Like any good storyteller, Christopher Heathcote begins by setting the scene: ‘one of those scruffy unpaved streets on the outer fringe’ of Melbourne on a wintry day in 1956. Two characters step from an American-style automobile and, in true Hollywood fashion, sweep the penurious artist Arthur Boyd into a contract with the fledgling Australian Galleries. The man with the romantic Ronald Colman moustache is Thomas ‘Tam’ Purves. The woman with the Mae West smarts is his wife, Anne. And the rest, as they say, is art history.
Heathcote traces the development of numerous galleries in Australia’s capitals, several with links overseas, and introduces more personalities, interconnections, and rivalries than it is possible to unravel here. The author shapes what might have become an unwieldy tome with succinct chapters that lead the reader from a wider historical perspective to the more intimate particular. As Heathcote makes clear, his focus on the long-running Australian Galleries was dictated by the fact that the Purveses were the only ones who gave him full access to their archives and to the invaluable record provided by Anne Purves’s unpublished memoir.