Margaret Rich has been one of the key figures both in researching, collecting and exhibiting colonial and impressionist art, and in regional arts in Victoria. After spending five years as Director of Geelong Art Gallery, she became the longest serving Director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
Margaret Rich is one of that remarkable generation of curators and gallery directors who completely transformed Australian exhibitions and curatorial practice after the 1970s. She initially studied Fine Arts (art history) and English at the University of Melbourne before teaching English and having a short stint in text book publishing. Her university friend Jennifer Phipps was assistant to Brian Finemore, the Curator of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Victoria. He in turn was aware of her as a talented graduate working in an inappropriate field, so recommended her to the Sydney art dealer, Frank McDonald, who needed a good researcher on colonial art. McDonald’s Clune Galleries (later 30 Victoria Street) were in Macquarie Street, opposite the Mitchell Library. Rich’s research skills enabled McDonald to show his many corporate clients that they were buying objects of historical significance as well as beauty. She soon began arranging paintings for display, and in 1972 curated the first scholarly exhibition of works by the colonial artist, Eugene Von Guerard, an exhibition that cemented his reputation as Australia’s most significant colonial artist. In early 1975 she was appointed Director of the Geelong Art Gallery. Within months, helped by her mentor Brian Finemore, she curated the first modern exhibition of the work of Walter Withers, an artist with close associations with Geelong. Other Geelong exhibitions included a survey of Ethel Carrick Fox, which toured Australia with the Australian Gallery Directors Council. In 1980 she succeeded Ron Radford as the Director of the (then) Ballaarat Fine Art Gallery (now The Art Gallery of Ballarat). She remained in this position until 2003, overseeing a major expansion of the gallery’s space, resources, upgrading the collection and public programs. In 1988 she was one of the curators for the national touring Bicentennial Face of Australia exhibition. Both during her working career and in retirement Rich has consistently been a leader and a mentor in the arts and in the community in regional Victoria. She has served on committees for the Australia Council, the AGDC, Victorian Ministry for the Arts, the Eureka Commemorations Committee, the Old Colonists Association of Ballarat and the Ballarat Reform League.