Pictures collection

The Pictures collection is the oldest and largest collection in Australia of images relating to Victoria, containing more than 750,000 items.

Our collection of visual material began in 1859 when local photographer Barnett Johnstone was commissioned to photograph the interior of the newly completed Queen’s Hall, the original Library building.

In 1860, the Trustees set aside £500 sterling to purchase European photographs, among other items. Both European and Australian images in many forms were subsequently collected.

The Library commissioned a set of watercolours of the Victorian goldfields from local artist ST Gill in 1869.

A miscellaneous register of non-book material was established in 1901. In 1929 the Pictures collection began to acquire a separate identity when an accessioning system was introduced for such material.

Collection strengths

The primary emphasis of the collection is on visual material documenting information about the cultural, geographical, historical and sociological development of Victoria.

The collection contains visual material in all pictorial formats except film. This includes photographs, artwork (paintings, drawings and prints), cartoons, architectural drawings, posters, postcards, printed ephemera and realia.

Images of a particular subject might be collected in various formats.

The collection includes artistic works because it is recognised that historical evidence may be contained and expressed in many forms, such as works depicting landscapes, the built environment, figures, faces, events and costumes. These may actively interpret aspects of past or contemporary life through the evocation of emotion or atmosphere, selective portraiture or visual fictions.

Some of our collection strengths include:

  • the Melbourne University Architectural Collection, which contains many important drawings of 19th- and early 20th-century architecture by some of Victoria’s greatest architects including, Nathaniel Billing, William Pitt, Joseph Read and Walter Butler
  • photography by Victorian commercial and private photographers active in 19th- and early 20th-century Victoria including, Richard Daintree, Antoine Fauchery, Frederick Kruger, Charles Nettleton and JW Lindt
  • prints and drawings showing the development of the Victorian colony by prominent early Victorian artists like ST Gill, WFE Liardet, Charles Norton and Eugène von Guérard
  • the poster collection, which includes the printing archive of Charles Troedel's firm, travel posters from the 1930s, and contemporary material in the RedPlanet and Red Letter Press printing archives
  • documentary photographs showing life in Victoria during the 20th century, including many important works by Mark Strizic, Wolfgang Sievers, Rennie Ellis and Harold Paynting

Material collected

We seek to acquire material which illustrates:

  • images of Victorian people
  • the built environment including, housing, transport and industry
  • urban and local development including, topographical features and changing land use
  • portraits of significant Victorian people
  • images of Aboriginal people
  • images of ethnic groups residing in Victoria
  • contemporary events portrayed through the eyes of cartoonists
  • ephemeral items relating to the social and cultural history of Victoria

The following criteria are applied when deciding to acquire materials:

  • development of existing strengths and filling gaps in current holdings
  • the relationship of the items to other State Library collections
  • physical condition and extent of conservation required
  • conservation, preservation and storage costs

Visual material is acquired for the collection through gift, bequest, donation under the Cultural Gifts Program and purchase.

Material not generally collected

We don't collect material specifically relating to other states and countries. Exceptions may be made if the material is by a Victorian, relates to existing collections, adds significantly to collections formed in the past or contributes to an understanding of formative influences on Victorians.

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