The decision by the Australian Government to support the purchase of Jackson Pollock’s seminal work Blue poles by the National Gallery caused a storm of controversy, partly for its record of $1.3million and partly because it fanned flames around the Whitlam Government’s perceived financial ineptitude.

The debate in 1973 engulfed many of Australia’s artists – some in favour of the purchase while others were against. It spilled over into the public domain, which is revealed in this intriguing archive of letters.

Particularly incensed by the purchase of Blue poles, Mrs Frances English of Manuka in Canberra took it upon herself to write to many of Australia’s leading artists, writers and academics to gain support and signatures to petition the Prime Minister.

The National Gallery is lucky enough to hold the Papers of Frances English in the Research Library and Archives, purchased at auction in 2012. Here you will find, the penmanship of some of Australia’s greats – Patrick White, Peter Sculthorpe, John Perceval, Margaret Priest, Betty Archdale, Manning Clark and Sali Herman among them.

Papers of Frances English National Gallery of Australia Research Library and Archives


The National Gallery of Australia acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and country.