“I must have been one of the first feminists around because I was buying women’s art when no one else wanted it. People wanted men. They wanted Nolan, Drysdale or Boyd. They didn’t necessarily want Kate O’Connor. She was not well known then, nor was Elise Blumann. And I found I was drawn to them for a number of reasons, so I just kept buying them. Also, we didn’t have a lot of money and they were cheap. I think that all these things combined started me buying women’s art.”
Sheila Cruthers interviewed by Sue John, TVW 7, February 1995

Sheila and Jim at Bird Street, 1995. Photo Richard Hatherly. Courtesy The Sunday Times.


The Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art is Australia’s largest specialist collection of women’s art, numbering over 700 works. This collection is unique for its time and makes a significant contribution to the history of Australian art. It includes works from the 1890s to today and has a focus on portraiture, self-portraiture, modernism, post-modernism, feminism and abstraction.

The Cruthers family began collecting Australian art in 1974. From the outset Sheila Cruthers was drawn to work by women artists. Among her first purchases were self portraits by Elise Blumann and Kate O’Connor, which set her on a course of collecting self portraits. She also purchased new work by younger artists. Other family members collected different art – the work of mid 20th Century painters, mostly male, and contemporary art.

Sheila quickly decided to pair every self portrait she bought with another work by the artist, a collecting concept she called “The artist and her work”. Janine Burke’s pioneering book Australian Women Artists 1840s-1940s, published in 1981, was a useful tool to understanding the range of little known women artists. By the early 1980s more work was being purchased on the east coast, and when Jim and Sheila relocated to the US for work in 1983, the task of locating appropriate art fell to their son John Cruthers, by then based in Sydney. New purchases were despatched to New York and installed in the family apartment. There were frequent visitors including museum directors and curators, writers, historians and art critics, artists, gallerists and collectors

“The archbishop and the naked lady”, read the headline in The West Australian as Sheila’s collection was displayed in Archbishop Peter Carnley’s residence to raise money for breast cancer research. Photo Barry Baker. Courtesy The West Australian.

Jim and Sheila returned to Perth in late 1989 and the Collection was displayed in the family home in Mosman Park. The house was renovated to create a women’s art gallery off the living room, and later a large upstairs gallery for contemporary women’s art. The Collection was regularly opened to visitors and artworks made available for loan.

In 1995 the family displayed the women’s collection as part of the National Women’s Art Exhibition, a series of 140 exhibitions nationwide staged to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first International Women’s Day. In the company of women – 100 years of Australian women’s art from the Cruthers Collection opened at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts in February 1995, accompanied by a catalogue. It comprised 170 works by 75 artists.

Positive responses from viewers and critics encouraged the family to concentrate on women’s art and the collection grew quickly, now known as the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art. After the exhibition Modern Australian Women 1925-1945 at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2000, which included key works from the Collection, the family decided the Collection was worth preserving and making available to the Australian public. Negotiations to gift the Collection began with The University of Western Australia in 2002. The Collection was gifted to the University in 2007.


In the Company of Women exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, February 1995. Courtesy Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Lady Sheila Cruthers and Sir James Cruthers gifted to the Collection the University in 2007. Under a Deed of Gift between the parties, annual tranches of artworks are donated to UWA through the Commonwealth government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

The initial gift of 460 works of art included paintings, works on paper, prints, photography, textiles and sculpture. Since 2007 an additional 85 works were gifted by the Cruthers Art Foundation, and funds provided to UWA by the Foundation have enabled the purchase of 32 works for the Collection since 2011. More recently, the Collection has benefited from significant gifts of artworks from third parties. As at December 2017 the Collection had over 700 artworks.

The Cruthers Art Foundation was established at the time of the gift to provide continuing support to the Collection. In 2017 the Cruthers Art Foundation transitioned to Sheila Foundation Ltd, a public foundation. Sheila takes on the responsibilities of the Cruthers Art Foundation to support the Collection, but is also able to accept cash donations from the public and acquire artworks for donation..

The Deed of Gift outlines the agreed purpose of the Collection and defines the roles and responsibilities of the University and Sheila (formerly Cruthers Art Foundation). The purposes of the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art at The University of Western Australia are to:

Joyce Winsley, Granny Bass 1999, Guildford grass stitched and moulded, irreg, 30cm high. Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, The University of Western Australia. Photo Victor France. Courtesy the artist’s estate.

  • Promote Australian women’s art and women artists by way of exhibition, research, teaching and publications, and through providing funds to achieve these goals
  • Store, maintain and develop the Collection within the University
  • Protect and preserve the Collection as one Collection and not sell, assign, dispose or separate the Collection otherwise than in strict accordance with the guidelines
  • Maintain a substantial part of the Collection on permanent display at the University
  • Make the Collection available for students, art historians, curators and artists for the purposes of study, research, publications and as a teaching aid
  • Administer loans of artworks from the Collection including reproductions requests for publications
  • Maintain the selective, idiosyncratic and unique attributes of the Collection
  • Maintain the themes and subject areas established by the Cruthers family in the Collection

Collection Activities

Through its curator Gemma Weston the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art runs a yearly exhibition program in the Lady Sheila Cruthers Gallery within the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery on the UWA campus, each accompanied by a catalogue and a series of public and academic programs.

The Collection runs an acquisitions program and a related publications program.

Donating Artworks to The Collections

The Collection can accept gifts of artwork if they meet its collecting parameters. Artworks donated under the Commonwealth Government’s Cultural Gifts Program attract a tax deduction for the donor.

To enquire about donating artworks, please contact Gemma Weston on


Sir James Cruthers and Sue Cruthers at the opening of The Money Story: Warburton Artists, March 2012. Photo Nic Montagu.

The Collection has actively purchased work by Indigenous women artists. Out of a total of 700 artworks, the Collection includes 133 artworks by 62 Indigenous artists. In general, Indigenous artworks have been collected that fit within the Collection’s themes, with a focus on craft based practices including textiles, woven baskets, ceramics and dolls. Highlights include over 20 batiks produced at Utopia, 10 dolls by the Narrogin Doll-makers and 15 shellwork objects by Lola Ryan.

Contemporary artists – working in painting, photography, sculpture, installation and video – include Tracey Moffatt, Fiona Foley, Destiny Deacon, Judy Watson, Julie Gough, Julie Dowling and Sandra Hill. There is also a representative group of artworks by remote area artists Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Queenie McKenzie, Elizabeth Nyumi, Shirley Purdie, Linda Syddick Napaltjarri, Gloria and Ada Bird Petyarre, June Richards, Pantjiti Mary McLean and others.