Unpacking past glories

STEPHEN BEVIS, ARTS EDITOR

It's the ultimate antiques road show.

More than 90 artworks and precious objects spanning 200 years from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum have arrived at the Art Gallery of WA.

The paintings, sculptures, weapons, furniture, jewellery and ostentatious Baroque fashion-wear were owned by many of Europe's most famous and flamboyant royals and aristocrats of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Experts from the V&A, as London's grand museum of art and design is known, are overseeing the careful unpacking and installing the fragile centuries-old items ahead of the opening of Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 next weekend.

Particular care was taken with a delicate, finely embroidered yellow silk English gown from the 1760s.

Other highlights include an ornate table top owned by Queen Marie Antoinette before she was beheaded during the French Revolution in 1793, a 1638 marble bust by sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, a 1634 artwork by Peter Paul Rubens and Francois Boucher's 1758 painting of Madame Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV.

The exhibition, the latest in the Great Collections of the World Series, is a coup for the State gallery which pounced on the chance to host it exclusively in Australia while the V&A renovates its 1600-1800 European galleries.

Gallery curator Melissa Harpley said the opulence of the pieces and the colourful stories behind them would fascinate a wide audience as well as art lovers, history buffs and antique enthusiasts.

"The association with the rich and famous from the past will appeal. These people were the celebrities of their day.

"It has got the wow factor. People will be so engaged by the objects because they are beautiful and the craftsmanship is extraordinary. Each time we get an object out of the crate, we have been going, 'Wow, look at that'."

The exhibition opens on September 24 and runs until January 9. Entry costs vary up to $20 for adults.

Don't miss your comprehensive 16-page guide to Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 in The West Australian on Wednesday.