Celebrating 25 years of the Rae Alexander Lecture

As we celebrate 25 years of the Rae Alexander Lecture, members of the La Trobe University Art History Chapter share memories of their favourite past events.

The La Trobe University Art History Chapter united to organise their annual Rae Alexander Lecture on the 13 October 2022 at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). This is one of their flagship events that has been running for 25 years.

The Rae Alexander Lecture, named after the first president of the Chapter, the late Rayma Alexander, brings people together to learn from art experts, interact with artists, and appreciate art and art history. Twenty-five years later and it’s still one of the most highly anticipated events of the year for the Chapter.

To celebrate this exciting milestone, members of the La Trobe University Art History Chapter reflected on some of their favourite lectures from the last 25 years.

L-R - June Lawrence, Diana Stock, Dr Frank Heckes (current committee member) and Julian Stock

Distinguished alumna Sandra Nicholson, past president of the Chapter and life-time member, is a strong advocate for lifelong learning. Sandra's expectations as part of the Chapter have been exceeded by the breadth of knowledge she’s gained through the variety of events and lectures she's helped facilitate and taken part in. Looking back, she reminisces about one of the most memorable lectures she attended.

‘Artist John Wolseley’s 2014 lecture, Art, Nature, and Living in the Contemporary World was a memorable highlight for me,’ she says.

Sandra recalls the highly infectious energy of John, who not only explained the creative process behind his art but demonstrated it on stage.

‘His roll of notes slowly made its way down the front of the lectern as the lecture progressed, and his ‘cut and paste’ skills were on display for the audience to observe – yet another work of art!’

As a member for more than a decade, Sandra can't speak more highly of the experiences she has had as a member of the Chapter.

'Connecting with so many likeminded people has been an absolute gift – we have a lot of fun while indulging our love of all things art.'

Likewise for Ellen Mitchell, being one of the earliest members of the Chapter has meant continued contact with the university, attending events, and the social interaction and exchange of ideas have provided much enjoyment and stimulation.

"My favourite Rae Alexander Lecture was the 2012 lecture by Lisa Bevan, The Passions of the Soul: Emotion in the Paintings of Nicolas Poussin as it provided a new perspective based on research, stimulated discussion and contributed to scholarship."

Current treasurer of the chapter, Mary Fontana fondly remembers Professor Nigel Morgan’s 1998 lecture, Trondheim Cathedral and the Cult of Saint Olaf. Professor Morgan was one of Mary’s lecturers and inspired her love for the field of medieval study. Mary was prompted to return to La Trobe and join the Chapter through its connection with the Trendall Centre and the Southern Italian Red Figure vase research project.

Dr Esther Theiler, former chair of the chapter and current committee member, recalled Judith Ryan AM’s powerful lecture, Tracking Yolŋu Art: 1930s to Now, which was held in 2021.

Judith, who was formerly the Senior Curator in Indigenous Art at the NGV, held one of the most highly subscribed lectures in the 25-year history of the Rae Alexander Lecture.

‘Judith took us on a personal, experiential, and historical journey through which we could glimpse the great innovative moments in the art history of the Yolŋu of Eastern Arnhem Land.’

Esther is also proud of the long association with the NGV the chapter has had, where they have often invited speakers to the major exhibitions featured there.

'In 2013 a detailed focus on the NGV’s summer exhibition, Melbourne Now, was given by distinguished alumnus Tony Elwood AM.'

L-R - Dr Esther Theiler (past chair and current committee member), Dr Michael Moignard (current chair), Dr Geoff Raby, AO, Dr Damian Smith, Professor Susan Dodds.

This year’s lecture has also shaped up to be a favourite of current members of the chapter and art enthusiasts. The 25th annual Rae Alexander Lecture, The Accidental Collection – the Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Contemporary Art, was held at the Clemenger Auditorium at the NGV.

‘The lecture gave life to the works in Dr Raby’s collection,’ says Dr Michael Moignard, the current chair of the La Trobe Art History chapter.

Michael also acknowledged the importance of the historical context of the pieces from Dr Raby's collection.

‘Geoff’s excitement and passion was evident, and the stories he shared provided context for the art as well as understanding of the lives of the artists. It was a window into a time in Beijing now lost.’

Anyone with an interest in art and art history is encouraged to join the La Trobe University Art History Alumni Chapter.


Preview image: Foyer to Clemenger Auditorium, National Gallery of Victoria on October 13, 2022 during the 25th annual Rae Alexander Lecture.

Second image: 25th annual Rae Alexander Lecture. L to R - June Lawrence, Diana Stock, Dr Frank Heckes (current committee member of the La Trobe University Art History Chapter) and Julian Stock.

Third image: 25th annual Rae Alexander Lecture. L to R - Dr Esther Theiler (past chair and current committee member of the La Trobe University Art History Chapter), Dr Michael Moignard (current chair of the La Trobe University Art History Chapter), Dr Geoff Raby AO (presenter of lecture), Dr Damian Smith, and Professor Susan Dodds.