National Museum acquires $15M collection from private collector Trevor Kennedy through donation and sale

Trevor Kennedy is selling and donating a large amount of his collection of historic and decorative arts to the National Museum of Australia. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Trevor Kennedy is selling and donating a large amount of his collection of historic and decorative arts to the National Museum of Australia. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

The National Museum of Australia has acquired a collection of Australian treasures from private collector Trevor Kennedy.

Valued at more than $15 million, it is the largest acquisition the museum has made since its foundation.

The acquisition is made up of more than $8 million worth of artworks, furniture, jewellery and ceramics, purchased by the museum, as well as $7 million worth of items of historical and cultural significance that were donated by Mr Kennedy.

While Mr Kennedy will now have to visit the museum to see the items he spent decades collecting, he said the most important thing to him was keeping the collection together.

"There are particularly spectacular items in the collection like Conrad Martens' painting of the funeral of Phillip Parker King, which is probably Conrad Martens' greatest picture in my view," he said.

"But I really loved it all. I mean it was a great passion, and a very satisfying passion to have."

Some of the items acquired by the National Museum of Australia from Trevor Kennedy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Some of the items acquired by the National Museum of Australia from Trevor Kennedy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Mr Kennedy said he has always been a collector, starting with stamps as a child. He then moved onto collecting furniture and other antiques while living and working in the media in London. However, it wasn't until he started working at former magazine The Bulletin that he started focusing on Australiana items.

"The Bulletin's place in Australian history in the context of its publications was the thing that really got me interested in Australiana," Mr Kennedy said.

"I had collected Australian stuff before that, but that was the time when I became really committed to limiting myself to Australian stuff. However, that does translate into a whole range of different objects of one sort or another."

The collection of 5000 objects features items of rare significance, including Australian-made furniture that pre-date 1820, art from the country's most historically significant colonial artists and jewellery such as a platinum brooch given by Charles Kingsford Smith to his wife commemorating his flight across the Pacific.

All of the items will become a part of the National Historical Collection, with some already on display as part of the museum's Endeavour Voyage exhibition. There are plans to use other items as part of the permanent Life in Australia exhibition, as well as another exhibition based in Sydney.

Key pieces will also be displayed in the museum's Studio Gallery from March 2021.

"This collection will work hard for the National Museum, not in one exhibition but in all of our programs and that's to do with the breadth of the collection. It is so rich, that it will contribute to anything that we put together," museum curator Sophie Jensen said.

"Eventually what we would hope to do is put together one exhibition that really showcases the beauty and richness of this particular collection and enjoy the humour, the diversity, the character and the nature of it by bringing it all together.

"Very few people were lucky enough to travel to see it while it was in private hands but those that did found it an overwhelming experience because, in a sense, it is its own museum."

Dr Jensen and museum director Mathew Trinca were instrumental in working with Mr Kennedy over a period of two years to identify the items to purchase from his collection.

"I know of no other collection of its breadth and range in private hands in the country," Dr Trinca said.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this collection coming to public ownership."

The purchase will be funded from the museum's Collection Development and Acquisitions budget over a period of five years.

This story National Museum acquires $15M worth of private treasures first appeared on The Canberra Times.