The Gallery site at Emu Plains was once a small rural holding on the banks of the Nepean River, part of the early settlement of the Nepean district. The original house, now known as the Lewers Gallery, was built in 1905. In 1942, Margo and Gerald Lewers – two leading artists in the development of modernism in Australian art – bought the property and made it their home and studio. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s it was known as a place of style, innovation and hospitality. As Patrick White wrote:
ideas hurtled, argument flared, voices shouted, sparks flew … the (Lewers) house provides one of the focus points of our still tentative civilisation.
In 1955 architect Sydney Ancher designed some alterations to the original house, and in 1961 he designed a second house on the site. Known as Ancher House (and completed in 1964), this second building is a significant, rare example of collaboration between artist and architect. It is also the only example of Ancher’s work in Western Sydney. Interior decoration and detailing, including extensive mosaic work, was completed by Margo. The beautiful landscaped gardens and grounds were designed by both Margo and Gerald to complement the buildings, their artwork, the environment and their lifestyle.
Following Gerald’s death in 1962, Margo continued to live and work at Emu Plains until she died in 1978. In 1980 the Lewers daughters, Darani and Tanya, donated the site, buildings and gardens to Penrith City Council, together with a substantial collection of art including works by Gerald and Margo and their contemporaries. Their vision was to create a centre of excellence for the presentation and appreciation of art for the community.
In launching the Gallery in August 1981, New South Wales Premier Neville Wran said:
Gerald and Margo Lewers’ contribution to Australian art was of signal importance. Their energies, and those of their contemporaries, set new directions for the visual arts in our country.
From that time the Gallery has honoured the Lewers contribution and bequest by continuing to present exhibitions, education and workshop programs and special events of excellence, ambition and integrity. The unique nature of the Gallery, with its artistic and architectural heritage, galleries, gardens and collection, forms an educational and recreational resource that is recognised nationally and internationally. A model for the development of many regional galleries in Australia, Penrith Regional Gallery is committed to access, cultural democracy and the highest of standards in all aspects of its programs and management.