SETTING UP: Gallery assistants Benjamin and Taryn Raffan with the John Brack painting MONITOR: Art Gallery of NSW’s Caroline Geraghty with Curve of the Bridge by Grace Cossington Smith. Ms Geraghty checks the work’s condition on arrival at the Newcastle gallery. –

STAFF at Newcastle Art Gallery had an enviable job yesterday, selecting masterpieces usually kept in storage to hang next to even more masterpieces from the Art Gallery of NSW.

The workers’ deft touch will create the Australian Modern Masterpieces exhibition that Newcastle Art Gallery director Ron Ramsey described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for art lovers.

Artists’ works on show include those by Margaret Olley, William Dobell, Grace Cossington Smith, Margaret Preston and Sidney Nolan.

Pieces will be freed from the confines of the gallery’s storage vaults and be paired with other works on loan to Newcastle from the state gallery.

For example, some of Newcastle-born painter William Dobell’s works that can be seen include his 1941 painting, Portrait of a Strapper, which the Newcastle gallery owns.

That will sit alongside his Archibald Prize-winning portrait of Margaret Olley from 1948.

The exhibit will not be seen anywhere else in NSW. It opens on December10 and will run until March4.

More than 80 works will be on show.