Renowned Sydney art collector James Erskine gifted a valuable John Olsen oil painting, Excitable Tree, 1969, to Newcastle Art Gallery on Friday night and simutaneously pledged to give the gallery $250,000 in cash or contemporary artwork if the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation could raise an equal amount within six months.
Erskine’s gift followed an entertaining address by him on the value of benefaction of artwork, a subject close to his heart.
Erskine regaled the audience at a foundation function with stories of own experience in learning to appreciate art and his many friends and acquaintances in the artworld including Lloyd Rees, Anthony Gormley and Terry Winters.
Erskine, a leading international sports and entertainment agent, said he appreciated the advice of his father who told him “the suit you die in has no pockets,” and proffered to the crowd: “You’re not here forever, why don’t you share the things you can”.
The Olsen painting was one of five that Erskine lent to Newcastle Art Gallery for the exhibition John Olsen: The City’s Son that appeared earlier this year. According to notes from a Sotheby’s catalogue, the work was painted after Olsen had moved his family to Clifton Pugh's community settlement 'Dunmoochin', outside Melbourne in 1968.
Erskine’s affinity for Newcastle was developed through frequent visits to the city where performances by entertainers he represented through his company were often having their first public run, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Cold Chisel and Olivia Newton-John, Anthony Warlow and John Farnham in concert.