one featured Matt Hinkley and was on until April 13th. Also, if you’re ever curious as to what sorts of prices contemporary Aussie artists are selling their work for, commercial galleries like Sutton are the perfect place to go. If you’ve got a spare $12,500, Hinkley’s work is up for grabs!

Printmaker Gallery

paul compton.png
Source: Printmaker Gallery

The Printmaker Gallery boasts a collection of over one hundred artists, mostly Australian but with some international names in there too. Established in 1975, the gallery focuses on original prints: lithographs, wood cuts, any kind of print you can think of. Most of the time they will have their own collection on display, but five times a year they put on solo or group exhibitions. The exhibition I saw when I visited was by Melbourne’s own Paul Compton. His work can be seen here.

Steps Gallery

Despite its two entrances (one through 62 Lygon Street and the other through Artee Cafe), Steps Gallery is known to be a little hidden. Upon entering I was asked, “How did you find us?!” but I was incredibly welcome. Steps is perhaps one of Melbourne’s best smaller galleries because it gives visitors the opportunity to meet the artists. I spoke with three of the four artists exhibiting and was given wonderful insights into their processes and inspirations. The artists at Steps have so much to do with the organisation and curation of their exhibitions, meaning that you are given a much more intimate look at their art the way they intended it to be looked at.

RMIT Gallery

Source: RMIT Gallery

I know there’s always a fear of having a “she doesn’t even go here” moment at another university’s gallery, but if you can put that aside for the sake of art then the RMIT Gallery is definitely worth a look. A recent exhibition showcased 130 years of photography at RMIT through over 100 examples of work by RMIT staff and alumni since 1887. This was on until the 13th of April (a lot of Melbourne’s galleries seem to be on the same cycle!) Go on, get over yourself and have a look. Their entire exhibition schedule for the year can be seen here.

– Jen