GLAMi nomination: Art of nation: Australia’s official art and photography of the First World War

nominated by: Anthea Gunn, Australian War Memorial, Australia
institution: Australian War Memorial
category: Exhibition and Collection Extension


Art of nation: Australia’s official art and photography of the First World War is an innovative combination of a 3D online exhibition and collection mapping that allows users to explore over 600 collection items in their historical context.


Art of Nation is a fully navigable interpretation of how Charles Bean imagined the Australian War Memorial in 1919
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Australia (Photograph: AWM PAIU2015/178.01)

Visitors explore the earliest vision for the Australian War Memorial (AWM), based on the 1919 sketch by official war historian and Memorial founder Charles Bean. His imagined building contains separate galleries housing the official war art and photography collections, which were created by artists deployed during the First World War. The large history paintings are exhibited in a dedicated art gallery for the first time, presenting the history of Australia’s role in the war. The photography gallery displays a recreation of the first major exhibition of Australian official war photography in London in May 1918. Animations attached to photographer Frank Hurley’s composite images reveal how these works were created, while a “magic lantern” slide projection features some of the only colour photographs of the war.


The history paintings commissioned for the Memorial gallery exhibited together for the first time.


The photography gallery, based on the 1918 London exhibition of Australian official war photography

Clicking on the paintings and photographs links to more information and maps that trace the journeys of the artists and photographers. Photographs and sketches have been pinned to maps, allowing visitors to explore where Australians served and, by using Google Street View, what these places look like today. Close examination of works of art is encouraged as the user adjusts Street View to match what they see. This creates an accessible pathway into Australia’s military history and art history.


Curators pinned sketches and photographs to maps
Official war artists’ sketches have been pinned to maps, which allow users to compare these places ‘then and now’ using Google Street View


The framework presents the collection in context, enabling visitors to appreciate its complexity. For example, they can quickly see how many artists visited the same locations, when they were there and how the official commissions created a record of the war overall. Art of Nation is a new direction for the AWM, providing a detailed, engaging display of the art and photography collections that was not previously possible.