In 1947 or 1948 I saw in a daily paper that the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria wanted to create one or two internships at the Gallery for people to train as Curators. I had just left school, and I went to see Daryl Lindsay, the Director, to ask whether I could have one of these positions. My interview with Daryl went well (though the positions for interns never eventuated); he said a pleasant goodbye to me, and added ‘Come and see me again’.
I took that to mean the following week. Daryl was probably surprised, but didn’t show it and passed me over to Dr Hoff, then the Keeper of Prints. I suppose she was equally taken aback by this youngster who actually knew nothing about art, but had memorised the collection of the Gallery. She sat me in the Print Room with a box of Rembrandt etchings. I had said I liked them; there had been an article on Rembrandt’s etchings in the first art book I ever bought, secondhand, on my way to a Saturday afternoon matinée.
I remember about forty or so prints. I now know them to be late strikes from Rembrandt’s worn and re-engraved plates, not at all rare or important. Dr Hoff said, ‘Call me when you are finished’, and went back to her office. That afternoon, too shy to say I had finished looking, I learnt my first real lesson about art; it is more enjoyable if you look at it hard and long, than if you look at it idly or in passing.
Dr Hoff next explained to me, as I visited her month after month, the difference in quality of the impressions of the prints in the collection – reminding me, in effect, not to be taken in by the label, but to discriminate by comparing. I can still remember Dr Hoff’s quizzical look as she questioned me, and sometimes I feel her behind me now as I compare everything I see with everything of that kind I can remember having seen.
Many of us at the A.N.G. have sought Dr Hoff’s opinion, drawing on a tradition of teaching that I know has continued for forty years.
James Mollison, Director, Australian National Gallery (in 1988).