IT SERIOUSLY is believed to be the single biggest ever collection of Rupert Richardson art works but there’s more than just a cultural first associated with an exhibition at Barraba on Saturday night.
Three of his greatest mates and fans have been hoofing it around the region in the past couple of weeks collecting up to 150 works of the prolific former Barraba artist, to assemble them for a very special wine and cheese night fundraiser.
The night combines a lot of what Rupert loved most during his years of painting.
Wine, art, Rotary, and a generous but gentle philanthropy. They were among the famous traits of a man who was among some of the most successful, talented and best known painters of a superior regional art clique of the 1980s.
Works like those of Jean Isherwood, Pat Chaffey, Harry Frost, James White and Phillip Pomroy, and Rupert’s sought-after oils and watercolours, hang in the most illustrious of national and international galleries.
Rupert painted his last painting about seven years ago. He’s 83 now, not in the best of health and suffering from Parkinson’s, but retired to Port Macquarie and has given a couple of his own later works, none of them framed, but loaned lovingly for this tribute show.
A limited number of works will also be for sale.
According to co-organisers Richard Witten and Ron Smith, the Barraba show has unearthed about 80 different owners who have been just as generous in showing off their Rupert works.
Among them will be some of the quirky but fabulous and now-famous harpsichord lids he painted in concert with another mate, the Barraba maestro and builder Bill Bright.
“The bulk of them are Australian landscapes and from his trip to Europe in the ’50s and to France in the late ’70s,” Bright said.
There were also Mediterranean visits, and art classes that toured Europe too, where Rupert was a grand tour guide, and where works from there and after found their way into regional homes.
“It’s grown like topsy, really, it’s a tribute exhibition and yes, it is a tribute to Rupert. He’s really been a benefactor for Barraba,” the three men added.
“He was shire president for 25 years, a district governor of Rotary, donated hundreds of paintings through his life. They hang in the hospital, they’re at Richardson House. He was just a wonderful, gentle soul.”
The idea for the fundraiser came from that germ of an idea for their Rotary night to exhibit a lifetime of work from Rupert.
According to Witten, they said they’d better raise some money for someone, so the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and another man they held in high regard too, Stuart Peake, who died far too young from cancer.
“People started to ring us and said ‘yes, we’ve got a few’. The spirit is just lovely. There have been people you meet in the street and hear, ‘Oh I’ve got one of his. I’d love to loan it’,” Witten recalls.
Says Bright: “There’s a great deal of respect and affection for Rupert, people want to respond to that generosity of his. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to see so much of his work and his early works. It’s a feast and a timely tribute; it’s a marvellous idea.”
Bright also recalls how he and Rupert struck up that artistic twosome. Bright got him to paint the lid of a harpsichord he’d built in 1976.
At the time it was controversial.
Today, those lids are on show in the Powerhouse Museum, the Sydney Opera House, Musica Viva, and at universities and at symphony orchestra headquarters.
Bright says it would be impossible to know just how many Richardson works there are in the world; probably thousands. He was that prolific, painting in the mornings, and a tipple or two with business in the evenings.
“As far as I know he painted every day ... he got his first box of paints when he was five and his mother sold his first painting when he was 11,” Bright said.
While he was born in Sydney, the family was up and back to Barraba early on. He’d come with his mum to Plumthorpe – where the famed Burdekin collection was first born – and where they used to have dinner once a month.
Among the works on show on Saturday night at the Barraba Golf Club exhibition are two works that have hung in the council chambers at Barraba for years, given to the community when Rupert was a councillor and president.
Two have also been loaned by the Tamworth Regional Gallery from their collection; one bought originally by the city art and gallery association back in 1980, called Sunlight on the Plains, a Richardson oil, and also the huge watercolour work Rocky Landscape, acquired by the gallery in 1987.
Bright will open the night. The town has organised a morning-after-the-night-before golf recovery round, and the locals will resurrect some of the glory days of the most famous of their painting sons.