I had originally planned to attend a Henry Purcell lecture at NGV International, but when it was cancelled at the last minute I decided to take a collection tour instead. I’ve never actually explored the permanent exhibition spaces of the NGV and the free tours are a good way to get a taste of what’s on offer.

First stop was the huge stained glass ceiling by Leonard French. I had always assumed that the patterns were abstract, but my guide pointed out that the design actually contained symbols representing different belief systems such as the Celtic cross, doves of peace, a turtle and a snake or rainbow serpent.

I’d also never realised that the emanciated figures lining up behind the water wall were made by Antony Gormley, one of my favourite sculptors.

In an hour we covered many different eras and styles of art. We cantered through medieval paintings and religious triptych, two Rembrandts from his early and late periods, Van Dyck’s aristocratic portraits, Flemish landscapes, Dutch portraiture, counter-reformation Carravagesque paintings and the famous Tiepolo painting of The Banquet of Cleopatra.

Once outside in the sculpture garden I was immediately captivated by the stunning bamboo sculpture by Tetsunori Kawana, a master of ikebana. It is a shame that Five Elements – Water is only on display until 26 July (and then probably mulched!). It’s a dramatic and beautiful work which captures the awesome power and rhythm of crashing surf, even down to the sprays of foam. The sculpture was particularly remarkable given that the flowing waves have been constructed using thick and relatively inflexible sticks of bamboo.


The sculpture garden also contained a seated woman by Henry Moore, another one of my favourite sculptors and a bronze cast of Rodin’s haughty and windswept Balzac.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the the surprisingly broad collection, so it’s my aim to return to the NGV to take as many tours as I can while I have the time.