Alan McLeod McCulloch

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Alan McLeod McCulloch AO (5 August 1907 – 21 December 1992) was one of Australia's foremost art critics for more than 60 years,[1] an art historian and gallery director, cartoonist,[2] and painter.


Born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney, returning to Melbourne as a teenager, McCulloch initially worked in banking but enrolled in night classes at art school to pursue his developing art interest. He wrote journalism and art criticism and cartoons for Australian newspapers from 1927.

In 1946 he moved to America where, in 1948, he married Ella Bromley Moscovitz (1908–1991) an Australian-born actress, businesswoman and US citizen. They remained together until her death in 1991. After a period in Europe and the UK (1946–1950) the couple returned to Australia to live in Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

He was art critic for the Argus in 1944–1947 and after the war became art editor of the Australasian Post, to which he also contributed cartoons. In 1951 he became an associate editor for Meanjin (until 1963), and art critic on the Melbourne Herald, 1952–1982.

He held several solo exhibitions of his paintings and drawings in London and Melbourne.

As a curator, in 1965, he assembled an exhibition of Aboriginal Bark Paintings from the Chaseling and Cahill collections from the Museum of Victoria to tour to the USA (Houston Fine Art Gallery, Texas).[3]

He was the inaugural director (1970–1992) of the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, established in 1969 by the Mornington Shire Council, and it was under his leadership that the MPRG began developing a specialist collection of Australian prints and drawings.

He was curator of The Heroic Years of Australian Art 1977–78 touring exhibition.

The Encyclopedia of Australian Art[edit]

In 1968 he published his most significant work, The Encyclopedia of Australian Art,[4] which started as a scrapbook of cuttings kept since the 1940s, and which became the main reference for connoisseurs, collectors, dealers, critics and historians of Australian art.[5] He was its sole author for several updates and reprints and a completely new edition in 1984, then was joined by his daughter Susan McCulloch in 1990, who co-edited for its 1994 edition. In that, McCulloch's personal note (one was included in each edition) was the last thing he wrote, just two weeks before he died. In it he says, "As with electricity we know what art does but we don't know what it is." He then quotes the compiler of The Oxford Dictionary as saying: "The word 'art' gave me more trouble than any other word in the English language.".[6] His daughter Susan and his granddaughter Emily McCulloch Childs continue work on the Encyclopedia into the third generation, using the criteria established by Alan McCulloch in 1968; artists are chosen for inclusion if their work is represented by major purchases in a national, state, or regional gallery or if they have won a significant prize. The Encyclopedia is now in its 4th edition, which was recently reported by The Age newspaper as having almost completely sold out.


Collections holding works by Alan McCulloch[edit]

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT; Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria; Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, WA


  • McCulloch, Alan, McCulloch, Susan & McCulloch Childs, Emily. McCulloch's Encyclopedia of Australian Art. 2006 Fitzroy, VIC : Aus Art Editions (4th revised edition)
  • McCulloch, Alan; & McCulloch, Susan. Encyclopedia of Australian art. 1994 St Leonards, NSW : Allen & Unwin (3rd revised edition)
  • McCulloch, Alan. The Golden Age of Australian Painting: Impressionism and the Heidelberg School
  • McCulloch, Alan. Artists of the Australian Gold Rush.
  • McCulloch, Alan. Aboriginal bark paintings from the Cahill and Chaseling collections, National Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Tex. (catalogue of an exhibition, 17 December 1965 – 30 January 1966)

Illustrated and written by McCulloch[edit]

  • McCulloch, Alan. So This Was The Spot (Melbourne, 1934)
  • McCulloch, Alan. Trial by Tandem, (1951)
  • McCulloch, Alan. Highway Forty, (1952)

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ critic Christopher Heathcote in The Age wrote in his obituary (22 December 1992): 'Alan McCulloch was one of the great supporters of Modern Australian art. For more than 30 years he attempted to foster advanced painting and sculpture... The contemporary art scene as we know it today would not have developed without his resolute dedication to contemporary Australian culture... His writing may not have been concerned with complex ideas but this quiet and gentle man was arguably the most influential art critic to have practised in this country.'
  2. ^ Lindesay, Vane. The inked-in image : a social and historical survey of Australian comic art. 1979 Richmond, Vic : Hutchinson of Australia (new edition)
  3. ^ McCulloch, Alan. Aboriginal bark paintings from the Cahill and Chaseling collections, National Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia : [catalogue of an exhib.,] Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Tex. [17 December 1965 – 30 January 1966]
  4. ^ first reviewed in Thomas, Daniel (1968), "Book review of McCulloch, Alan. Encyclopedia of Australian Art (1968)", Art and Australia, 6 (3): 191–193, ISSN 0004-301X
  5. ^ Voss Smith [...] had strong ties with England where he had gone to live in the early 1960s, returning to Australia in 1969, when he established Christie's [art auction house]. Voss Smith had been the Australian representative for Hutchinson publishers and in this capacity was instrumental in convincing his London office to publish Alan McCulloch's mammoth Encyclopedia of Australian Art in 1968. (from Huda, Shireen Amber. Pedigree and Panache: A History of the Art Auction in Australia. Canberra : ANU E Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-921313-71-4)
  6. ^ Peter Hill, Reviewer, The Age 10 November 2006

External links[edit]