The Heart Behind the Art

18 May 2016

The UQ Art Museum has one of the foremost public art collections in Queensland, housed in one of the University’s most beautiful buildings – yet none of it would exist without the generosity of passionate donors.

A history of giving has been vital to the development of The University of Queensland Art Museum (UQ Art Museum) and The University of Queensland Art Collection.

When the museum celebrates its 40th anniversary in July with the exhibition beyond the Tower: UQ Art Museum 40 years and counting (9 July–13 November 2016), the important role that donors have played in its expansion will be recognised.

The “Tower” is a reference to the Forgan Smith tower, the museum’s home before it moved in April 2004 to its current location in the James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre – the building previously known as “Mayne Hall” and remembered by many as the University’s venue for graduation ceremonies and concerts.

The University has Irish-American philanthropist Charles “Chuck” Feeney to thank for the museum’s airy, welcoming atmosphere. Feeney and The Atlantic Philanthropies, the funding body he founded, donated the $5 million necessary to convert Mayne Hall into one of the nation’s most dynamic cultural spaces. The donation was facilitated by former Vice-Chancellor Professor John Hay AC.

Feeney’s passion for self portraiture also motivated the museum to develop its unique collection of artist’s self portraits, and to establish the biennial, acquisitive National Self-Portrait Prize, one of the country’s most recognised invitation-only art prizes and an important highlight in the UQ Art Museum’s exhibition program.

UQ Art Museum Director Dr Campbell Gray said, “The UQ Art Museum’s facilities, extensive Collection and vibrant program – all influenced in some way by Chuck Feeney’s vision – position it among the most advanced and innovative university art museums in Australia.”

“As we increase our direct engagement with Queensland regional galleries and museums, and as we travel our programs wider afield, this influence will extend much further.”

Philanthropy has played an important role in the evolution of The University of Queensland Art Collection from its beginnings in the early 1940s.

In 1931, the enigmatic, English-born tobacconist John Darnell bequeathed £17,000, which the University used to establish a dedicated section of the Library and, in December 1940, a Fine Art Library (the John Darnell Art Collection). Inspired purchases in the first two decades saw key works by contemporary Australian artists, including Margaret Olley AC, Charles Blackman, Kenneth Macqueen and Ray Crooke AM, enter the collection.

Patronage has continued to enrich the University’s holdings over the years. In 1975, Rupert Bunny’s striking portrait Mme Sadayakko as ‘Le Shogun’ (Scène de la Folie) c.1907, a jewel in the UQ Art Museum’s crown, was part of a collection permanently loaned to the University by Stuartholme School, which had been given the artworks by Dr Norman Behan.

The Stuartholme-Behan Collection of Australian Art was unveiled in 1976 when the University Art Museum, as it was then known, opened on the top two floors of the Forgan Smith tower. At this time, inaugural Director Dr Nancy Underhill reaffirmed the University’s commitment to contemporary Australian art, a focus that continues today.

The current collecting process centres on recent and significant works by established and emerging Australian artists, while the historical collection is augmented mainly through gifts.

For example, in 2012, the Alumni Friends of The University of Queensland Inc. and donor Veronika Butta were instrumental in supporting the acquisition of a major painting, Joy Roggenkamp 1963, by influential Brisbane artist and teacher Jon Molvig.

The relocation of the UQ Art Museum to the Mayne Centre, named after early benefactors James and Mary Emelia Mayne, continued the tradition of giving. The graduation hall, designed by Robin Gibson OAM, was built with funds contributed by numerous Queensland companies and private individuals, many of them pastoralists, who were committed to the value of learning and culture.

Errol (Barney) Joyce, a grazier, cattle breeder and art patron of Eidsvold Station in the Burnett district, also donated $13,000 towards Nevil Matthews’s distinctive coloured-glass windows, which were much admired when the building opened in 1973 and remain a popular feature.

However, the funds donated by Feeney and The Atlantic Philanthropies ensured the sensitive conversion of the Robin Gibson building into a first-class art museum, an award-winning project undertaken by architect Hamilton Wilson of Wilson Architects.

In April 2015, the UQ Art Museum opened the Alumni Friends of UQ Collection Study Room. Fully funded by a generous community of donors, this purpose-built, dedicated room provides a way for students from any discipline, as well as researchers, secondary students and interested members of the public, to request supervised access to artworks from the UQ Art Collection.

“While the UQ Art Museum’s exhibitions and educational programs influence thousands of visitors, its collection is a continuously expanding and enduring treasure-trove of ideas, critical commentary and history,” Gray said.

“Access to and analysis of the collection by all interested people is paramount in our operational objectives.”

In July, when beyond the Tower opens, showcasing 40 years of active collecting and public benefaction, visitors will have the chance to appreciate the UQ Art Museum’s rich history for themselves.

beyond the Tower: UQ Art Museum 40 years and counting runs from 9 July to 13 November 2016.

For more information, visit

Collection Framed in Giving

History shows philanthropists can contribute meaningfully to the development of public art collections.


History shows philanthropists can contribute meaningfully to the development of public art collections.

All in the Family

The philanthropic impulse often runs in families, creating a history of giving that flows on through generations.

This philosophy of patronage can have a significant impact on public collections, and is one way for donors to honour their family’s enthusiasm for art and, in the context of art museums, education.

The UQ Art Museum has been fortunate to attract the support of Brisbane gallerist and UQ alumnus Bruce Heiser (Bachelor of Arts ’88), who has donated artworks to the Collection and funded a bursary for future museum professionals.

Heiser’s parents were avid art collectors and supporters of the arts, and in 2015 Heiser and his wife Kathryn sponsored the Mark and Aileen Rose Heiser Bursary in their memory. Awarded annually, the bursary will provide UQ Art History and Museum Studies students with the opportunity to gain essential industry experience.

The bursary follows a prize Heiser established in 1989 in his grandfather’s name – the Elias A. Heiser Prize in Classics and Ancient History – which continues today.

Through the prize, bursary and the artworks Heiser has donated – including Jon Molvig’s Untitled (Head study) 1949 donated in his parents’ names – he is building a legacy that reflects his family’s longstanding commitment to the arts.

“Upon graduating, I was so appreciative of the opportunity afforded to me by studying at UQ, and I wanted to acknowledge the debt of gratitude I felt by assisting future students who found themselves in a similar space to mine when I was studying,” Heiser said.

“I’m a firm believer in the opportunities education provides, and in establishing the prize and now with the bursary, my family continues its involvement with UQ, allowing me in a meaningful and deliberate way to show my appreciation to those who assisted me in my studies while honouring my grandfather’s and parents’ memory.”

As a result of Heiser’s generosity, inaugural bursary recipient Carmen Armstrong (pictured), who is currently undertaking a Master of Museum Studies, spent the first few months of the year conducting research for the forthcoming exhibition beyond the Tower: UQ Art Museum – 40 years and counting.

Armstrong said the bursary had enabled her to explore her education in a hands-on experience.

“This opportunity has allowed me to grow as a professional and orientate my curatorial career with the support of the staff at The University of Queensland Art Museum.”

Generous Heritage

Dr Cathryn Mittelheuser AM and her late sister, Dr Margaret Mittelheuser AM, set a wonderful example of how long-term giving can enrich a collection.

For nearly 20 years, the UQ Art Museum, as well as the Fryer Library and UQ Anthropology Museum, have benefited from the generosity of these exceptional women, distinguished in their individual fields. Both are UQ alumni: Cathryn (Bachelor of Science (First Class Honours) ’68, Doctor of Philosophy ’71) was an eminent plant physiologist, while Margaret (Bachelor of Commerce ’52, Bachelor of Arts ’73) was Australia’s first female stockbroker. Both sisters received Honorary Doctorates for their contributions to the community and to the University.

The Mittelheusers donated their first artwork in 1997 and have continued to support the development of The University of Queensland Art Collection. Both together and individually, they have given artworks or contributed funds towards their acquisition, forging an enduring relationship with the museum.

Much of the sisters’ philanthropic support has been directed towards the acquisition of artworks made by Indigenous women; artists such as Mavis Ngallametta, Ngalpingka Simms and Judy Watson. During the 1920s, their mother worked as a nurse with Indigenous communities in remote parts of Australia, and passed on her regard for the women she met to her daughters. As adults, Cathryn and Margaret became advocates for Indigenous art, and patrons of the arts more broadly. They channelled these interests into their work with the UQ Art Museum – a contribution that has made a lasting impact on the Collection.