The founding director of the National Gallery of Australia, James Mollison, has died at the age of 88. Mollison was acting director of the gallery from 1971 until 1977, when he was appointed as the NGA’s Director, a position he held until 1990.

James Mollison AO and Robert Hughes AO with Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles © Pollock-Krasner Foundation. ARS/Copyright Agency

Mollison was perhaps most famous for the then controversial acquiring of Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionist painting Blue Polesfor $1.3 million, a world record price for a work by a contemporary American artist. The decision has since been acclaimed as visionary, with the painting’s value now thought to be about $350 million, and the work considered an iconic piece of 20th-century art and one of the gallery’s most important works.

“It is with deep sadness that we note the passing of one of Australia’s greatest museum directors,” the NGA said in a statement on Facebook. “During twenty years at the helm, he showed us how bold risk taking could build an unrivalled world class art collection. In bringing together so many influential and extraordinary works, he wanted visitors to experience art history and leave...