Posts Tagged ‘Australian modernism

27
Mar
21

Text / Exhibition: ‘Clarice Beckett: The present moment’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Exhibition dates: 27th February – 16th May 2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Solitude' c. 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Solitude
c. 1932
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

Realist structuralist illusionist

The only four words that you really need to know are this: I bought the catalogue.

Beckett’s story of tragedy and redemption is briefly told. Trained as a painter under Max Meldrum in the modernist Australian tonalist school (which she far surpassed). Painted the hazy, misty suburbs of Melbourne en plein air in all weather conditions, usually in the early morning or at dusk. Worked incredibly hard at her art but, as with a lot of artists, had little recognition during her brief career despite numerous solo exhibitions. Died at a young age of double pneumonia after an outdoor painting session. Work lost to the mists of time until the art historian Rosalind Hollinrake salvaged a mere 369 paintings – 1,600 were beyond repair – from an open sided barn in country Victoria. Sadness at the loss of a young life cut short, of so many paintings lost to the elements and possums, but a deep gratitude that we still have what remains of her reality, as seen through her paintings. Now become, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest Australian painters of all time.

In her review of the exhibition Catherine Speck observes that Beckett’s works are a “study in transience”; another commentary has her as the “master of the half-light”; curator Tracey Lock has said her work is “luminous, ethereal, and very gentle… producing some of the most radically minimalist landscapes of the period … atmospheric abstractions of the commonplace.” All true.

Beckett had studied theosophy – a belief in divine wisdom via mysticism – and had read Madame Blavatsky’s book The Voice of Silence. Blavatsky urged her followers to seek spiritual knowledge beyond sensory experience – a sense of “limitless” and expanse. As John MacDonald observes, Beckett “explored the spiritual dimension of modernism” but only in so far “as a function of the open-minded, open-hearted way she approached the subject of a painting.” Again, all true.

But I find there is something more grounded in Beckett’s work than just smoke and mirrors.

While Beckett’s work can be seen as both radically minimalist landscapes and “atmospheric abstractions”, if you really look at these paintings – seemingly just daubs of paint over layers of thin background washes – there is an incredible draughtsmanship and structure to all of her paintings. The underpinning of these transient paintings are anything but random tones applied to the canvas. A foundation built on sand cannot last, cannot sustain such a penetrating inquiry.

In many ways I see Beckett as much a structuralist as a modernist or tonalist. Following Meldrum’s ideas about the rational analytic observation of subtle visual patterns of tones and accents, we can say that Beckett worked to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel in the immediacy of her painting, in her painting outdoors, in her inner vision of a reality that she felt and saw. In the phenomena of her life she envisaged, intimately, her interrelations with the world, and understood that below the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure.

How she evinces that structure in the solitude of a man in a boat, or passing trams, the warmth of the setting sun, or motor car lights in rain shows her “characteristic ability to catch the spontaneity of a lived moment.” As with a legion of great artists – van Gogh’s bedroom, Cezanne’s still life, Hooper’s diner at night – it is her ability to make the ordinary extraordinary that sets her apart from the rest. “She found a distinctive beauty in the ordinary objects such as telegraph poles, strips of road, trams, cars, buses and the daily activity taking place in the street.”

In paintings such as The Red Bus (Nd), Morning Ride (Nd), Out Walking (c. 1928-29), The Bus Stop (1930), Evening light, Beaumaris (c. 1925), Beach Road after the rain (Street scene) (c. 1927), Walking home (1931) and Dusk (Nd) it is the spatial distance between objects, not just physically but mentally – that leap of faith that the viewer must make into the space of the painting – that draws you in, that immerses you into that time and space that Beckett observed so truthfully. Poetic and lyrical yes, but also grounded and spatial, opening out this vista in front of you … humans as colourful accretions of paint (in)distinct in their existence, placed in fleeting moments, caught on the wind.

MacDonald notes, “If this show were being staged at Tate Modern or the Museum of Modern Art, Beckett would be hailed as a figure of world renown.” I heartily concur. Much as the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) – whose lyrical abstract canvases were hidden for 20 years after her death – has recently had blockbuster exhibitions at Moderna Museet Malmö, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and coming to the Art Gallery of New South Wales Sydney later in 2021, so I believe that Clarice Beckett will be recognised as an important world artist.

You really can’t pick out a bad painting by Beckett. Each has its own personality and seduction. I am ravished by them all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Art Gallery of South Australia for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality.”

.
Clarice Beckett

 

“It sometimes sounds as though [Max] Meldrum actually invented the idea of tone, but artists had understood this quality since the days of Leonardo da Vinci and Velasquez. In brief, it refers to the lightness or darkness of colours and the way they relate to each other in a composition. Meldrum’s innovation was to make tone the defining feature of painting – the inflexible standard to which every other aspect of a work must conform.”

.
John MacDonald. “Misty Moderns,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, November 21, 2009 [Online] Cited 19/03/2021

 

“The facts of Beckett’s life may be told in short order. She was born in 1887 into a well-heeled, middle-class family. She had a passion for art and literature and would go on to study drawing under Fred McCubbin at the National Gallery School, then spend nine months attending the independent art school run by the outspoken Max Meldrum. It was an experience that would help mould her technique and views on art, although not so much as many have presumed. Although Beckett had admirers, she turned down several offers of marriage and would end her life living at home in the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, having spent years looking after her invalid mother.

In 1935, shortly after her mother’s death, Beckett caught double pneumonia and passed away at the age of 48. What happened next is just as tragic, as her father burnt paintings that he didn’t consider finished or good enough. Her sister, Hilda, would store the remaining 2000 canvases in an open-sided shed in the countryside near Benalla. When Hollinrake tracked them down in 1970, only 369 were salvageable. The weather and the possums had laid waste to the rest.

The loss of so many works ranks as one of the great disasters of Australian art history. We may all be thankful that Hollinrake saved what she could.”

.
John MacDonald. “This exhibition is so phenomenal I saw it three days in row,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, March 25, 2021 [Online] Cited 29/03/2021

 

“Modern science maintains that all colours in the universe are founded in three elements: hue (colour), saturation (chroma) and tone (value). Hue refers to the spectral colours such as red, green, blue, and so on, that are visibly distinct from each other…

Saturation represents the intensity, or quantity, of colour… The best way to understand this is if you take a can of blue paint and gradually stir in some white, rather than getting a new colour, the result is a lighter blue. An exception to this rule is that by adding white to red, we make pink. Red is a highly saturated pink; they are of the same hue but the quantity of red colour is less in pink.

Tone refers to how light or dark a colour is. On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 is colourless (or white), 5 is a medium grey [think Zone V in the black and white zone system] and 10 is black. So, as the tone increases, it intensifies the darkness [of the colour]. Tone begins to impact the saturation … once it reaches a percentage high enough to overpower it. This percentage varies with each colour, just as the saturation range varies with hues. For example, saturation in a yellow … may reach as high as ninety percent, whilst in a blue … it may only reach three percent, with the result that a small percentage increase in tone on a blue … would have a far greater impact on the blue, resulting in the grey becoming more noticeable. [Colours] with a higher saturation, such as yellow, would require correspondingly higher levels of tone for the brown to be observed. When the percentage of tone exceeds the saturation, the brown or grey will actually become the body (primary) colour and the hue the modifier, for example bluish-grey.”

.
Hamish Sharma. “Colour: How we see diamonds and gemstones,” in the Leonard magazine, Issue 90, February – March 2021 Cited 19/03/2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featuring the artist’s luscious and distinctive soft focus, the Art Gallery of South Australia’s newly opened Clarice Beckett exhibition, curated by Tracey Lock, presents her paintings as a sensorium – with colour, music and video to enhance the experience.

Each room in the gallery’s exhibition space is dedicated to her paintings of specific times of the day, from sunrise, to early morning, then midday and sunset, concluding with the nocturnes. She was fascinated with temporal change. The exhibition is very much an experiential journey. Viewers enter through an elliptical portal to an immersive rounded space filled with magnified projections of her paintings, and music from Simone Slattery’s specially commissioned soundscape.

Beckett was musical too. The transcendence to another realm has begun. The mood changes with each room in the exhibition.

 

A sad loss but precious works remain

The poignant Clarice Beckett story is known by many. She died from pneumonia in 1935 at 48 years of age, and left behind a large cache of work. It was stored for a number of years in an open-side shed in rural Victoria, only to be discovered in the late 1960s, in a poor state of repair, by art historian Rosalind Hollinrake. She salvaged a mere 369 paintings – 1,600 were beyond repair.

Hollinrake guided the artist’s rediscovery at a time when numerous women artists were reinserted into the canon. The impetus for this exhibition is the generous donation by Alastair Hunter of a large collection of Beckett’s work previously held by Hollinrake.

 

Mysticism meets science

Theosophy – a belief in divine wisdom via mysticism – was a major influence on her approach to painting. Like others around the world, Beckett came under the popular esoteric movement’s spell in the early years of the 20th century. She owned a well-thumbed copy of Madame Blavatsky’s seminal occult text The Voice of Silence, attended spiritualist meetings and moved in artistic circles where post-dinner seances were often held.

But Beckett also took on board painter Max Meldrum’s quasi-scientific ideas about rational analytic observation of subtle visual patterns of tones and accents. She studied with him for nine months, although it is widely accepted she surpassed him with her brilliant tonal landscapes. This is the hybrid intellectual and artistic milieu she moved in, supplemented by an interest in Eastern philosophy and Freud.

For Beckett, painting was as much about performing her spiritual beliefs as it was about portraying that which was observable. Her friends in the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, to which she belonged, recall she loved talking about theories behind her work.

What emerges in the exhibition is her finely honed and daring visual language.

 

Artist without a studio

A curatorial coup is achieved with the installation of a domestic kitchen in the exhibition space. Her father had declined her request for a studio to work in. He suggested she use the kitchen table instead.

While most of her paintings were completed outdoors, she did paint still life and portraits, and finish off larger en plein air works at home. This work was indeed done on the kitchen table, which is so tellingly included in the exhibition, surrounded by her still life paintings including Marigolds (1925).

Catherine Speck. “Clarice Beckett exhibition is a sensory appreciation of her magical moments in time,” on The Conversation website March 1, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Passing trams' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Passing trams
c. 1931
Oil on board
48.60 mm (1.91 in); Width: 44.20 mm (1.74 in)
Art Gallery of South Australia
Public domain, Google Art Project

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Summer fields' 1926

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Summer fields
1926
Naringal, Western District, Victoria
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The plains' 1926

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The plains
1926
Naringal, Western District, Victoria
Oil on board; Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Wet sand, Anglesea' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Wet sand, Anglesea
1929
Victoria
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The boatshed' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The boatshed
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'October morning' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
October morning
c. 1927
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Walking home' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Walking home
c. 1931
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

The Art Gallery of South Australia is presenting the most comprehensive retrospective ever staged of Clarice Beckett, one of Australia’s most enigmatic and admired modernist painters. Clarice Beckett: The present moment, sees nearly 130 works by the artist on display as part of the 2021 Adelaide Festival in February 2021.

Associated with a legendary story of rediscovery, Clarice Beckett is today celebrated for her ethereal, atmospheric landscape paintings that capture the commonplace. In 1935 Clarice Beckett died at the age of forty-eight, and for the next thirty-five years her work vanished from art history before being rescued by Dr Rosalind Hollinrake. Hollinrake salvaged 369 of the artist’s neglected canvases from a remote, open-sided shed in rural Victoria. Hollinrake’s extensive research and promotion led to Beckett’s recognition as a major force in Australian modernism.

The present moment includes many of the salvaged paintings, as well as her master works drawn from national public collections as well as private collections including Russell Crowe and Ben Quilty. Misunderstood in her lifetime, The present moment presents Beckett as a visionary mystic who saw nature as all powerful and as an artist driven by spiritual impulses rather than worldly success.

Her timeless and incidental everyday scenes have been curated to chart the chronology of one single day. The present moment exhibition will take visitors on a sensory journey from the first breath of sunrise, through to the hush of sunset and finally a return into the enveloping mists of nightfall.

AGSA Curator of Australian Art and Exhibition Curator Tracey Lock says, ‘Audiences experience an affinity with the art of Clarice Beckett. On one level Beckett represents the triumph of the spirit over adversity and certainly the ideal of an artist driven by something beyond worldly success. On a deeper level they sense a profound humanity, something that has united the world in such adversity over the past year.

‘There is a certain magnetism to her paintings: an experiential quality of sound, sight or feeling that transcends language. Enveloped in diffused light and exuding peacefulness, her paintings invite a sense of stillness that points to a healing, spiritual quality.’

AGSA Director Rhana Devenport ONZM says, ‘The Art Gallery of South Australia is thrilled to stage this important exhibition which was initiated following the significant acquisition of 21 paintings by Clarice Beckett early in 2020, made possible thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Alastair Hunter OAM.’

Press release from the Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sandringham Beach' c. 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sandringham Beach
c. 1933
Oil on canvas
55.8 h x 50.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

Centre painting in the second installation image below.

 

 

Clarice Beckett’s Sandringham Beach is a dynamic and modern composition of sand, bathing boxes and beach walkers. Beckett depicted the scene from an unusual perspective – from a cliff looking down onto the beach. Captured in the glare of a summer day, the smooth body of sand appears to shimmer with ‘white heat’. Backing onto scruffy vegetation, the brightly coloured striped roofs of the bathing boxes are the most solid aspects of the composition.

The ocean occupies a small portion of Beckett’s view, with beachgoers strolling along the water’s edge and a game of beach cricket taking place. The bright modern swimsuits and exposed skin of the walkers have been brushed onto the canvas with soft dabs of colour. The playful atmosphere of Sandringham Beach encapsulates Australian’s love of the beach as a key site of recreation and relaxation.

Beckett first studied in Ballarat, and then from 1914 to 1916 with Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School. In 1917 she attended Max Meldrum’s public lecture on tonal painting at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre and, impressed by his theories, enrolled in his classes. While Beckett was considered a ‘Meldrumite’ – a devotee of her teacher’s theories of tonal values as the best means of depicting nature – she adapted his ideas to create her own lyrical vision of the Australian landscape.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Beach Scene' 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Beach Scene
1932
Oil on canvas
52.1 x 62.0cm
Cbus art collection

 

Second left painting in the second installation image below.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

 

It may be that a dash of Meldrum had a beneficial effect on artists who took only what they wanted and never became followers. By contrast, those who bought the full package seem to belong to a single family, sharing the same DNA. The true Meldrumites in this show are Colin Colahan, Clarice Beckett, Percy Leason, A.D.Colquhoun, Hayward Veal, Justus Jorgensen, A.E.Newbury, John Farmer and Polly Hurry. Most took part in the first group exhibitions of the Meldrum School held in 1919, 1920 and 1921, in which paintings were exhibited in uniform black frames and identified only by numbers. A photograph in the catalogue shows pictures crammed together like items on a supermarket shelf.

This was not simply a way of submerging the ego of the student into that of the great God, Meldrum, it was intended to demonstrate the futility of any personal, subjective approach. For Meldrum, learning to paint was largely synonymous with learning to look. In his first major public lecture, given in 1917, he argued:  “The art of painting is a pure science – the science of optical analysis.”

Needless to say there were numerous techniques to master, all of them expounded at great length in an anthology of 1950, titled The Science of Appearances – which has been freshly issued in a new (but expensive) paperback edition. The Meldrumite palette was restricted to only five tones, with outlines being strictly forbidden. This was one of the master’s articles of faith from his earliest days. …

Meldrum’s famous method required a lot of squinting and stepping back from the canvas to compare one’s impression with the true tones of the motif. Some students wore sunglasses to get the appropriate frisson, some put their palettes on trolleys that could be wheeled back and forth. They cared so little for the subject that detractors thought the School motto should be: “Anything’ll do.”

The paintings that resulted were remarkably similar in their blurred edges and smudgy, atmospheric surfaces. Looking at a large number of these works side by side one begins to see the world as a dim, misty, melancholy place. Even though Meldrum despised the word, this penchant for gloom seems to have been a temperamental preference among his students. They liked to paint on rainy, overcast days, which may explain why Melbourne remained the heartland of the movement.

Despite the self-imposed bondage of Meldrum’s method many of these artists were exceptionally talented. Painting in a doctrinaire style that eschewed individuality, squinting at the most ordinary scenery in the rain, they still managed to produce beautiful and poetic pictures.

Following her rediscovery in recent decades, Clarice Beckett is firmly established as a significant figure in Australian modern art. By almost universal assent she is now considered the greatest of the Meldrumites; her previous obscurity being caused by her early death at the age of forty-eight in 1935 and the misfortune of having many of her works in storage eaten by possums.

John MacDonald. “Misty Moderns,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, November 21, 2009 [Online] Cited 19/03/2021.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment featuring Tea Gardens by Clarice Beckett, c. 1933, Gift of Sir Edward Hayward 1980, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Hawthorn Tea Gardens' 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Hawthorn Tea Gardens
1933
Oil on canvas laid on pulpboard
51.0 x 43.7cm
Gift of Sir Edward Hayward 1980
Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment featuring Zinnias (Flower piece) by Clarice Beckett, 1927, Private collection, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

 

Australian tonalism

Australian tonalism was an art movement that emerged in Melbourne during the 1910s. Known at the time as tonal realism or Meldrumism, the movement was founded by artist and art teacher Max Meldrum, who developed a unique theory of painting, the “Scientific Order of Impressions”. He argued that painting was a pure science of optical analysis, and believed that a painter should aim to create an exact illusion of spatial depth by carefully observing in nature tone and tonal relationships (shades of light and dark) and spontaneously recording them in the order that they had been received by the eye.

Meldrum’s followers – among the most notable being Clarice BeckettColin Colahan and William Frater – began staging group exhibitions at the Melbourne Athenaeum in 1919. They favoured painting in adverse weather conditions, and often went out together in the morning or towards evening in search of fog and wintry wet surfaces, which provided increased spatial effects. Their subtle, “misty” depictions of Melbourne’s beaches and parks, as well as its everyday, unadorned suburbia, show an interest in the interplay between softness and structure, nature and modernity.

The movement peaked during the interwar period, and its lingering influence can be seen in experimental works by other Australian artists, such as Lloyd Rees and Roland Wakelin. Although dismissed by many of their art world contemporaries, today the Australian tonalists are well-represented in Australia’s major public art galleries. The minimum of means they used to distil the essence of their subjects has drawn comparisons to the haiku form of poetry, and the movement has been described as prefiguring the late modernist style minimalism. [Tonalism opposed Post-Impressionism and Modernism and is now regarded as a precursor to Minimalism and Conceptualism.]

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening, after Whistler' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening, after Whistler
c. 1931
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Motor lights' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Motor lights
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Tranquility' c. 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Tranquility
c. 1933
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sea Drift' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sea Drift
c. 1930
Melbourne
Oil on canvas on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

Clarice Beckett

Clarice Marjoribanks Beckett (21 March 1887 – 7 July 1935) was an Australian artist and a key member of the Australian tonalist movement. Her works are featured in the collections of Australia’s major public galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia. …

 

Work

Beckett is recognised as one of Australia’s most important modernist artists, though some have classified her as a ‘daughter of Monet’. In his review of the first of two exhibitions held at the Rosalind Humphrey Gallery in 1971 and 1972, Patrick McCaughey described Beckett as a remarkable Modernist, because of the ‘flatness of the surface in her painting’. Despite a talent for portraiture and a keen public appreciation for her still lifes, the subject matter favoured by her teacher Meldrum, Beckett preferred the solo, outdoor process of painting landscapes. She persistently and diligently painted sea and beachscapes, rural and suburban scenes, often enveloped in the atmospheric effects of early mornings or evening. Candice Bruce describes “a sense of an ever-present melancholy: a vulnerability mixed with a calm that, even if one were in total ignorance of the details of the artist’s life, would still be felt.” Her subjects were often drawn from the Beaumaris area, where she lived for the latter part of her life. She was one of the first of her group to use a painting trolley, or mobile easel to make it easier to paint outdoors in different locations.

 

Formal qualities and reception

In her mid-thirties, Beckett elucidated her artistic aims in the catalogue accompanying the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne Painters in 1924:

To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality.

By 1931, however, Percy Leason, writing a long review in Table Talk, draws comparison with Rembrandt, Whistler and Corot to say;

Miss Beckett’s work has so much in common with them: there is a like success in achieving the first essential, a convincing illusion of actual space and air and light; the same refinement and delicacy of true colour; the same regard for true form and character; and the same complete indifference to conventions and the mere clever handling of paint for the sake of it. (Leason in the next issue of Table Talk reiterated his praise, calling the show “one of the best exhibitions of the year.”)

However, like her female contemporaries, Beckett faced considerable prejudice from conservative male artists. Meldrum, commenting as late as 1939 on Nora Heyson’s receiving the Archibald Prize, expressed his opinion on women’s capacity to be great artists; “Men and women are differently constituted. Women are more closely attached to the physical things of life, and to expect them to do some things equally as well as men is sheer lunacy […] A great artist has to tread a lonely road. He becomes great only by exerting himself to the limit of his strength the whole time. I believe that such a life is unnatural and impossible for a women,” an attitude he qualified in relation to his favourite pupil Beckett, announcing in the event of her death that “Beckett had done work of which any nation should be proud.”

During her lifetime no Beckett work was purchased for a public collection, though now almost every major Australian gallery holds examples. By 2001 her paintings had achieved six figures at auction.

 

Australian Tonalism

Tonalism opposed Post-Impressionism and Modernism, but is now regarded as a precursor to Minimalism. The whole movement had been under fierce controversy and they were unpopular amongst other artists and derided as “Meldrumites”. Influential Melbourne artist and teacher George Bell described Australian Tonalism as a “cult which muffles everything in a pall of opaque density”.

Meldrum blamed social decadence for artists’ exaggerated interest in colour over tone and proportion. Beckett’s painting however represents a departure from Meldrum’s strict principles which dictated that tone should take precedence over colour, as commented upon in a newspaper critique of her 1931 solo exhibition. A reviewer of her 1932 Atheneum show expressed her particular version of this as “an adaptation of art to nature, which belongs neither to the realm of the orthodox normalist or the avowed modern, but is a purely individual expression of certain sensations in light, form and colour…” Rosalind Hollinrake, who was largely responsible for Beckett’s revival, notes a use colour to reinforce form, and more daring design, in the later years of the artist’s short life.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Luna Park' 1919

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Luna Park
1919
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes, Brighton' 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes, Brighton
1933
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The red sunshade' 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The red sunshade
1932
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Wet day, Brighton' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Wet day, Brighton
c. 1928
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes in the storm' 1934

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes in the storm
1934
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes after the storm' 1934

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes after the storm
1934
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

During the 1920s and 1930s Clarice Beckett surrendered to the sensory impressions of her everyday world with such intensity that the force of her painted observations created an entirely new visual language. The extreme economy of her painting tested her Australian audiences, and yet distinguished her as working at the avant-garde of international modernism. Drawn from national public and private collections, highlights include the artist’s famed ethereal images of commonplace motifs such as lone figures, waves, trams and cars.

Driven by spiritual impulses beyond worldly success, she was a visionary mystic that saw nature as all powerful. Through veils of natural light she captured the eternal in the temporal. Accordingly, the 130 paintings in The present moment will be thematically displayed around shifts in time that chart the chronology of one single day. The exhibition will take visitors on a sensory journey from the first breath of sunrise, through to the hush of sunset and finally a return into the enveloping mists of nightfall.

The Art Gallery of South Australia is renowned for collecting, displaying and publishing the work of modern Australian women artists. Clarice Beckett: The present moment showcases Alastair Hunter OAM’s recent support of the acquisition of 21 Clarice Beckett paintings and proudly announces the AGSA’s ongoing commitment to the promotion and celebration of the work of great Australian women artists.

Text from the Art Gallery of South Australia website [Online] Cited 19/03/2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Pavlova, the dying swan' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Pavlova, the dying swan
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Pavlova, the dying swan' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Pavlova, the dying swan
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The cottage San Remo' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The cottage San Remo
c. 1931
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sunset' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sunset
Nd
Melbourne
Oil on card
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Across the Yarra' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Across the Yarra
c. 1931
Oil on cardboard
32.5 × 45.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Marjorie Webster Memorial, Governor, 1985

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Marigolds' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Marigolds
c. 1925
Oil on board
40.5 x 30.5cm

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of Clarice Beckett' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of Clarice Beckett
Nd
Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Further works by Clarice Beckett

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) '(Phillip Island from San Remo)' c. 1930-1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
(Phillip Island from San Remo)
c. 1930-1933
Oil on cardboard
18.6 × 23.7cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jennifer Rogers in memory of her father, Ron Lilburne, 2008

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
58.5 x 51.0cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

Clarice Beckett. 'The Red Bus' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Red Bus
Nd
Oil on canvas on composition board
36.5 x 44cm

 

 

The Red Bus is an excellent example of one of Clarice Beckett’s outer Melbourne suburban street scenes. It expresses her characteristic ability to catch the spontaneity of a lived moment, in an intensely lyrical and poetic manner. She found a distinctive beauty in the ordinary objects such as telegraph poles, strips of road, trams, cars, buses and the daily activity taking place in the street.

In this painting the everyday scene is made extraordinary by an atmospheric dreamlike slice of landscape which in turn is contrasted with the subtle feeling of action. This comes from the sensation of the motion of the bus travelling uphill in opposition to the gently felt abstract figures moving away downhill. Beckett’s use of the enveloping haze does not detract from the effect of the fresh atmosphere of a bright sunny morning in this painting, but serves to unify the scene and evoke a sense of quiet calm.

Beckett achieves this with her famed use of soft dissolving edges, a difficult technical feat employed to create an atmospheric reality of emotional content, a characteristic of her modernist style. The lumbering red bus moves towards the viewer and alerts our attention with its bright colour and dark windows which eerily suggest no visible driver. This creates an eerie feeling of uncertainty and mystery which is reminiscent of the paintings of Edward Hopper who worked at a similar time to Beckett although half a world away. Beckett’s modernism lies in her minimalist aesthetic and her ability to arouse an emotional response with her images.

She was hailed for making the tarred road artistically acceptable and as the critic Mervyn Skipper wrote in The Bulletin 29 October 1930: “She has become the most original painter. She has merely abandoned conventions which earlier artists brought from Europe, has in fact done quite quietly and as if by accident what Australian poets and writers are only just beginning to do.”

Beckett was an innovative and extremely important figure in Australia’s art history during the 1920’s and early 30’s. Her work is seldom found in auction rooms or galleries, and The Red Bus is a part of the first private collection to have ever come up for sale. Her influence and inspiration has been wide in contemporary Australian art beginning fifty years after her death. Her original label of artist’s artist continues to be vindicated, although a more receptive public now are beginning to appreciate the beauty and allure of her ability to capture transient moments of life and the calming effect of her beautiful meditative images.

 

Clarice Beckett. 'Winter Morning, Beaumaris' c. 1927-31

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Winter Morning, Beaumaris
c. 1927-31
Oil on canvas
39.3 x 55cm

 

 

Beckett was renowned for her innovative compositions, her remarkable poetic lyricism and the dramatic intensity she was able to create. This work shows the essence of the atmospheric moment as well as creating an illusion of the actual temperature and a sense of atmospheric space all characteristic traits of the artist.

Winter Morning Beaumaris has a typically Melbourne winter mood and is a very strong image due to the compositional choice where the image is dramatically strengthened by a stark tree trunk which contrasts with Zen-like meditative softness of shifting fog shrouding the headland and flora. Subtle in its poetic style, it holds the wonderful sense of the mysterious unknown that sea fog brings to the landscape. Another characteristic of Beckett’s work was her ability to create a sense of place and a sense of the actual temperature of the subject. This was due to her ability to mix the finest degrees of tonal range that the landscape before her held and her ability to run her soft edges into each other to form a unified and genuine sense of airy atmosphere. This is even difficult to achieve in a studio environment.

This large size work is a rare example of a limited number (approx. 10) paintings on canvas and stretcher that survived the destruction of at least 60 works of this size and even larger which were burnt straight after her death. The challenge of painting an impression of nature en plein air on this size canvas is immense. Fleeting sunsets, sunrises and gathering dusk and moving sea fogs last for only minutes and the image and tones in a landscape changes constantly. The painter must work with enormous speed and a great knowledge of tones, being able to know what colours to mix to achieve the perfect reflection of what is being painted. Incredible skill with handling the paint and keeping a freedom of the impression is evident in this image. Beckett was greatly admired for achieving all those requirements of painting to achieve a sense of living breathing elusive reality.

This work was painted from Beckett’s favourite haunts on the cliff tops along the foreshore looking out to Port Phillip Bay. It shows her classic poetic lyricism and a contemporary daring with her sparing use of paint and her paring back of form.

Rosalind Hollinrake on the Lauraine Diggins Fine Art website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Out Walking' c. 1928-29

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Out Walking
c. 1928-29
Oil on canvas on board
29 x 34.5cm

 

 

Out Walking, c. 1928-29, depicts a view close to Clarice Beckett’s home in the Melbourne bay-side suburb of Beaumaris. Beckett moved there from Casterton, near Bendigo, in 1919 with her parents whose health was failing; and the suburb is aptly named, being a truncation of the French ‘beau marais’, meaning ‘beautiful marsh’. Following Melbourne’s European settlement, Beaumaris became a popular holiday destination noted for its winding coastal trails, atmospheric tangles of ti-tree and capacious views over Port Phillip Bay. At the base of the weathered sandstone cliffs lie secluded beaches and rock ledges full of fossils. Beckett would return to these familiar sites many times throughout her career – and in all weathers – to such an extent that it is impossible to walk the same territory today and not see it through her eyes.

The family lived at ‘St. Enoch’s’ in Dalgetty Road, and Out Walking shows that street’s intersection with Beach Road, with the shimmering blue of the bay beyond. Beckett would already have been a familiar sight to locals, as she walked the paths with her hand-built painting trolley. Her painting technique was aligned to the group of artists called the ‘tonalists’ who gathered around Max Meldrum; and the trolley, in fact, had a particular use beyond mere transport. ‘Tonalist works were created to be viewed, when complete, from a distance of about six metres (approximately twenty feet). The painting process required much to-ing and fro-ing between the subject and the observation point by both the painter and the painting … Consequently to assist with this process, many of the artists constructed custom-built wheeled easels or painting trolleys. Clarice Beckett was one of the first to adopt a trolley.’1 This description of the dedicated process involved in constructing such images belies the spontaneous sensation given by Out Walking, that of a snapshot briefly glimpsed before being captured in a hurried application of paint. As noted by the curator Ted Gott, ‘Beckett’s compositions have an elusive, phantasmic mystique. [By comparison] everything in our world today is sharp, crystal clear, hard and fast.’2 Not surprisingly, critics often attached the term ‘Whistler-ian’ to her work.

Judging by the long coats, Out Walking was painted on an early Spring morning, with the overcast sky punctured at points by sunshine which illuminates patches of the sandy road and grassed verge. To the left, a carer in a blue coat watches a red-caped girl as she rushes towards the intersection. Two older ladies in grey hats and coats walk the other way, deep in conversation; and, crunching the unsealed road between them, the hand-propelled cart in the middle-centre. The rows of telegraph poles create a frame within the frame, anchored horizontally by the white fence line indicating the cliff path. To the left, a flash of muted red indicates an emergency box, a tiny detail of colour which links visually to the girl’s cape and the man’s cart. Like the companion work with the same title,3 Beckett’s paintings of pedestrians are predominantly solo studies, making this version of Out Walking one of the rarer compositions to include small groups of people.

We are grateful to Rosalind Hollinrake for her assistance with this catalogue entry.

Andrew Gaynor. “Clarice Beckett, Out Walking, c. 1928-29,” on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

  1. Lock-Weir, T. Misty Moderns: Australian tonalists 1915-1950, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008, p. 46
  2. Gott, T. ‘Foreword’, Clarice Beckett: 1887-1935, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 29 February – 1 April 2000, p. 5
  3. Rosalind Hollinrake describes this alternate version as being of Beckett’s young niece Patricia walking along the cliff top path

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Silent Approach' c. 1924

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Silent Approach
c. 1924
Oil on board
48.0 h x 58.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

 

Clarice Beckett, like the visual arts equivalent of a haiku master, was able to distil the essence of her subjects with a minimum of means. Silent approach is a particularly fine example of the strength and delicacy of Beckett’s approach in which no mark is wasted. While the painting exudes a pervasive stillness, the green vegetation in the foreground appears to have a vitality of its own, extending out to the shadowy figure. This fluid organic form is balanced by the vertical power pole (with echoes of the form receding into the distance), a classic Beckett subject indicating modernity. The interplay between structure and softness gives way on the left to the foggy atmosphere in which space itself is the dominant aspect.

A magical aspect of Silent approach is that, for all the restraint of Beckett’s palette, subtle tonalities and subject matter, it is full of presence and imbued with an inner life. In 1919, Beckett moved with her parents to the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, an environment that provided her with evocative inspiration. Despite many challenges, she was driven to paint every day and in all weathers. She also exhibited regularly. While each work is self-sufficient, she felt considerable pleasure in seeing the cumulative effects of her paintings shown together – each illuminating the other.

Beckett’s interest in a tonal approach was informed by Max Meldrum, an influential teacher in Melbourne who espoused a theory of Tonalism. Meldrum considered her his star pupil and, before long, her independent vision shone through – a fact that he acknowledged in a tribute to her at a memorial exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1936. Tragically, she died far too early, at the age of forty-seven, from pneumonia after catching a chill while painting in inclement weather.

After Beckett’s death, a large number of her paintings were left to deteriorate in a barn and were unsalvageable. Thanks to the great generosity of a number of donors, the Gallery has been able to add Silent approach, one of her most accomplished remaining works, to the national collection.

Deborah Hart, Senior Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture post 1920 in artonview, issue 80, Summer 2014.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Princes Bridge Station' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Princes Bridge Station
c. 1928
Oil on board
25.0 x 35.0cm
Private collection

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Chestnut Avenue, Ballarat Gardens' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Chestnut Avenue, Ballarat Gardens
c. 1927
Oil on canvas board
30.5 x 40.5cm
Private collection

 

 

Clarice Beckett’s connection with Ballarat was more than that of a happy visit to its beautiful lakeside gardens in 1927. Born in Casterton, she attended school in Ballarat at Queen’s College and also studied charcoal drawing under a Miss Eva Hopkins, before her family moved to Melbourne in 1904. Some years later, in 1914 she returned to art, studying drawing under Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School, and then painting with Max Meldrum from 1917. While she became Meldrum’s ‘star’ pupil, the poetic and philosophical inclination of her art was, no doubt, encouraged by McCubbin, whose philosophising had led to him being dubbed ‘The Proff’ by his friends. From 1919, when her parents retired to the Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris, its beach sides and surrounds became a major inspiration for her paintings. Captured early and late in the day, in different seasons, and focused on the everyday of unglamorous roads and telegraph poles, or bathing boxes, through her art the ordinary was metamorphosed into paintings of profound beauty. Evening Light, Beaumaris, c.1925, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and Sandringham Beach, c. 1933, in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra are captivating examples of the prosaic transformed into the poetic. In Melbourne city she painted light-filled streets on wet nights and tranquil views across the Yarra River, often embraced by the spans of its most handsome bridges. One such major work, Princes Bridge, 1930, was sold by Deutscher and Hackett in Melbourne on 29 April 2009, lot 100.

Paintings of foggy mornings, dreamy sunsets, Collins Street, the Dandenongs and Olinda were among the sixty works that made up Beckett’s 1927 exhibition, which included Chestnut Walk, Avenue Gardens, c. 1927. There were only two other Ballarat subjects in the show – Ballarat Gardens and Ash Tree, Ballarat Gardens, clearly rare examples in her oeuvre. Ballarat Botanical Gardens would have appealed to Beckett both through recollections from childhood and in their own right as highly significant cool climate gardens. Established in 1858, they are noted for their many mature trees, the avenue of Horse Chestnuts being one of the four main axes running north south through the gardens.1 Beckett captures the quiet, natural grandeur of the avenue in Chestnut Walk, Avenue Gardens, greens contrasted with terracottas, verticals with horizontals, classic in balance. The shadows are as substantial as the trees that cast them, adding a sense of drama within the harmony of forms and colours wrapped in stillness. According to Beckett scholar and curator, Rosalind Hollinrake, one of the most striking features of Beckett’s art is her sense of place, which ‘… became heightened by the growing intimacy she developed for certain locations’.2 While this has been noted in her Beaumaris works, Chestnut Walk, Avenue Gardens captures perfectly the stately feel and calm of the place. Its sense of time past is touched by the universal through a seemingly disarming simplicity that invites contemplation of its profundity. Of art, Beckett said her aim was: ‘To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to set forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality’.3

David Thomas on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 13/03/2021

  1. Since 1940 this avenue has also accommodated the avenue of Prime Ministers’ bronze busts. The Botanical Gardens are rich in earlier sculptures, especially Italian marble figures donated by Thomas Stoddart in 1884 and the later Flight from Pompeii and others in the Statuary Pavilion of 1887
  2. Hollinrake, R., Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1999, p. 21
  3. Clarice Beckett, Twenty Melbourne Painters, 6th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, Melbourne, 1924

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Beaumaris Foreshore' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Beaumaris Foreshore
Nd
Oil on board
37 x 29 cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening landscape' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening landscape
c. 1925
Oil on cardboard
35.5 h x 40.7 w cm
Purchased 1974
National Gallery of Australia

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'From the Boatshed Roof' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
From the Boatshed Roof
Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The Bus Stop' 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Bus Stop
1930
Oil on canvas
41 x 34cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Early Morning (The Fishermen)' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Early Morning (The Fishermen)
c. 1930
Oil on canvas on board
45.5 x 38cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening light, Beaumaris' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening light, Beaumaris
c. 1925
Oil on canvas on cardboard
0.3 × 40.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria to mark the retirement of Paton Forster, General Secretary of the Society (1968-1989), 1989

 

 

‘For an artist of her time, and especially a woman artist, it must have been a leap of faith on her part to paint four ‘ordinary’ poles as revered and exalted lyrical subject matter. This was not only innovative, it was nothing short of daring.’

Painting ordinary elements of modern suburban life which included wet roads, telegraph poles, motor vehicles, bathing boxes and petrol bowsers was unique for its time. In contrast to the popular idealised views of rural landscapes often painted in panoramic scale, Beckett showed a sensitivity to beauty in the everyday in her modestly scaled paintings. In Evening light Beaumaris (c. 1925), seen above, she has taken a humble telegraph pole and turned it into something worthy of contemplation.

Hollinrake, Rosalind. ‘Clarice Beckett’, The Ordinary Instant, The Gallery at Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre: Melbourne, 2016, p. 11 quoted in Anonymous. “Her Own Path: Clarice Beckett,” in the Bayside City Council website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening on the Yarra from Alexandra Avenue' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening on the Yarra from Alexandra Avenue
Nd
Oil on pulpboard
29 x 39.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Dusk' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Dusk
Nd
Oil on canvas on pulpboard
24.5 x 34.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Anglesea' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Anglesea
1929
Oil on pulpboard
24.5 x 34.5cm

 

 

An uncharacteristically sun-drenched work, this scene depicts Beckett’s companions on the foreshore in front of what is now the Anglesea Caravan Park. A land of rich resources for the Wathaurong people, the area had been popular with campers from Geelong since the 1860s. Like all of Beckett’s outdoor images, it was painted in one plein air session, capturing her friends on a perfect summer’s day without a cloud in the sky, and only a single distant yacht sharing the experience. Beckett has utilised broad, simplified bands of colour – caramel and blue highlighted by white – with the only pronounced brush stokes representing the waves rolling to the shore and the casual poses of the figures. Anglesea, is also an environmental record of the time for the foreshore has been much changed by ninety years of storms and erosion. The beach remains but the ochre-coloured limestone cliffs have crumbled leaving the shore strewn with large boulders. Beckett included a group of Anglesea paintings in her solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in October 1930.

Andrew Gaynor. “Anglesea, 1929,” on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Beach Road after the rain (Street scene)' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Beach Road after the rain (Street scene)
c. 1927
Oil on cardboard
35.7 × 25.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Bequest of Harriet Minnie Rosebud Salier, 1984

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sunset across Beaumaris Bay' c. 1930-31

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sunset across Beaumaris Bay
c. 1930-31
Oil on composition board
Bayside City Council Art and Heritage Collection
Purchased 2014

 

 

In 1919, her father retired due to ill health and the Beckett family moved to the Bayside suburb of Beaumaris, living in a newly built weatherboard house on the corner of Beach Road and Tramway Parade. Built without any consideration for Clarice’s painting practice, the new house had no space for an art studio, however she cleverly constructed a small cart which would hold her easel and painting equipment which she could transport to the sites she was to paint around the area. She had a relentless work ethic, painting most days of her life and became a known character in Beaumaris, wearing her dowdy art clothes as she painted the foreshore and suburban streets, occasionally selling a work to a local passer-by.

Aside from a brief stint teaching art at a girl’s school in Mount Macedon in 1927 and yearly painting trips to San Remo with fellow Meldrumites, Beckett was to remain in Beaumaris for the rest of her life and many of her paintings are synonymous with the area.

Anonymous. “Her Own Path: Clarice Beckett,” in the Bayside City Council website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Cliff path' c. 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Cliff path
c. 1929
Oil on composition board
Bayside City Council Art and Heritage Collection
Purchased 2000

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Ship at sea or Warship on the Bay' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Ship at sea or Warship on the Bay
c. 1925
Oil on canvas on board
30 x 41.2cm
Courtesy Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, The University of Western Australia

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Reflected Lights, Beaumaris Bay' c. 1930-31

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Reflected Lights, Beaumaris Bay
c. 1930-31
Oil on composition board
Bayside City Council Art and Heritage Collection
Purchased 2014

 

 

Max Meldrum believed that the tonal values (areas of dark and light) of a subject were of utmost importance and privileged them over detailed draughtsmanship or the use of colour. Despite being criticised for it, Beckett embraced Meldrum’s theories and her work shows his influence in their limited colour and handling of tone.

In Reflected lights, Beaumaris Bay (c. 1930-31), seen above, through an economy of brushstrokes and paint, Beckett has captured the hazy quality of her nocturnal coastal scene. Here Beckett records the atmosphere and unique evocation of the reflected lights rather than focusing on details.

Anonymous. “Her Own Path: Clarice Beckett,” in the Bayside City Council website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) '(Summer Day, Beaumaris)' c. 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
(Summer Day, Beaumaris)
c. 1933
Oil on canvas on board
55 x 45cm

 

 

Writing in the catalogue of the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne Painters in 1924, Clarice Beckett defined her artistic aim as being ‘To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality’.1 A student of the Melbourne tonal realist painter Max Meldrum, whose theory and teaching of art as a science based on optical analysis upset conservative art circles and presented a direct challenge to the strict academic approach of the National Gallery School, Beckett absorbed his methods but developed a personal style and distinctive range of subject matter that made her work unique within early twentieth century Australian art. As curator Rosalind Hollinrake has noted, ‘She saw in soft focus and there were no edges in her work. She was concerned with achieving an harmonic atmospheric unity … While many paintings were completed in situ, many others were worked upon indoors, taken from colour notations, sketches and memory with later imaginative touches.’2

Beckett and her family moved to Beaumaris in 1919, the Melbourne bayside suburb where they had previously spent many summer holidays. The streets and surrounding coastal landscape of this and other nearby areas including Black Rock, Sandringham and Brighton soon became favourite subjects for her painting. In a vivid expression of her determination to succeed as a professional artist, Beckett responded to her father’s refusal to build a dedicated studio by constructing a small cart to house her painting materials which she wheeled around as she worked, using the lid of her painting box as a mobile easel.3 Her first solo exhibition was held at the Athenaeum Gallery, Melbourne in 1923 and in another measure of her drive and commitment, Beckett continued to exhibit there annually throughout the next decade before her premature death from pneumonia in 1935. During these years she reportedly painted almost every day, six hours in the morning and another six in the evening when, like so many other female artists, she worked at the kitchen table.

A gift from the artist to a friend which is still housed in its original Thallon frame, (Summer Day, Beaumaris), c.1933 is classic Clarice Beckett. Tall gnarled trees shaped by their coastal environment and a row of bathing boxes – a familiar feature of Melbourne’s bayside beaches that appears frequently in her work – provide the backdrop for a trio of figures walking along the beach. The heat is palpable, glimpses of the pale bleached blue sky appear as part of a scene that has been recorded quickly and viewed through the haze of a hot summer afternoon. Her mature colour sense comes to the fore in this work, the muted tones of the trees enlivened by the subtle play of the pinks, brown and ochres of the bathing boxes and the brilliant flashes of blue and yellow that attract the eye to the movement of the foreground figures. Beckett found a seemingly endless array of inspiration in her immediate surrounds and when asked why she didn’t travel overseas replied, ‘Why would I wish to go somewhere else … I’ve only just got the hang of painting Beaumaris.’4

Kirsty Grant on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 13/03/2021

  1. Beckett, C., Twenty Melbourne Painters 6th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1924 quoted in Hollinrake, R., Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, exhibition catalogue, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, 1999, p. 19
  2. Hollinrake, R., ibid., p. 17
  3. op. cit., pp. 14-15
  4. Mundy, A., quoted in interview with Hollinrake, R., op. cit., p. 24.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) '(At Rickett's Point, Beaumaris)' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
(At Rickett’s Point, Beaumaris)
Nd
Oil on canvas on composition board
35.5 x 45.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Rose and Grey' c. 1928-29

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Rose and Grey
c. 1928-29
Oil on pulpboard
27.5 x 37.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'After Sunset' c. 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
After Sunset
c. 1929
Oil on canvas on board
26 x 29cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening on the Yarra' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening on the Yarra
Nd
Oil on board
35 x 39.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening Calm' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening Calm
c. 1928
Oil on board
40.5 x 30.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Saturday' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Saturday
Nd
Oil on pulpboard
30.5 x 23.7cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Collins Street' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Collins Street
Nd
Oil on board
39.5 x 29.5cm

 

 

Time has been Clarice Beckett’s friend both in terms of her art and her reputation. Largely overlooked during her lifetime, her posthumous recognition as one of Australia’s leading modernists has now far surpassed her initial cool reception at the hands of critics. Beckett’s interest in the everyday features of modern life were long captured through the poetic and ephemeral half-light of dusk and dawn or the soft darkness of the evening light.

To great effect, Beckett employs a rose-gold ambient light in City Street, Melbourne c. 1925 to reveal the dual realities of her hometown where cars share the road with a horse-led delivery cart and a pedestrian in transit – not an uncommon sight, but perhaps also the artist’s subtle signifier of transition as Melbourne transforms itself into the metropolis we know it as today.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The Yarra, Sunset' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Yarra, Sunset
c. 1930
Oil on board
30.5 x 35.5cm

 

 

‘When we look back at the 20th century from a vantage point in the next, certain Australian artists stand out, not just for the aesthetic quality of their work, but also for their significant contribution to our understanding of what constitutes the Australian identity. Clarice Beckett is one such artist. Her works capture the essence of Australian city life, in particular that of Melbourne and more specifically that of the bayside suburbs, at a time between the World Wars when the advent of the modern age was signified by the motor car and the ubiquitous telegraph pole’.1

Although enjoying universal admiration and acclaim today, Clarice Beckett’s highly evocative works that celebrated modernity and the quiet beauty of suburbia were nevertheless challenging for her time. Not only was the momentous task of expressing Australian values in landscape painting a distinctly male prerogative, with flower pieces and indoor scenes the only subject matter deemed suitable for women artists. Moreover, the ridicule and critical denigration she frequently encountered in reviews of her paintings was the direct result of her association with her teacher, tonal realist painter Max Meldrum a ferociously argumentative man whose theory and teaching of art as a science based upon exact optical analysis upset conservative art circles and undermined the strict academic approach endorsed by the National Gallery School. Indeed, that Beckett never compromised her unique vision, continuing to paint ‘against all odds’ and that today her legacy endures despite near obscurity at the time of her death in 1935 and the vast destruction of her works subsequently poignantly highlights the compelling and inspirational nature of her achievements.

Recalling Whistler’s lyrical nocturnes, The Yarra, Sunset, c. 1930 offers one of the most exquisite elaborations of the artist’s signature motif the city enveloped in a rosy toned, transparent veil of luminosity evoking the last moments of twilight. Painted on the Richmond side of the Yarra River, from a position near the Chapel Street bridge, the composition features the railway bridge still present today (although altered in appearance) that carries busy suburban trains to and from the city, with the tall gothic spires of the city churches, Scots and the Independent, just perceptible in the palest silhouette of the background. Although conveying a very definite sense of time and place Melbourne of the 1930s paradoxically the work also bears an unmistakable sense of the universal, of silence within its stillness. Rich in lyricism and beauty, it encapsulates the artist’s preference for early evening subjects which, importantly, was not simply to enhance poetic effect. Rather, Beckett delighted in the technical challenge of capturing the essence of her subject within the fleeting moment of observing the transient, atmospheric effects of light to develop delicate tonal nuances that blurred the boundaries between reality and illusion. As the artist herself aptly elucidated in the catalogue accompanying the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne painters in 1924, her artistic aim was always ‘To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion’.

No author. Text from the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 13/03/2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Yacht at Sunset' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Yacht at Sunset
c. 1928
Oil on board
38 x 32cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The Old Model T Ford' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Old Model T Ford
Nd
Oil on board
43 x 52cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sunset Glow' 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sunset Glow
1928
Oil on pulpboard
24.5 x 34.5 cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Path to the Beach' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Path to the Beach
Nd
Oil on board
49 x 43.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Morning Ride' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Morning Ride
Nd
Oil on canvas on composition board
31 x 36cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Dusk' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Dusk
Nd
Oil on board
28 x 41cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening, St Kilda Road' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening, St Kilda Road
c. 1930
Oil on board
35.5 x 40.5cm

 

 

Times of transience and soft-focus realism unite in the art of Clarice Beckett, suited ideally to sunrises and sunsets, foggy days and heat haze. Evening, St Kilda Road, c. 1930 provides the perfect moment as Beckett cloaks the city scene in a diaphanous veil, highlighted by lights and anchored in the darker forms of cars and trams. Its aesthetic appeal is enormous. But there is twofold pleasure in the reminiscence of a scene well known to Melburnians from a time less crowded than today. The absence of narrative allows for the better presentation of beauty, like music, free from the demands of verisimilitude. As Beckett once said, ‘My pictures like music should speak for themselves.’1 The likeness was appreciated in her own time, as witness The Bulletin art critic, who said, when reviewing her solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Hall in 1930, ‘Her counterpoint is so simple in its elements that the intrusion of the slightest false accent would destroy the harmony.’2 Therein lies a happy paradox. The stillness which envelops her paintings, allies itself to silence, leitmotifs wherein comes so much of the magic of her art. In painting, as in music, there is harmony, rhythm, and colour. Painting gives you its pleasures in a moment, its realms of silence are unique. The seeming simplicity with which Beckett creates profoundly moving visual statements is disarming. While her subjects are the everyday, her creativity transforms the pedestrian into poetic vision.

While Beckett painted many scenes of Melbourne’s bayside beaches – Silver Morning (Near Beaumaris), c. 1931 or Sandringham Beach, c. 1933 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) – she found the city of Melbourne rich in subject matter, especially the River Yarra and its bridges. City street scenes include Collins Street, Evening, 1931 (National Gallery of Australia) and Taxi Rank, c. 1931. The latter, with its lights reflecting on wet roads, is so free and painterly that it might pass for a work of lyric abstraction. As in Evening, St Kilda Road, the illusion of depth is halted either by reflection or string of lights, with paint thin, and sky and ground similar in tone to maintain a flatness of the picture plane. Beckett seeks no illusion of reality, preferring the beauty of creativity and its inner harmonies. St Kilda Road and the suburb of St Kilda itself featured often as a sources of inspiration, as in St Kilda Road, Wet Night, and from her 1923 exhibition Sand Pump, Foreshore, St Kilda and Grey Morning, St Kilda. The mellifluous luminosity and handling of tone in Evening, St Kilda Road recalls the lyricism of Whistler in a nocturne, mellow of poesy, and dreamily romantic.

David Thomas on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 13/03/2021

  1. Beckett, quoted in R. Hollinrake, Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 1999, p. 19
  2. The Bulletin, Sydney, 29 October 1930, p. 33

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Warm Shallows' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Warm Shallows
c. 1930
Oil on card
21 x 25cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Summer Morning, Beaumaris' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Summer Morning, Beaumaris
Nd
Oil on pulpboard
22 x 31cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Moonrise Beaumaris, Sunset and Trees' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Moonrise Beaumaris, Sunset and Trees
Nd
Oil on pulpboard
17.5 x 19.5cm

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Wet Evening' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Wet Evening
c. 1927
25.7 x 30.4cm
Oil on cardboard
Castlemaine Art Museum, Maud Rowe Bequest, acq. 1937

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Boatshed, Beaumaris' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Boatshed, Beaumaris
c. 1928
Oil on cardboard
30.5 x 36.0cm
Castlemaine Art Museum, Maud Rowe Bequest, acq. 1937

 

 

Art Gallery of South Australia
North Terrace Adelaide
Public information: 08 8207 7000

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm (last admissions 4.30pm)

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

24
Feb
19

Review: ‘Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design’ at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2018 – 24th March 2019

Curators: Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver

 

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Reclining chair' 1953

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Reclining chair
1953
Steel, cotton cord, rubber
Private collection

 

 

I have always loved the ordered forms, the elegiac simplicity of Clement Meadmore’s designs. Therefore, I very much looked forward to seeing this exhibition. Unfortunately, the installation left me feeling a little alienated both towards the objects themselves but more importantly, the artist and designer.

Simply put, the installation of the works was too clinical and cold, the designs either raised on white boxes or enclosed in metal frames… or both. If their presentation was to engender the idea that this was “art” – the art of mid-century design – by placing them in a “white cube”, isolating them from their functional context (in modernist homes, cafés and restaurants), then I was not buying what the exhibition was selling. The metal frames reminded me of the frame that surrounds some of Francis Bacon’s painting series, Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1946-mid-1960s), making this viewer want to scream at the museum control evidenced here.

The use of black and white walls didn’t help. In a jazz age (Meadmore was the most ardent admirer of jazz music) of music, colour and movement, and when Meadmore painted one of the interiors of his café in bold primary colours, the use of such bland colours seemed puzzling. Both I and my esteemed friend Joyce Evans, who knew Meadmore in New York and often went to the jazz clubs with him there, felt that the exhibition failed to capture the spirit of the artist, his wonderful personality – or the spirit of the age. The closest that the exhibition comes to that spirit, that sense of joie de vivre after the privations of the Second World War, are not works by Meadmore at all, but paintings that appeared on the wall of the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar interior c. 1956 by Leonard French titled The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor (1956, below). Here is a cacophony of sound, colour and movement redolent of the era.

Other things rankle. The importance of his contribution to the changing nature of the Melbourne art scene, and the Australian art scene in general, cannot be underestimated. Joyce Evans said to me that, as director of Gallery A, Meadmore’s influence on the direction of contemporary art in Melbourne was incredible, his influence in this sphere much more important than any of the designs he ever made. Other than a brief paragraph of wall text (below), there is little investigation into this aspect of Meadmore’s career in Australia. This is not the thrust of this exhibition as shown by its title, but to ignore his curatorial influence on contemporary art in Melbourne is, I believe, a mistake.

Further, while his groundbreaking designs are now presented as “art” – the hypothesis for the exhibition – at the time Meadmore’s sculpture was his art, his passion; his furniture and lighting was his business. What he did to pay the bills. Two facts are pertinent here: the fact that Meadmore did move to New York in 1963 to achieve international prominence as a sculptor, and the fact that after he moved to America he never made another chair. It says a lot about where his passion really lay.

Looking beyond all of these comments, it was absolutely fantastic to see the ordered forms, the simple functionality and elegant design of Meadmore’s objects, with his use of basic, everyday materials such as steel rod and cord to make his now iconic designs. Two things stood out for me. The ingenious sculptural steel base that enables the Calyx lamps to rest in two positions; and the most beautiful and sophisticated design and construction of the structure under a coffee table. The exhibition is worth visiting just to see these two design elements alone. But the work that most captures the spirit of the man better than anything else in this exhibition, and not the “art” on a pedestal, is that of a small welded steel and brass sculpture called The Trumpeter from 1957 (below). This is the man, the artist, in all his effervescence and gregariousness. It’s a pity the exhibition didn’t capture this spirit.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Space should reveal itself to the wandering eye. Furniture should enhance a feeling of space by its non-obstructing presence.”

.
Clement Meadmore

 

 

GALLERY 1

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 1 of the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design is the first major survey to focus on the industrial design practice of one of Australia’s most internationally successful artists. Curated by Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver, the exhibition charts the evolution of Clement Meadmore’s design aesthetic in the 1950s and early 60s, before he shifted his focus to sculpture, and highlights the role Meadmore played alongside Australia’s most innovative and progressive designers of the mid-century period.

The exhibition sheds light on a time when mid-century tastemakers sought to shape post-war Melbourne into a thriving and cosmopolitan city that, through the intersection of art, design and architecture, embodied the ideals and principles of the modernist aesthetic. Meadmore’s first furniture design, a steel rod and corded dining chair created in 1951, became an instant hit, catching the attention of the highly influential modernist architect Robin Boyd and receiving the Good Design Award from the Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA). The chair would later form part of the iconic thirteen-piece series known as the Meadmore Originals.

For just over a decade, Meadmore produced a small range of innovative furniture and lighting designs, popular with architects, artists and designers of the period. The ground-breaking modern homes designed by architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Peter McIntyre were not complete without Meadmore furniture or lighting, often placed alongside pieces by Frances Burke, Grant Featherston, Fred Lowen and Douglas Snelling. Meadmore’s furniture and designs were regularly featured in journals such as Australian Home Beautiful and Architecture and Arts, and sold at Marion Hall Best’s showrooms in Sydney and Frances Burke’s New Design store in Melbourne.

In 1955, prior to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Meadmore was commissioned by Ion Nicolades to design the interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar and the Teahouse, both in Melbourne. Drawing upon international modernism and a new-found passion for Italian culture, the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar is arguably one of Meadmore’s greatest achievements and became a touchstone for many young creatives in 1950s Melbourne.

In the latter part of the 1950s, Meadmore’s attention increasingly shifted to his sculptural practice and the gallery scene, whilst maintaining his industrial design practice. He would also play a pivotal role in establishing and managing Max Hutchinson’s Gallery A. Known as the Little Bauhaus, the gallery championed non-figurative art and industrial design, with Meadmore responsible for designing the gallery’s line of contract furniture.

The result of 10 years research, Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design presents many pieces for the first time, alongside newly discovered Meadmore designs. The exhibition also presents a rare opportunity to see original furniture and lighting designed by Meadmore for the modernist interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar and the Teahouse. The iconic designs in this exhibition – including chairs, tables, light fixtures, and graphics – are enlivened by archival images and documents, alongside interviews with the artist’s family and colleagues connected to the Melbourne art, jazz and design scenes of the 1950s. Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design showcases Meadmore’s rich design practice and shines a light on the important cultural shifts that shaped mid-century Melbourne.

Text from the Ian Potter Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 10/02/2019

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Glass top coffee table' 1952

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Glass top coffee table
1952
Steel, glass, rubber
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Corded armchair' 1952

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Corded armchair
1952
Steel, cotton cord, hardwood, rubber
Private collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 1 of the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 2

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Three-legged plywood chair' 1955

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Three-legged plywood chair
1955
Painted steel, plywood, rubber
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

On the wall at rear is Erica McGilchrist (1926-2014) Frigidity from the series Moods 1954 and Clement Meadmore’s custom made frame. Pen and ink on paper; steel rod and hardwood (frame) Heide Museum of Modern Art, gift of Erica McGilchrist

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 2 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Calyx Lighting

The Calyx lighting range takes design cues from Meadmore’s interest in international modernism, and represents an important shift in his practice. A distinctive feature of the Calyx range is the ingenious sculptural steel base, that enables the lamp to rest in two positions.

Using low-cost materials, readily available from local suppliers, the lamps required no welding and were designed to be easily manufactured and assembled in the workshop. Aluminium shades were hand-painted in a range of matt enamel colours, then baked in a beehive kiln in the backyard of Meadmore’s Burwood Road shop. All components were cut to size by Meadmore for quick assembly: the shade was easily fixed to the metal bracket using two metal pins and tap washers, then with the addition of a length of electrical flex, the finished product was ready or sale. The Calyx range was featured at the Anderson’s Furniture stand (also designed by Meadmore) at the Homes Exhibition in 1954.

Wall text

 

Clement Meadmore Calyx lighting design detail

Clement Meadmore Calyx lighting design detail

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Calyx desk lamp' 1954

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Calyx desk lamp
1954
Steel, enamel paint on aluminium
Private collection

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005) 'Calyx pendant lamp' 1954

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Calyx pendant lamp
1954
Steel, enamel paint on aluminium, steel
Harris/Atkins Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 2 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

The work of Clement Meadmore (1929-2005), one of Australia’s most innovative and progressive designers from the mid-century period, will be on display at the Ian Potter Museum of Art from 20 November. This will be the first major survey of the influential industrial design work Meadmore undertook in Australia, before he moved to New York in 1963 and achieved international prominence as a sculptor.

The exhibition focuses on the crossover of art, design and architecture, featuring Meadmore’s iconic designs including chairs, tables and light fixtures. Rare archival images and documents, and interviews with the artist’s family and colleagues connected to the Melbourne art, jazz and design scenes of the 1950s will be on display alongside sculptures and structures.

Curated by Dean Keep and Jeromie Maver, the exhibition shines a light on Meadmore’s rich design practice and the important cultural shifts that shaped mid-century Melbourne. The display charts the evolution of the artist’s design aesthetic in the 1950s and early 1960s, cementing the role he played with the Australian design scene of this time.

Curator Dean Keep said, “The exhibition is an important retrospective showing a snapshot of time when mid-century tastemakers sought to turn Melbourne into a thriving and cosmopolitan city.”

It was in 1951 that Meadmore designed his first piece of furniture; a steel rod and corded dining chair which would form part of the iconic thirteen-piece series known as Meadmore Originals. This chair design became an instant hit, catching the attention of the highly influential modernist architect Robin Boyd.

For the next ten years, Meadmore produced a range of innovative furniture and lighting designs, popular with architects, artists and designers of the period. The ground-breaking modern homes designed by architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Peter McIntyre were not complete without Meadmore furniture.

In the mid-1950s, Meadmore was commissioned to design the interiors of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar in Melbourne, opening for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Before shifting towards sculpture in the late 1950s, Meadmore’s designs were regularly featured in popular lifestyle magazines and sold in designer department stores in Sydney and Melbourne.

Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design is on at Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne from 20 November 2018 to 3 March 2019.

This project has been assisted by a State Library Victoria Creative Fellowship.

Press release from the Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

GALLERY 3

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
Model for a six-hundered foot skyscraper
1978
Wood, gesso and paint
Collection of Rosalind Meadmore

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Michael Hirst

The three tables presented here pose interesting questions about the business and design arrangements between Clement Meadmore and Michael Hirst, and ambiguous boundaries between authorship and attribution in some of the Hirst manufactured furniture.

The two tiled occasional tables, traditionally attributed to Hirst, were both made by Clement Meadmore and were presented by he designer as gifts to the Dallwitz family in Adelaide. Meadmore considered the tables as prototypes for a new design, sharing with the Dallwitz family his process of making them: first, the glass tiles were laid out to form a pattern, then affixed to adhesive paper and turned upside down. A square structure could then be built around them to hold the wet plaster or cement until it had set hard.

The Dining Table (c. 1959) manufactured by Hirst, was originally owned by the Rippin family, friends of both Hirst and Meadmore. Ailsa Rippin maintained throughout her life that the table was designed by Meadmore, an assertion supported by the aesthetic and structural similarities it shares with a coffee table Meadmore designed for Violet Dulieu and with one of his earliest welded sculptures (c. 1954).

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 3 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 4

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

At left: Clement Meadmore. Door handle (from Thomas’ music store) c. 1959 welded steel Collection of Ken Neale
At right: Clement Meadmore. Untitled c. 1962 welded steel Private collection, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Clement Meadmore (Australian, 1929-2005)
The Trumpeter
1957
Welded steel, brass
Private collection, Canberra

 

Installation views of Gallery 4 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

GALLERY 5

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Photograph at rear is of the Teahouse interior c. 1958

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Artefacts relating to the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar including building application (1955), menu book and cups and saucers

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Photograph at rear is of the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar interior c. 1956, 239 Bourke Street, Melbourne Victoria, with Leonard French’s painting The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor
(1956, below) on the wall behind the counter. Courtesy of I. A. Nicolades and L. French. Credit: Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis. In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians; and chair for Legend Expresso and Milk Bar c. 1956, steel, brass, Collection of Mr John and Ms Dora Dallwitz

 

 

Café culture: the Legend and the Tea House

A time of great cultural shifts, the 1950s saw Melbourne evolve into a multi-cultural city enriched by the contributions of post-war migrants. The introduction of European café culture at this time had an enduring influence on the character of the city, as did the preparations for the 1956 Olympic Games, which prompted a major program of rebuilding and revitalisation, providing Clement Meadmore with the opportunity to create two of the most imaginative and original interiors in Melbourne.

Ion Nicolades was one of many business owners to remodel their premises in anticipation of the number of visitors soon to descend upon the city. Owner of the Anglo-American Café, a Melbourne institution which had operated on the same site since 1904, Nicolades approached Meadmore with the idea of transforming his business into a contemporary café, renamed the Legend Expresso and Milk Bar. Located in the heart of the city on Bourke Street, the space was divided by an internal wall, with the café to the left, and milk bar to the right – and ideal mix that would capitalise on its proximity to nearby offices and cinemas.

Noted on the plans as the ‘superintending architect’, Meadmore designed every aspect of the Legend, from structural elements through to interior design. From the stools, tables and steel rod chairs, through to the black metal pendant lights. Meadmore crafted an interior that embodied a playful mix of European modernism and contemporary styling. The refurbished Legend quickly became a hub for the young art and design crowd.

Nicolades soon commissioned Meadmore for a second project, the Tea House (also known as the T House). In contrast to the Italophile interiors of the Legend, this project blended British culture and Asian aesthetics with motifs from the botanical world. Meadmore’s subtle inclusion of visual metaphors can be seen in the shape of the chair backs, which reference tea leaves, and in the shape of his lighting: an allusion to the hats worn by plantation workers who picked the tea [see last installation photograph below]. Meadmore’s passion for geometry informed both the design and spatial arrangement of the interior and furnishings, creating a striking display of ordered forms. The rows of simple steel rod tables and chairs, enveloped by curtained walls that draw the eye deep into the room, demonstrate his ability to minimise visual weight and create a sense of light and space.

Wal text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Leonard French (Australian, 1928-2017)
The Legend of Sinbad the Sailor
1956
Duco and enamel on board
La Trobe University Art Collection
Donated under the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Ion Nicolades 1999

 

 

Gallery A

Gallery A was an art gallery in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane, established in 1959 by Max Hutchinson and Clement Meadmore, who took the role of gallery director. The inaugural exhibition included work b the Italian abstract expressionist Franco Meneguzzo (Italian, b. 1924), who Meadmore had met in Milan six years earlier, alongside a group of Australia abstract painters, such as Meadmore’s housemate Peter Upward (Australian, 1932-1983). In a climate of conservatism within the Australian art scene, Gallery A was unapologetically progressive, showcasing non-figurative and abstract art alongside design. An exhibition featuring the work of Ludwig Hirschfield-Mack (1893-1965, German 1893-1939, arrived Australia 1940) in 1961 helped earn Gallery A the title of ‘Little Bauhaus’. In keeping with the Bauhaus principle of bridging the gap between art and industry, Gallery A’s activities extended beyond the exhibition of art and design to the production of a range of furniture, designed by Meadmore and manufactured by Hutchison’s company Adroit Manufacturing. Described as ‘contract furniture’, these designs were intended for commercial projects and were advertised in the gallery’s brochures.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design' at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Gallery 5 the exhibition Clement Meadmore: The art of mid-century design at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Phone: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

12
Jul
16

Review: ‘Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st May – 24th July 2016

National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne.
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

An independent vision

 

Pictorialism, Surrealism and Modernism: Light, geometry and atmosphere

This is the quintessential hung “on the line” exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia which features the work of two well respected Australian photographers, Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, showing over three gallery spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Of its type, it is a superb exhibition which rewards repeated viewing and contemplation of the many superb photographs it contains.

While Dupain may be the more illustrious of the two featured artists – notable for taking the most famous photograph in Australian photographic history (Sunbaker, 1937, below); for being the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism; and for bringing a distinctly Australian style to photography (sun, sea, sand) – it is the artist Olive Cotton’s work that steals almost every facet of this exhibition through her atmospheric images.

Dupain’s importance in the history of Australian photography cannot be underestimated. He dragged Australian photography from Pictorialism to Modernism in a few short years and met fierce resistance from the conservative camera clubs, stuck in the age of Pictorialism, because of it. He was the first to understand what Modernism meant for the medium in Australia, and how photographers would in future picture the country. He wanted to see the world through ‘modern’ eyes. As he observed, ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’ Dupain’s awareness of the ‘zeitgeist’ of modernity was coupled with a keen eye for composition, light and form (what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’), and an understanding of photography’s expressive potential. Over the next 50 years he captured many memorable images, some of the most famous images ever taken of this sun burnt country.

Dupain started to hit his straps with his early cross-over images which contained elements of both Pictorialism and Modernism. His 1930s series of three photographs of Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (one of which is feature in the exhibition), and images such as Design – suburbia (1933, below) and Still life (1935, below) still possess that soft, raking light that was so beloved by Pictorialists, coupled with an implicit understanding of form, geometry and light. As fellow photographer David Moore observes, by the time of photographs such as Pyrmont silos (1935, below) and Through the Windscreen (1935), ‘any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’. That sense of the European avant-garde, the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, the strength of industrial forms, imbues Dupain’s photographs with a crisp, clean decisiveness, that ‘symphony of forms and textures’. Whether it be the monumentalism of silos, or the monumentalism of bodies (such as in the classic Bondi, 1939), Dupain relished the opportunity to merge aesthetics with representation, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible within the medium, believing that both representation and aesthetics could exist within the same frame. Evidence of this merging of can be seen in photographs such as Untitled [Factory chimney stacks] (1940, below) and Backyard, Forster, New South Wales (1940, below). These images are silent in their formalism… they are very quiet, and still, and rather haunting, beautiful in their tonality (with lots of yellow in the 8 x 10 and perhaps even small prints).

Dupain and Cotton both revel “in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present,” and evidence “a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.” But as the press release insightfully observes, “Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.” And this is where the photographs of Olive Cotton are so much more engaging, and alive, than those of Max Dupain.

While Dupain was busy running a commercial studio (with Cotton his assistant and for a couple of years his wife), Olive seems to have had more freedom to experiment, to express herself in a less structured way than her erstwhile husband. Walking around this exhibition my initial thoughts were wow, Olive Cotton, you are an absolute star. Photographs such as The way through the trees (1938, below), while not possessing the technical brilliance of a Dupain, possess something inherently more appealing – a sensitivity and feeling for subject that nearly overwhelms the senses. Truly here is a symphony of texture, light and form. The composition is a subtle paean, a song of praise to the natural and modern world – a world of geometry, textures, light and form. The rendition of this image, a performance of interpretation, is simply magnificent in its sensitivity to subject matter. The print is also glorious in its delicacy and colour. For me, this is what is so appealing about the work of Olive Cotton, an innate sensitivity that all of her photographs seem to possess – in composition, in proportion, in printing and in colour. Cotton maintained an independent vision forged out of experimentation, creating spaces for erotic imaginings, spaces for action and spaces for quiet contemplation. Her use of light and shade, of body and shadow, of classical and modernist motifs … is superlative. While Dupain’s photographs are more structured and more dazzling in a technical sense, Cotton’s photographs possess more “atmosphere”, a complex and insightful way of seeing and imaging the world which has few equals in the annals of Australian photography.

Below is a short transcription of a voice memo I made on my phone as I toured around the exhibition for the third time:

“What a great show this is, the photographs of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. But it is the photographs of Olive Cotton that are the wonder of this exhibition. Photographs such as Orchestration in light (1937, below), Sky submerged (c. 1937) and especially The way through the trees (1938, below) are just masterpieces of complex seeing. A sort of… mmmm … an intimate previsualisation where there are hints of Pictorialism – dappled light, moss on the trees – and yet there is a geometric form to the composition that marks it as definitively Modernist. As the wall text states, “this exceptional landscape appears at first glance like a classic Pictorialist view of the Australian bush but typical of Cotton’s best pictures, this landscape merges Pictorialism’s stylistic and formal codes with those of a cosmopolitan modernist sensibility. Cotton pays particular attention to the similarly angled tree trunks, as well as the all over pattern of the spotted gums and the dapples of light, not bound or hemmed in dogma, Cotton created a view of being completely immersed in the landscape.” The colour of the print, there are hints of pinks and greens and beiges. When was it taken and printed, it must have been an early one, 1938 … and then again the beautiful tonality of it. Wow!

As with all of her best work Cotton is constructing her environment – through music, through geometry, through light. Over the city (1940, below), the light over the city, the shadow of the city, the silhouette of the city in outline, followed by Grass at sundown (1939, below) shooting contre jour, into the light. In Max after surfing (1937, below) there is evidence of Cotton’s understanding of the play of form, of light, of shadow and the composition of the pictorial plane into triangles, horizontals and verticals. This creates a sense of mystery within the four walls of the photograph. As art historian Tim Bonyhady observes, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. The sensuality and atmosphere of the Cotton’s are just gorgeous. Olive Cotton just has such a marvellous grasp of the construction of the picture plane using form, texture and shadow… and feeling. If had a choice I would take away most of the Cotton’s (laughs), because I think they are just amazing…”

There are so many great images in this exhibition, from both Cotton and Dupain, that is hard to know where to start. I haven’t even mentioned images such as Dupain’s sensual but commercial Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935, below), his seminal Street at Central (1939, below) with its raking light and abstraction, or Cotton’s most famous image Teacup ballet (1935, below). I could go on and on. The only disappointment with the exhibition is that, for the uninitiated, there is little to place both photographers works in the context of their time and place, other than a few The Home magazines in a couple of display cases and the wall text. There is little sense of what a tumultuous period this was in Australian history – between two world wars, during a depression, with the advent of modernity, freedom of movement through cars, White Australia policy in full swing, meat and four veg on the table, women’s place in the home, the rise of vitalism and the cult of the bronzed Aussie body and the worship of nature and the outdoors, mateship and the beach as a place of socialisation. But that is the nature of such a classic, hung “on the line” exhibition. It would have been great to see some large photographs, floor to ceiling, of the environment from which all these nearly contextless (as in a particular time and place) images emerged but this is a minor quibble. In the end, I restate that this is a stunning exhibition that is a must see for any aficionado of great Australian photography. Go see it before it closes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,685

.
Many thankx to The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation images © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art.

 

 

“I like few people … to go into a room of strangers is a chore for me … I can effect a relationship, but afterwards, I think: was it worth it?”

.
Max Dupain

 

“Looking at the work of these two great Australian photographers together is enlightening; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Rarely do we get to see two great Australian artists working side-by-side in this way. And while Max Dupain’s reputation might now stand well above most other Australian photographers, this exhibition shows that Olive Cotton had a significant role to play in his development as a photographer, and was in many ways his equal.”

.
Shaune Lakin

 

 

Gallery one

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

installation-g

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. At left in the bottom image, Max Dupain’s Bawley Point landscape (1938) and at middle, Dupain’s Untitled [Factory chimney stacks], 1940.
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. In the bottom image, Max Dupain’s famous Sunbaker (1937) is second from the right.
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. In the bottom image, Olive Cotton’s most famous image, Teacup ballet (1935) is at left.
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Max Dupain’s Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935) at right.
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Gallery two

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne.
In the bottom image, a cabinet with view of The Home magazine (April 1st 1933 right) which feature the photographs of Max Dupain.
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Gallery three

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Street at Central (1939) left, followed by his Thin man (1936) and Olive Cotton’s Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model) (1937) at right
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Photos: © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) and Max Dupain OBE (1911-1992) were pioneering modernist photographers. Cotton’s lifelong obsession with photography began at age eleven with the gift of a Kodak Box Brownie. She was a childhood friend of Dupain’s and in 1934 she joined his fledgling photographic studio, where she made her best-known work, Teacup Ballet, in about 1935. Throughout the 1930s, Dupain established his reputation with portraiture and advertising work and gained exposure in the lifestyle magazine The Home. Between 1939 and 1941, Dupain and Cotton were married and she photographed him often; her Max After Surfing is frequently cited as one of the most sensuous Australian portrait photographs. While Dupain was on service during World War II Cotton ran his studio, one of very few professional women photographers in Australia. Cotton remarried in 1944 and moved to her husband’s property near Cowra, New South Wales. Although busy with a farm, a family, and a teaching position at the local high school, Cotton continued to take photographs and opened a studio in Cowra in 1964. In the 1950s, Dupain turned increasingly to architectural photography, collaborating with architects and recording projects such as the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Dupain continued to operate his studio on Sydney’s Lower North Shore until he died at the age of 81. Cotton was in her seventies when her work again became the subject of attention. In 1983, she was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to reprint negatives that she had taken over a period of forty years or more. The resulting retrospective exhibition in Sydney in 1985 drew critical acclaim and has since assured her reputation.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, ‘O summer sun’:

O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p 96

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Max
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
14.8 x 14.5cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1998

 

 

In this highly abstracted portrait, Cotton seems to present Dupain as an athlete – perhaps, with his strangely extended arms, a hammer thrower, in an image that predates by at least two years Dupain’s own photographs of athletes outdoors. It is likely that Cotton photographed her friend in this way because of the graphic pictorial effect she wished to achieve. Cotton exploits the shape of the Rolleiflex camera’s square-format film: Dupain’s body cuts across the right-hand corner of the picture, from which his overstretched forearms (the shape and tone of which were the result of much dodging and burning in the darkroom) create a diagonal oblique angle that is classically modernist. A similar conflation of diagonal lines, which was common to the ways that modern life in Australia at the time was represented in advertising and architectural photography, can also be seen in pictures such as Surf’s edge and Teacup ballet.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain put his lack of clannishness down to a temperament which inclined to the stoic and an early life as an only child. He relished the solitude of his darkroom, familiar places and routines and the early morning calm of Sydney Harbour, where he rowed his scull until prevented by ill health in the early 1990s. He was not a joiner or follower of teams; he was republican in politics and agnostic. Philosophically, Dupain mixed rationalism and a less defined alliance with the passionate exhortation to live directly in one’s environment, body and heart. This philosophy was espoused by poets and writers such as D.H Lawrence, from the movement known in the 1920s and 1930s as Vitalism.

Although he acknowledged that he was a bit of a loner by temperament, portraiture was a significant part of Max Dupain’s personal and professional work. He included some dozen or so portraits in his selection for his 1948 monograph, fifty plates showing ‘my best work since 1935’. Dupain’s images, including many portraits especially of the 1930s to 1960s, have stamped the public image of this era of rapid progress and increasing cultural sophistication in Australia. Portraiture was at the top stratum of Dupain’s first three decades of work but volume decreased markedly from the 1960s, when Max Dupain and Associates, his business, began to specialise in architectural and industrial commissions.

‘Vintage Max’ by Gael Newton, 1 June 2003

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Sunbaker
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
37.7 x 43.2cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The photographer's shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
The photographer’s shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
16.6 x 15.2cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The sleeper' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
The sleeper
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
29.2 x 25.0cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]' Nd (probably late 1930s)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]
Nd (probably late 1930s)
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Max
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton shot this portrait of fellow Australian photographer, Max Dupain during their brief marriage at their home in Longueville on Sydney’s lower north shore. Dupain is captured affectionately in the portrait, represented as at once casual through pose and, as industrious on account of his rolled up sleeves and the Rolleiflex TLR camera which hangs from his neck. It is indicative of the combination of a working and personal relationship Cotton and Dupain shared during the late 1930s when they operated a commercial studio together. The couple separated in 1941 but Cotton went on to manage the Dupain Studio while Max was away serving as a camouflage officer during the Second World War 1.

1. Ennis H 2005, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, p. 6

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max after surfing' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Max after surfing
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This intimate study of Dupain, who Cotton was romantically involved with at the time, first appeared in the mid-1990s; Cotton did not include it in her reassessment of her oeuvre in the mid-1980s that involved making prints of her best images. For many commentators, this remains a radical image in the history of Australian photography. For the art historian Tim Bonyhady, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. This is the only known vintage print of the image, which inexplicably carries the signature and a message from the fashion photographer George Hoyningen‑Huene, who visited Sydney in December 1937 and spent time with Dupain. It suggests perhaps that Hoyningen-Huene was present when Cotton made the print.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max after surfing is a portrait of Dupain taken in 1939, around the time of their brief marriage. While the photograph was taken indoors, the sharply delineated contrast and the dramatic interplay between light and shade evoke harsh sunlight. The work is loaded with suggestion and emotional intimacy. As art historian and curator Helen Ennis noted in 2000, the close vantage point and the tension between visible form and dense shadow ‘creates a space for erotic imaginings’.

A photographer whose work straddles Pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Jean with wire mesh' c. 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Jean with wire mesh
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
46.0 x 34.5cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This portrait of Jean Lorraine, a close friend of Cotton, was one of many taken of her by Cotton and Dupain. This photograph is notable for its technical virtuosity – Dupain’s control of the variegated light across Jean’s body, beautifully lyrical and sensuous, is masterful. It also reflects Dupain’s active interest in the work of Man Ray, whose earlier Shadow patterns on Lee Miller’s torso (1930) was no doubt an influence. Like Man Ray’s image of his lover, Dupain’s portrait of Jean is also notable for its eroticism. While Dupain might have argued that this photograph was a study of light falling on surfaces, the light and shade take particular pleasure in the form of Jean’s naked torso. This eroticism has been underplayed throughout the history of the picture, not surprising given the nature of the relationships involved: when it was published in The Home in February 1936, Jean with wire mesh was known simply as a Photographic study. Dupain printed at least two versions of this shot, another with Jean’s eyes open.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Girl with mirror' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Girl with mirror
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 31.7 x 29.9cm
Sheet 32.6 x 30.6cm
Purchased 1987

 

 

The photographs Cotton took while attending Dupain’s fashion shoots often focussed on the graphic effects created by light rather than fashion or the dynamics of the shoot itself. Cotton’s role as assistant left her free to explore personal interests, without the imperative of getting a shot for the assignment. This image of a model attending to her make-up, seemingly absorbed in her own image, is primarily concerned with the patterns created by light falling on sand dunes and the way they contrast with the decorative print of her clothing. It is notable that the image we see in the mirror is not the model’s face, but the patterns created by light hitting the sand. As Cotton later remembered, ‘I took it mostly because I really liked the pattern in the sand and the contrasting pattern in the left-hand corner’, which includes a series of diagonal shadows cast by Dupain’s tripod.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'The floater' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
The floater
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1976

 

 

Two versions of this image of a woman floating in water were printed by Dupain, so like Sunbaker it held particular interest for him. It acknowledges one of the great moments in avant-garde photography, André Kertész’s iconic study of underwater distortion Underwater swimmer (1917). As with Kertész, Dupain’s interest was with the visual effects created by light hitting the water and the impact of this on the contours of the swimmer. In his personal copy of the anthology Modern Photography (1931), Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’

Wall text

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)
1937
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 30.4 x 38.5cm
Sheet 40.2 x 48.7cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1988

 

 

As the studio assistant, Cotton accompanied Dupain on fashion shoots to attend to models, doing their make-up and helping with costume changes. She often used these opportunities to take her own photographs, including this wonderful image of Dupain photographing the model Noreen Hallard for David Jones. As well as producing a striking image of Dupain and Hallard at work, Cotton was interested in the landscape in which they operated, paying particular attention to the pattern created by their footsteps in the sand.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain are key figures in Australian visual culture. They shared a long and close personal and professional relationship. This exhibition looks at their work made between 1934 and 1945, the period of their professional association; this was an exciting period of experimentation and growth in Australian photography, and Cotton and Dupain were at the centre of these developments.

This is the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives, studio and professional practice. Looking at their work together is instructive; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.

This exhibition focuses on the key period in each of their careers, when they made many of their most memorable images. Keenly aware of international developments in photography, Cotton and Dupain experimented with the forms and strategies of modernist photography, especially Surrealism and the Bauhaus, and drew upon the sophisticated lighting and compositions of contemporary advertising and Hollywood glamour photography.

They brought to these influences their own, close association with the rich context of Australian life and culture during the 1930s and ’40s. Their achievement can be characterised, borrowing terms they used in discussions of their work, as the development of a ‘contemporary Australian photography’: a modern photographic practice that reflected their own, very particular relationships to the world and to each other.

 

Lives

Cotton and Dupain’s friendship stretched back to childhood summers spent at Newport Beach, NSW, where their families spent summer holidays. They were both given their first cameras – Kodak Box Brownies – by relatives as young teenagers, and spent days together wandering around taking photographs. They shared a similar commitment to photography as teenagers and young adults: both made and published or exhibited photographs while at school, and in 1929 they became members of the Photographic Society of New South Wales. But their approach to achieving the ‘professional life’ of a photographer took different paths: Dupain undertook a formal apprenticeship with the Pictorialist master Cecil Bostock between 1930-33, while Cotton studied arts at Sydney University with the idea of becoming a teacher and photographed after hours.

Cotton and Dupain became romantically involved in 1928 and married in 1939; they separated in 1941 and eventually divorced in 1944. In spite of these personal vicissitudes, Cotton and Dupain remained professionally connected. Cotton managed the Dupain studio from late 1941-45, while he worked with the Department of Home Security’s Camouflage Unit during the Second World War. On his return, Cotton left Sydney and spent the rest of her life in relative isolation near Cowra, NSW, where she raised her family of two with husband Ross McInerney and, between 1964 and 1983, operated a small studio. And while Dupain returned from the war to develop his reputation and significance as Australia’s most recognised twentieth-century photographer, his work was deeply affected by his experience of the war and took on a completely different complexion to his work from the previous decade.

 

Studio

In 1934, Dupain opened a studio in a rented room at 24 Bond Street, Sydney; Cotton joined him as his assistant soon after. By 1936, the Dupain studio’s business had expanded to the extent that it moved into larger premises in the same building, before relocating in early 1941 to a whole floor of a building at 49 Clarence Street.

Their positions at the Dupain studio were clearly defined – he was the photographer, she the studio assistant. Even so, Cotton and Dupain each maintained distinct but in some ways closely aligned practices, both in and out of the studio. Cotton did not tend to take photographs commercially until after she took over the management of the Dupain studio in late 1941, when photographs were circulated in her name. Before then, she made use of the studio’s equipment afterhours, including Dupain’s large Thornton Pickard camera; her work was exhibited and published on occasion, both locally and internationally.

At the same time, Dupain’s photographs became increasingly widely-seen and influential. Sydney Ure Smith’s iconic monthly magazine The Home regularly published Dupain’s portraits, documentary work, social photographs (often actually taken by Cotton), and fashion and product photographs made for clients such as David Jones. When Dupain went to war, the studio continued to operate successfully under Cotton’s management. While some long-standing clients such as David Jones took their business elsewhere, Cotton took some of her most important pictures in the early 1940s, and her increasing confidence at this time can be identified across images of the city, industry and labour.

 

Dialogue

Cotton and Dupain were active members of Sydney’s network of young artists and photographers, of which the Dupain studio was a centre. Along with their contemporaries, including figures like Geoffrey Powell, Damien Parer and Lawrence Le Guay, they staked a claim for photography as a vital part of contemporary culture, exhibiting photographs alongside other artworks at venues like Sydney’s David Jones Gallery.

Their networks included members of Sydney’s progressive architectural, design, publishing and advertising communities, with whom they often collaborated. The threads of influence within this complex network of making, exhibiting, publishing and commissions were intricate. It is possible, for example, to see Dupain’s strong visual style affect those around him. His interest in surrealist style, which really took hold in 1935, can be identified in work by other, often lesser photographers working at the time, and indeed in the design of The Home, which published his work in editorial and advertisements. There were also times when Cotton indicated certain directions for Dupain. For example, her images of bodies outdoors, which cleverly pulled together classical and modernist motifs, predate similar images by Dupain.

It is clear also that Cotton and Dupain were engaging in dialogue within their own work. Their shared interest in photographing form, texture and shadow is seen across many pictures throughout the mid- to late 1930s. Their pictures also engage critically with photography as a medium, in images that draw attention to the photograph as a double of its subject, and in pictures that seem to play with photograph’s stillness. As Dupain later remembered, together they ‘shared the problems of photography’.

 

Contemporary Australian Photography

What were ‘the problems of photography’ that Dupain and Cotton sought to settle? In the most straightforward sense, they involved the assumption that Australian photographers were yet to completely embrace or realise the medium’s potential, which rested in careful attention to its aesthetic possibilities, recognition of its mechanical origins, and negotiation of the particular way the medium engaged notions of objectivity and subjectivity. Their solution to these problems involved a progressive photographic practice that intended to release photography from the shackles of history and orthodoxy, and to revel in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present.

Cotton’s and Dupain’s solution to ‘the problems of photography’ was to make work that made a feature of the medium’s modernity, and the strange way that mechanics, physics and aesthetics come together in modern photography to look at the world and to find beauty in it. They did this in a way that remained firmly footed in their own, very particular place in the world and history. In terms of style, their solution integrated legacies of Pictorialism – especially its interest in the atmospheric effects found in landscape – with a range of other, often competing modes and styles: a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.

It is possible that, for the first time, Australian photography found in the work of Cotton and Dupain a contemporary expression: a photographic practice that emerged from, responded to and expressed the mood, ambitions and sensibility of its time.

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Two different versions of this photograph. Notice the different cropping and colour of each image, and how it adds emphasis to the light and to the shadows of the people.

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Teacup ballet
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
37.5 x 29.5cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

‘This picture evolved after I had bought some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths for our studio coffee breaks to replace our rather worn old mugs. The angular handles reminded me of arms akimbo, and that led to the idea of making a photograph to express a dance theme.

When the day’s work was over I tried several arrangements of the cups and saucers to convey this idea, without success, until I used a spotlight and realised how important the shadows were. Using the studio camera, which had a 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch ground glass focusing screen, I moved the cups about until they and their shadows made a ballet-like composition and then photographed them on a cut film negative. The title of the photograph suggested itself.

This was my first photograph to be shown overseas, being exhibited, to my delight, in the London Salon of Photography in 1935.’ Olive Cotton 1995 1

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were childhood friends and, although she graduated in English and mathematics from the University of Sydney in 1934, her interest in photography led her to work in Dupain’s studio from this year. Cotton was employed as a photographer’s assistant in the studio, however she worked assiduously on her own work and continued to exhibit in photography salon exhibitions. Tea cup ballet is one of Cotton’s most well-known photographs and yet it is somewhat eccentric to her main practice, being at first glance typically modernist with its dramatic lighting and angular shapes. Her longstanding interest in organic forms provides a deeper reading. The abstraction of form by the lighting and the placement of the cups and saucers enables the relationship to dancers on a stage to become clear.

1. Ennis H 1995, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. 25

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Shasta daisies' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Shasta daisies
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

 

Celebrated Australian photographer Olive Cotton was given her first Box Brownie by her family for her eleventh birthday (1922) and continued to experiment with taking and developing pictures throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s Cotton had mastered the Pictorialist style so popular at the time and was on her way to establishing her own approach which also incorporated Modernist principles. The recurrent themes of landscape and plant-life are important to the photographer’s approach, which photography scholar Helen Ennis describes as Cotton’s concern for the ‘potential for pattern-making’.

Shasta daisies is an interesting and rare combination of natural form and a highly-constructed scenario, the flowers having been photographed in Cotton’s studio and carefully arranged for the camera. Cotton, in the 1995 book, wrote of the photograph: “I chose to photograph these in the studio because out of doors I would have had less control of the lighting and background. I examined the composition very carefully through the studio camera’s large ground glass focussing screen and – the view from the camera’s position being slightly different to my own – made as many rearrangements to the flowers as seemed necessary. I then used (apart from a background light) one source of light to try and convey a feeling of outdoors.” Shasta daisies is important within Cotton’s oeuvre for uniting her interest in plants in their natural ‘outdoors’ environment with her enquiry into photographic form and space.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Homage to D.H. Lawrence' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Homage to D.H. Lawrence
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
45.8 x 33.9cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Dupain admired vitalist philosophies, which argued that modern identity had become fragmented and asserted the importance of the integration of body and emotion, of sensual and emotional experience. He was attracted to the work of British writer D.H. Lawrence, especially his insistence on the ‘thingness’ of things as a way of embodying a properly integrated mind and body. This photograph uses surrealist juxtaposition to draw together a copy of Lawrence’s Selected poems, a flywheel (representing the modern world) and a classical bust, recalling the idealised relationship of natural and sensual worlds in ancient Greece and Rome. Other images incorporating classical busts appeared in the pages of the Modern Photography annuals, but Dupain makes them his own, lifted above mere pastiche.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Orchestration in light' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Orchestration in light
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 24.1 x 27.4cm
Sheet 25.4 x 28.2cm
Purchased with assistance from the Helen Ennis Fund
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton took this landscape early one morning at Wullumbi Gorge in the New England tablelands, during a camping trip with Dupain. It is remarkable for both the way the light transforms the landscape into quivering energy and the way Cotton makes sense of that enigmatic experience in pictorial form. As its title suggests, the photograph recalled for Cotton – who trained as a musician as a girl – a musical composition, particularly ‘the beautiful graduation in tone going from a bass tone to a high treble at the top of the picture’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The patterned road' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
The patterned road
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
24.6 x 28.8cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Bawley Point landscape' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Bawley Point landscape
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29 x 26.6cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This landscape, one of many taken by Dupain on the south coast of New South Wales, was made in the same year as Cotton’s similar study of shadow and landscape, The patterned road (above). These two landscapes share an interest in what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’. Although Dupain rarely published or circulated his landscapes at this time, pictures such as Bawley Point landscape certainly relate to a broad range of other images, perhaps most notably still lifes and nudes, that articulated an Australian modernist photography through the interplay of light passing through openings. These images find monumental stillness in movement and strong shadows, which quite literally ‘double’ their subject.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Over the city' 1940

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Over the city
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
32.2 x 30.3cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Grass at sundown' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
Grass at sundown
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Primary Insc: Signed and dated l.l. pencil, “Olive Cotton ’39”. Titled l.r. pencil, “Grass at sundown”.
Printed image 28.9 x 30.8cm
Sheet 30.0 x 31.6cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Design - suburbia' 1933

 

Max Dupain (Australia, 1911-1992)
Design – suburbia
1933
Gelatin silver photograph
29.4 x 23.6cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This early image proudly displays the influence of the work of pictorialist photographers that Dupain knew well, most notably the Sydney-based photographer, Harold Cazneaux. At the time Dupain made this image, he was serving an apprenticeship in the commercial studio of Cecil Bostock, a Pictorialist and founding member with Cazneaux of the Sydney Camera Circle in 1916. Dupain’s interest in the pictorial effects created by light passing through apertures (here, the posts and beams of a suburban fence) seems to remember similar images of light streaming through blinds and pergolas by Cazneaux, who Dupain called ‘the father of modern Australian photography’. The fascination with capturing light as it passes through openings will stay with Dupain throughout his life, though the focus will sharpen as he moves away from the diffused effects favoured by art photographers in the early decades of the century.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Still life' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia, 1911-1992)
Still life
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 20.8cm
Purchased 1982

 

 

While the subject of this photograph seems to be a simple, lidded pail (which featured in a number of Dupain’s still lifes) seen in morning light, it is actually an exercise in abstraction. Of most interest to Dupain is the complex network of diagonal lines created by light, shadow and timber boards. The picture reflects the pleasure Dupain took in the pictorial effects created by light (he was fond of quoting the Belgian photographer Léonard Misonne’s dictum, ‘the subject is nothing, light is everything’), and at the same time expresses the fundamental principle upon which his photographic practice was always based. While the image of light passing through apertures is an analogy for the way the camera operates, the still life also embodies photography’s expressive potential. As Dupain later stated, ‘with still-life you can arrange or rearrange or do what you like, it becomes a very, very personal exercise that you have total control over’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Pyrmont silos
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 25.2 x 19.2cm
Sheet 31.2 x 26.2cm
Mount 42.4 x 32.0
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Max Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism, and took a number of photographs of Pyrmont silos in the 1930s. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power. Olive Cotton’s Drainpipes 1937 shows the precisely formed circles and curves of the pipes, interspersed with slivers of light and long shadows.

In almost text-book fashion, this image reflects Dupain’s assimilation of the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, which he encountered in publications such as the Das Deutsche Lichtbild [The German photograph] and Modern Photography annuals, the 1932 edition of which was edited by Man Ray. While Dupain’s relationship to the contemporary world was complicated, he nonetheless advocated for the latest photographic trends out of Europe and America, and for photographing modern, industrial subjects; as he asserted in 1938, ‘great art has always been contemporary in spirit’. Writing in 1975 about this image for Dupain’s retrospective at the Australian Centre for Photography, fellow photographer David Moore, who had worked with Dupain in the late 1940s, saw it as a turning point in Dupain’s career, believing that here ‘his awareness of the strength of industrial forms was confirmed with confident authority … From this moment any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M 1938, “Letter to the editor,” in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 x 30.5cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

This highly formal view of the backyard of a hotel in the coastal town of Forster embodies Dupain’s sense of Australian modernist photography. The picture’s frontalism and overriding use of horizontals and verticals acknowledge that the camera faced its subject face-to-face and that the view has been consciously framed. But as the title of the photograph makes clear, it is also a record of a particular place. In his personal copy of G.H. Saxon Mills’ essay ‘Modern photography’, which greatly assisted Dupain to conceptualise his own sense of a contemporary photographic practice, Dupain highlighted and annotated with a question mark the following statement: ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Dupain believed that both were possible within the same frame.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) '(Factory chimney stacks)' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
[Factory chimney stacks]
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
49.0 x 38.4cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’

These factory chimney stacks are reduced to their most simple and direct form, which is shown free of any distraction. As Dupain noted, borrowing from the great American architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the ‘mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject’. The choice of subject matter was influenced by an essay by the English journalist, G.H. Saxon Mills, written in 1931 and read by Dupain soon after: ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The way through the trees' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
The way through the trees
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.6 x 29.0cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'An old country homestead, Western Australia' 1946

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
An old country homestead, Western Australia
1946
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Phone: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

21
Feb
16

Review: ‘On the beach’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 11th December 2015 – 28th February 2016

Curator: Wendy Garden

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

This is another solid thematic group exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery (curator Wendy Garden), following on from their recent success, Storm in a teacup.

The exhibition is not as successful as Storm in a teacup, mainly because most of the works are based on the monolithic, monosyllabic representation of beach culture, and its figuration, during the early decades of the twentieth century (White Australia policy, Australian stereotypes of the interwar period) and the re-staging of these ideas in the contemporary art presented through a diachronic (through/time), performative discourse.

There is so much re-staging in this exhibition I was left to wonder whether there was any original art work being produced that does not quote sources of history, memory, identity, representation and art from past generations. Daniel Boyd re-stages Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay with said hero as a pirate. Stephen Bowers replicates the Minton willow pattern motif and early paintings of kangaroos. Leanne Tobin re-stages Bungaree’s disrobing on the beach during his journey with Matthew Flinders. Diane Jones re-stages Max Dupain’s Sunbaker replacing the anonymous prostrate man with her head looking into the camera, or Dupain’s Form at Bondi with her head turned towards the camera. Worst offender is Anne Zahalka who re-states Dupain’s Sunbaker (again!) as a red-headed white women on the beach; or re-presents Charles Meere’s Australian beach pattern (1940, below) not once but twice – the first time in The bathers (1989) broadening the racial background of people to depict multicultural Australia in the 1980s, the second time in The new bathers (2013) broadening the mix even further. Most successful of these re-stagings is Michael Cook’s series of photographs Undiscovered in which the artist subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement, that of terra nullius, by depicting Captain Cook as black and positioning him in high-key, grey photographs of impressive beauty and power, surveying the land he has ‘discovered’ while perched upon an invisibly balanced ladder.

But with all of the works that quote from the past there is a sense that, even as the artists are critiquing the culture, they are also buying into the system of patriarchy, racism and control that they seek to comment on. They do not subvert the situation, merely (and locally) extrapolate from it. The idealised, iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture in the paintings from the 1920-30s and the photographs from the 1940s-70s – specimens of perfect physical beauty – are simply shifted to a new demographic – that of iconic, individual figures in the same poses as the 1940s but of a different ethnicity. The colour of the figure and the clothing might have changed, but the underlying structure remains the same. And if you disturb one of the foundation elements, such as the base figure in one of George Caddy’s balancing beachobatics photographs, the whole rotten edifice of a racism free, multicultural Australia will come tumbling down, just as it did during the Cronulla Riot.

What I would have liked to have seen in this exhibition was a greater breadth of subject matter. Where are the homeless people living near the beach, the sex (for example, as portrayed in Tracey Moffat’s voyeuristic home video Heaven which shows footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits in car parks – “shot by Moffatt and a number of other women as if they were making a birdwatching documentary” – which challenges the masculinity of Australian surf culture and the ability of women to stare at men, instead of the other way around), death (drownings on beaches, the heartbreak of loss), and debauchery (the fluxus of Schoolies, that Neo-Dada performance of noise and movement), the abstract nature of Pictorialist photographs of the beach, not to mention erosion and environmental loss due to global warming. The works presented seem to have a too narrowly defined conceptual base, and a present narrative constructed on a coterie of earlier works representing what it is to be Australian at the beach. The contemporary narrative does not address the fluidity of the landscape in present time (in works such as Narelle Autio’s series Watercolours or The place in between).

The dark underside of the beach, its abstract fluidity, its constant movement is least well represented in this exhibition. Although I felt engaged as a viewer the constant re-quoting and rehashing of familiar forms left me a little bored. I wanted more inventiveness, more insight into the conditions and phenomena of beach culture in contemporary Australia. An interesting exhibition but an opportunity missed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish most of the photographs in the posting. Other photographs come from Art Blart’s archive and those freely available online. Thankx also go to Manuela Furci, Director of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive for allowing me to publish his photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text comes from the wall labels to the exhibition. Images noted © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with Daniel Boyd’s We call them pirates out here (2006, below)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982) 'We call them pirates out here' 2006

 

Daniel Boyd (Australian, b. 1982)
We call them pirates out here (installation view)
2006
Museum of Contemporary Art
Purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

“The landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to the birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an indigenous person’s perspective allowed for me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.” ~ Daniel Boyd, 2008

.
In this painting Daniel Boyd parodies E. Phillips Fox’s celebrated painting which was commissioned in 1902 by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria to commemorate federation. No longer an image valorising colonial achievement, Boyd recasts the scene as one of theft and invasion. Captain Cook is depicted as a pirate to contest his heroic status in Australia’s foundation narratives. Smoke in the distance is evidence of human occupation and is a direct retort to the declaration that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to no-one, which was used to justify British possession.

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard' 2012 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (Australian, b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (Australian, b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard (installation view)
2012
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons) (installation view)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' (detail) 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (Australian, b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (Australian, b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons) (installation detail)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

In these works Bowers combines the willow pattern motif, a ready-made metaphor of hybridity, with an image of a kangaroo as envisioned by George Stubbs in 1772. The willow pattern as an English invention, created by Thomas Minton in 1790. It is an imaginative geography and, like the first known European painting of a kangaroo, considers other lands as strange, exotic places. In this work the imagery of colonial occupation is visualised as a fusion of cultures underpinned by half-truths, fantasy and desire.

 

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

 

Installation views of Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012)

 

Leanne Tobin (Australian, b. 1961)
Clothes don’t always maketh the man (installation details)
2012
Sand, textile, wood
Collection of the artist
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

Bungaree (c. 1755-1830) was a Garigal man who circumnavigated the continent of Australia with Matthew Flinders on the H.M.S. Investigator between 1802-03. Unlike Bennelong, who attempted to assimilate with British ways and Pemulwuy, who resisted, Bungaree made the decision to navigate a relationship with the British while still maintaining his cultural traditions. He played an important role as an envoy on Flinder’s voyages, negotiating with the different Aboriginal groups they encountered. A skilled mediator, Bungaree was adept at living between both worlds. When coming ashore he would shed his white man’s clothes so that he could conduct protocol relevant to the local elders. In this respect the beach became a zone of transformation and exchange.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with in the foreground, Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012), and in the background photographs from Michael Cook’s Undiscovered series (2010, below)
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968) 'Undiscovered 4' 2010

 

Michael Cook (Australian, b. 1968)
Undiscovered 4
2010
inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper
124.0 x 100.0cm
Australian National Maritime Museum

 

 

A selection of works from a series of ten photographs in which Michael Cook contests the idea of ‘discovery’ that underpins narratives of the British settlement of Australia… Cook depicts the historic Cook as an Aboriginal man replete in his British naval officers attire. His ship, the famed Endeavour, is anchored in the sea behind him. By mimicking the moment of first discovery Cook subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement and asks us to consider what type of national Australia would be if the British had acknowledged Aboriginal people’s prior ownership.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery showing, at top left, Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939); to the right of that Dupain’s At Newport (1952, below); to the right upper is George Caddy’s Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937 (below); followed at far right by Rennie Ellis’ St Kilda Lifesavers (1968, top) and David Moore’s Lifesavers at Manly (1959, bottom)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport' 1952, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
At Newport
1952, Sydney
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937' 1937

 

George Caddy (Australian, 1914-1983)
Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937
1937
Digital print on paper
Paul Caddy collection
Courtesy of Paul Caddy

 

 

Like Max Dupain, who was three years his senior, Caddy was interested in the new modernist approach to photography. During 1936 he read magazines such as Popular Photography from New York and US Camera rather than Australasian Photo-Review which continued to champion soft-focus pictorialism. This photograph was taken the same year as Dupain’s famous Sunbather photograph. The framing and angle is similar reflecting their common interest in sharp focus, unusual vantage points and cold composition.

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938' 1938

 

George Caddy (Australian, 1914-1983)
Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938
1938
Digital print
Collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Purchased from Paul Caddy, 2008

 

 

This photograph was taken only months after an infamous rescue at Bondi. On 6 February 1938 a sand bar collapsed sweeping two hundred people out to sea. 80 lifesavers rescued all but 5 people in a day subsequently described as Black Sunday. By 1938 the Surf Life Saving Association, which incorporated clubs from around Australia, had rescued 39,149 lives in its 30 year history. In 1938 alone there were 3,442 rescues. Up until the events of Black Sunday no one had drowned while lifesavers were on duty at Australian beaches. In comparison 2,000 people drowned in England each year.1

  1. Alan Davies, Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his amera, Sydney: State Library of New South Wales, p. 13.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below) and, at right, a selection of George Caddy’s beachobatics photographs.
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937, top) with Diane Jones Sunbaker (2003, below); in the centre Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below); then Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939, top) with Diane Jones Bondi (2003) underneath.
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka (Australian, b. 1957)
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989
Type C photograph

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere's 'Australian beach pattern' (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka's 'The bathers' (1989)

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere’s painting Australian beach pattern (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka’s photograph The bathers (1989) from the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989, in which Zahalka restates Charles Meere’s painting to subvert the narrow stereotype of the Australian ideal… In this work Zahalka broadens the racial background of people depicted to create a more representative image of multicultural Australia in the 1980s.
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961) 'Australian beach pattern' 1940 (detail)

 

Charles Meere (Australian born England, 1890-1961)
Australian beach pattern (installation detail)
1940
Oil and wax on canvas
Collection of Joy Chambers-Grundy and Reg Grundy AC OBE
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

A now iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture… The scene is dominated by a mass of suntanned bodies: muscular, square-jawed white Australians – specimens of perfect physical beauty – enjoying the strenuous physical activities of the beach. A glorification of the strong, healthy, racially pure Australian ideal of the 1930s, it is eerily reminiscent of Nazi German Aryan propaganda between the wars.

Notably, the figures themselves all appear anonymous and disconnected, with indistinct facial features that show no acknowledgement of their fellow beach-goers. Their identities are overwhelmed by Meere’s obsession with arrangement. Rather than reflect real life, the figures are placed to create an idealised work of perfect balance. It is fascinating to consider that this iconic representation of Australian beach culture actually came from the imagination of an Englishman, who had only lived in Australia since the mid-1930s and who, according to his apprentice, ‘never went to the beach’ and ‘made up most of the figures’.1

  1. Freda Robertshaw quoted in Linda Slutzkin, Charles Meere 1890-1961. Sydney: S. H. Ervin Gallery, 1987, p. 6.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, George Caddy’s beachobatic photographs, and on the far wall Sidney Nolan’s Bathers (1943, below) and Jeffrey Smart’s Surfers Bondi (1963, below).
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) 'Bathers' 1943

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992)
Bathers (installation view)
1943
Ripolin enamel on canvas
Headed Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of John and Sunday Reed, 1982
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) 'Surfers Bondi' 1963

 

Jeffrey Smart (Australian, 1921-2013)
Surfers Bondi
1963
Oil on board
Private collection

 

 

When bans on daylight bathing were lifted in 1902, the beach became a prime leisure destination. The beach became not only as a public space of recreation but also as a place where the Australian identity was developing, for many epitomising the liberties of Australia’s society. On the beach brings together 76 outstanding and iconic paintings, photographs and installations to consider the defining relationship we have to the shore.

Works by artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Arthur Boyd, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Max Dupain, Charles Meere, Tracey Moffatt, David Moore, Sidney Nolan, Polixeni Papapetrou, John Perceval, Scott Redford, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Guan Wei and Anne Zahalka, as well as outstanding recently discovered works by George Caddy (see above). A champion jitterbug dancer, Caddy’s photographs of ‘beachobatics’ were kept undisturbed in a shoebox for 60 years until they were ‘discovered’ by his son after his death. They capture the exuberance and optimism of Australian society between the wars.

The beach first became a prime leisure destination in the early decades of the twentieth century. Up to Federation many artists had looked to the bush to galvanise a fledging nationalism, but during the interwar years this shifted and increasingly the beach became the site of Australian identity. Already by 1908 one Melbourne newspaper commented upon the ‘vast throng of holidaymakers all along the coast.’ In the years following the First World War, against a backdrop of a growing interest in physical fitness, the beach was seen as a place for creating ‘a fine healthy race of men.’ Understandings of the beach as an Australian way of life emerged during this period and increasingly the Australian type was associated with bronzed athletic bodies on the beach.

On the beach looks at artists’ responses to the stereotype of the interwar period and juxtaposes modernist works with contemporary artists’ responses to include a more culturally diverse mix of people. Other artists in the exhibition challenge understandings of the beach as a benign space and consider the history of violence that is latent.

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Photographer Joyce Evans looking at two colour photographs by Rennie Ellis in the exhibition.
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall left hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis.
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall right hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis and, at right, Fiona Foley’s Nulla 4 eva IV (2009).
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Union Jack, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Union Jack, Lorne
c. 1968
Silver gelatin selenium toned fibre-based print
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Four Sunbathers, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Four Sunbathers, Lorne
c. 1968
Type C photograph (ed. AP)
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bondi, New South Wales' 1997

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Bondi, New South Wales
1997

 

“On the beach we chuck away our clothes, our status and our inhibitions and engage in rituals of sun worship and baptism. It’s a retreat to our primal needs.” ~ Rennie Ellis

 

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

 

Installation views of Vernon Ah Kee’s cantchant 2007-09

 

Vernon Ah Kee (Australian, b. 1967; Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr)
cantchant (installation views)
2007-09
Synthetic polymer paint and resin over digital print on roamer, vinyl
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

Vernon Ah Kee’s response to the events at Cronulla (the Cronulla Riot) us a powerful retort to the racists and their mantra ‘we grew here, you flew here’ chanted on the beach during the riots. Ah Kee takes issue pointing out the hypocrisy in their statement.

“We grew here, you flew here is an insincere statement and they were chanting it over and over again. It’s a way to exercise racism. I’m like ‘WE’ grew here, say what you want, but we’re the fellas that grew here.”

The surfboards are printed with Yidinji shield designs and the portraits are members of the artists family. The work was exhibited in the Australian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Charles Blackman’s Sunbather (c. 1954, below) and Arthur Boyd’s Kite flyers [South Melbourne] (1943, below).
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Sunbather' c. 1954

 

Charles Blackman (Australian, b. 1928)
Sunbather (installation view)
c. 1954
Oil on board
Private collection, Melbourne
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

This is one of a number of paintings and drawings made in response to Blackman’s observations of life on Melbourne’s beaches. Blackman moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1945 to be part of Melbourne’s burgeoning art scene, making friends with John Perceval, Joy Hester and John and Sunday Reed amongst others.

During this period Blackman regularly took the tram to St Kilda beach to swim and paint. Although he enjoyed spending time on the beach, there is a sinister overtone to this painting of a prostrate figure lying on the sand. A bleak, grey palette articulates the pallid lifeless flesh amplifying a sense of death. The hollow slits that substitute for eyes further accentuate the corpse-like appearance. It is a stark contrast to many paintings of the era that emphasise physical vitality and wellbeing. Rather the sense of isolation and heavy treatment of shadows and water creates a painting that is psychologically disturbing. This painting can be seen as a response to his wife, Barbara’s developing blindness. It has been noted that as the ‘darkness grew in her life, his pictures got darker.’1 Blackman stated many years later ‘I was trying to paint pictures which were unseeable.’2

  1. Barry Humphries quoted in Peter Wilmoth. “An artist in wonderland,” in The Age, 21 May 2006.
  2. Charles Blackman interviewed by James Gleeson, 28 April 1979.

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) 'Kite flyers [South Melbourne]' 1943

 

Arthur Boyd (Australian, 1920-1999)
Kite flyers [South Melbourne] (installation view)
1943
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard
46.3 x 60.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria
The Arthur Boyd Gift, 1975
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, in the centre, Brett Whiteley’s Balmoral (1975-78, below). To the left of this painting is Nancy Kilgour’s Figures on Manly Beach (1930, below) and to the right, at top, Norma Bull’s Bathing Beach (c. 1950-60s, below) with at bottom, George W. Lambert’s Anzacs bathing in the sea (1915, below).
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) 'Balmoral' 1975-78 (detail)

 

Brett Whiteley (Australian, 1939-1992)
Balmoral (installation detail)
1975-78
Oil and collage on canvas
180 x 204cm
Collection of the Hunter-Dyer family
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954) 'Figures on Manly Beach' c. 1930

 

Nancy Kilgour (Australian, 1904-1954)
Figures on Manly Beach
c. 1930
Oil on canvas
76 x 117cm
Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
Purchase with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts, 1986

 

 

Nancy Kilgour’s artificial arrangement of figures is believed to have been painted in the 1930s before Charles Meere painted his highly contrived composition Australian Beach Pattern, 1940. The staged poses create a tableau of Australians enjoying the freedoms of life on the beach. What is interesting about Kilgour’s painting is that a number of people are depicted fully clothed. so the emphasis is not so much on toned physiques but rather the pleasures of relaxing on the beach. The painting is also unusual because, whereas most beach scenes are cast in brilliant sunshine, the figures in the foreground in this painting are rendered in shadow suggesting the presence of the towering Norfolk Island Pine trees which form a crescent along the Manly foreshore.

 

Norma Bull. 'Bathing Beach' c. 1950-60s

 

Norma Bull (Australian, 1906-1980)
Bathing Beach
c. 1950s-60s
Oil on aluminium
30.5 x 40cm
Collection of the Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Norma Bull began her career at the National Gallery School in 1929, Receiving acclaim for her portraits she won the Sir John Longstaff Scholarship in 1937 and travelled to London where she worked as a war artist during the Second World War. After nine years in Europe, Bull returned to Australia and spent the next year following Wirth’s Circus, painting acrobats, clowns and scenes from circus life. She settled in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills and spent her summer holidays at Anglesea which provided the opportunity to paint seascapes and beach scenes.

 

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915 (detail)

 

George W. Lambert (Australian, 1867-1930)
Anzacs bathing in the sea (installation full and detail)
1915
Oil on canvas
25 x 34cm
Mildura Arts Centre
Senator R.D. Elliott Bequest, presented to the City of Mildura by Mrs Hilda Elliott, 1956
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

George Lambert, Australia’s official war artist, travelled to Gallipoli where he created detailed studies of large battle scenes. He also painted a number of smaller, more intimate works which were execute rapidly on the spot such as this scene of men bathing in the sea. Lambert’s focus is the musculature of their bodies. They are depicted as exemplars of heroic Australian masculinity. Historian C.E.W. Bean reflected in the 1920s that it was through the events on Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915 ‘that the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.’1 In this respect the painting can be seen to have baptismal overtures.

  1. C.E.W. Bean, Official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Volume 2, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1934, p. 346.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, second left, Anne Zahalka’s The girls #2, Cronulla Beach (2007, below). At left on the far wall John Anderson’s Abundance (2015, below) followed by John Hopkins The crowd (1970, below).
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Anne-Zahalka-The-girls-#2-WEB

 

Anne Zahalka (Australian, b. 1957)
The girls #2, Cronulla Beach
2007
From the series Scenes from the Shire 2007
Type C photograph
73.3 x 89.2cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 2012

 

John Anderson (b. 1947) 'Abundance' (detail) 2015

 

John Anderson (Australian, b. 1947)
Abundance (installation detail)
2015
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

John Hopkins. 'The crowd' 1970

 

John Hopkins (Australian, b. 1943)
The crowd
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
172.7 x 245.2cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1974

 

Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (Australian, 1960-2018)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2012-13
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

The ghillie suit is a form of camouflage originally used by hunters and the military. Recently popularised in the video game, Call of duty, the ghillie suit is worn by Papapetrou’s son, Solomon, who poses on the beach at Queenscliff. Appearing neither man nor nature, his indistinct form speaks of transformation and becoming – of prison and absence. By depicting the figure as some sort of monster emerging from the depths of the ocean, Papapetrou creates an image that draws upon Jungian understanding of the sea as a symbol of the collective unconscious – both a source of life and return.

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

12
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘David Moore: Glimpses of Chewton’ and other art at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Exhibition dates: 31st October – 31st December 2015

 

David Moore. 'Winter sky' 2015

 

David Moore (Australian, b. 1965)
Winter sky
2015
Oil on linen
© Courtesy of the artist and James Makin Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

The State of Victoria has some truly wonderful regional galleries. I hadn’t been to Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum for a few years and I had forgotten what an absolutely stunning gallery it is. Stylish art deco building, diffused natural light filling the expansive spaces of the wood floored galleries, displaying interesting art works from their collection. I particularly liked the Edward J Shearsby, Ethel Carrick, John Perceval and, my favourite, a most glorious Sydney Long Pastoral scene (1909, below).

To top off an inspirational visit, there was the most beautiful exhibition of small oil on canvas and oil on cedar panel paintings by the artist David Moore: Glimpses of Chewton. These works had me entranced. Comprised of three years work, these paintings are an exploration of the region by the artist who bought a house in the area with his partner. Moore set out to discover Chewton through driving the local roads and by doing small paintings of the views… not the big vista but the small glimpse. As I said to Moore in a recent telephone conversation, small vibrations of energy.

You can really feel that the artist has captured the frequency – and by that I mean the song line – and spiritual energy of the landscape. These are strong paintings with sensuous brush work yet they are quiet and still in their presence before you – sensitive and beautiful. I love the size of them, like small jewels, and they draw you in and hold you. The gridded hang is especially effective. For an artist to feel these vibrations of energy is one thing, for it then to be transferred into the art is an entirely, and difficult, other. The correspondence between Moore’s work and the Sydney Long Pastoral scene is quite delicious to contemplate. Apparently, these were supposed to be preparatory sketches for larger studio based work, which will eventuate over time, but once Moore had started on these “glimpses” he kept going, creating this body of work. I am so thankful that he did, and I am grateful that I visited the gallery to see them. They made my day.

Do yourself a favour, take a day trip to Castlemaine. It’s well worth the visit.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum and David Moore for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation photograph of David Moore's exhibition 'Glimpses of Chewton' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of David Moore's exhibition 'Glimpses of Chewton' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of David Moore's exhibition 'Glimpses of Chewton' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of David Moore's exhibition 'Glimpses of Chewton' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photograph of David Moore’s exhibition Glimpses of Chewton at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

David Moore. 'Hillside shadows' 2015

 

David Moore (Australian, b. 1965)
Hillside shadows
2015
Oil on cedar panel
© Courtesy of the artist and James Makin Gallery, Melbourne

 

David Moore. 'Clear sky' 2015

 

David Moore (Australian, b. 1965)
Clear sky
2015
Oil on cedar panel
© Courtesy of the artist and James Makin Gallery, Melbourne

 

David Moore. 'Approaching storm' 2015

 

David Moore (Australian, b. 1965)
Approaching storm
2015
Oil on linen
© Courtesy of the artist and James Makin Gallery, Melbourne

 

David Moore. 'Stormy sky' 2015

 

David Moore (Australian, b. 1965)
Stormy sky
2015
Oil on linen
© Courtesy of the artist and James Makin Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

David Moore: Glimpses of Chewton

An exhibition of works painted in and around the town of Chewton, in North Central Victoria. Local artist David Moore is one of Australia’s foremost painters and was a recipient of the A.M.E Bale Residental Scholarship and the Norman Kaye award. He teaches painting in Melbourne, and is represented by Chrysalis Galleries in Melbourne.

 

About the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Founded in 1913, the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum has a unique collection of Australian art and fascinating historical artefacts reflecting the early history of the district. The beautiful art deco building, dating from 1931 with several extensions since then, is a work of art itself, with purpose-built galleries, lit largely by natural lighting.

The Gallery and Museum is fully accredited by Museums Australia. It is governed by private trustees and managed by a committee elected by subscribers. State and local government support is provided, and the Gallery has a strong tradition of support from benefactors, local families, artists and patrons.

 

Sydney Long. 'Pastoral scene' 1909

Sydney Long. 'Pastoral scene' 1909

 

Sydney Long (Australian, 1871-1955)
Pastoral scene
1909
Oil on cardboard
Gift of Lady Mary Spencer 1949

 

 

Formerly known as Narrabeen landscape, this painting has been retitled due to uncertainty in its depiction of Narrabeen.

With paintings such as this, Long sought to produce works of the most imaginative kind from his surroundings. A panoramic vista, the artist focused on the patterns of light and shade over the landscape to create a sense of depth, leading the viewer’s eye to the blue hills in the background.

 

Sydney Long. 'Pastoral scene' 1909 (detail)

 

Sydney Long (Australian, 1871-1955)
Pastoral scene (detail)
1909
Oil on cardboard
Gift of Lady Mary Spencer 1949

 

Edward J Shearsby. 'An Impression of Collins Street' c. 1910

 

Edward J Shearsby (active c. 1900-30 Melbourne)
An Impression of Collins Street
c. 1910
Oil on board
Estate of Barbara H Gordon 1999

 

 

The high viewpoint and bustling street are similar to Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre, morning, cloudy weather 1897 in the National Gallery of Victoria. Impressionism had an enormous influence on Australian artists from the late 19th century, mostly in the form of reproductions brought back by expatriate artists.

 

Edward J Shearsby. 'An Impression of Collins Street' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Edward J Shearsby (active c. 1900-30 Melbourne)
An Impression of Collins Street (detail)
c. 1910
Oil on board
Estate of Barbara H Gordon 1999

 

Frederick McCubbin. 'Golden sunlight' 1914

 

Frederick McCubbin (Australian, 1855-1917)
Golden sunlight
1914
Oil on canvas
Gift of Dame Nellie Melba 1923

 

Frederick McCubbin. 'Golden sunlight' 1914 (detail)

 

Frederick McCubbin (Australian, 1855-1917)
Golden sunlight (detail)
1914
Oil on canvas
Gift of Dame Nellie Melba 1923

 

 

The setting is below the artist’s family home on the Yarra River, South Yarra. Instead of the sight of the industrial stone crusher on the opposite bank, McCubbin has created an Arcadian fantasy of colour and light. Dame Nellie Melba possibly bought the work when she visited the McCubbin’s during an Australian tour. Melba’s father, David Mitchell, had an interest in a local Newstead mine and she visited the Gallery collection prior to donating.

The artist has used a ‘scumble’ technique: building up many layers of thinly applied paint giving a transparent effect. The composition was fist sketched in white and sienna, followed by pigment mixed on the palette and applied with a knife and brush handle to keep the colours pure. Later the work was rubbed with a pumice stone to give a smooth surface. Colours from different layers were allowed to show through. Highlights were applied over the top with paint straight from the tube.

 

E Phillips Fox (1865-1915) 'On the Mediterranean Coast' c. 1911

 

E Phillips Fox (Australian, 1865-1915)
On the Mediterranean Coast
c. 1911
Oil on canvas
Presented 1935

 

Ethel Carrick (1872-1952) 'Untitled (Royal Avenue, Versailles)' c. 1909

 

Ethel Carrick (Australian, 1872-1952)
Untitled (Royal Avenue, Versailles)
c. 1909
Oil on panel
Gift of Major B R F MacNay 1978

 

Ethel Carrick (1872-1952) 'Untitled (Royal Avenue, Versailles)' c. 1909 (detail)

 

Ethel Carrick (Australian, 1872-1952)
Untitled (Royal Avenue, Versailles) (detail)
c. 1909
Oil on panel
Gift of Major B R F MacNay 1978

 

Lina Bryans. 'Plum Tree' 1947

 

Lina Bryans (Australian, 1909-2000)
Plum Tree
1947
Oil on composition board
Purchased with funds from the Felix Cappy Bequest in his memory, 2014

 

Probably painted at Stanhope House, Eltham by the font gate near the cedar tree overlooking the old orchard on the property.

 

Lina Bryans. 'Plum Tree' 1947 (detail)

 

Lina Bryans (Australian, 1909-2000)
Plum Tree (detail)
1947
Oil on composition board
Purchased with funds from the Felix Cappy Bequest in his memory, 2014

 

 

A modernist, Bryans was associated with Frater’s circle which included Ada May Plante and Isabel Hunter Tweddle. Her first works were painted early in 1937 and Basil Burdett selected her Backyards, South Yarra in 1938 for the Herald Exhibition of Outstanding Pictures of 1937. Her work was included in Burdett’s article in Studio (1938) and in the exhibition, Art of Australia 1788-1941, shown at MoMA (New York) in 1941. Bryans went to live in Darebin Bridge House, a converted coach-house at Darebin, in the late 1930s, joining Ada May Plante. Bryans subsequently purchased it using her inheritance, painted and decorated it distinctively and named it “The Pink Hotel”. It became an artists’ colony for Bryans, Plante, Frater, Ambrose Hallen and Ian Fairweather and other artists. It was a centre for a group of writers associated with the journal Meanjin, from whom Lina’s son Edward developed his interest in journalism.

In 1948 Bryans had her first solo exhibition. It included Nude (1945, NGV) and Portrait of Nina Christesen (1947), both painted at Darebin, which she sold later that year and moved to Harkaway, near Berwick. She took a few lessons from George Bell in 1948 and from Mary Cockburn Mercer in 1951. In 1953 she went to America, then to France where she studied for a few months at La Grande Chaumière and visited Mercer in the south of France. Back at Melbourne, she once more became prominent in the city’s artistic and cultural milieu.

Landscape painting was always important to Bryans and throughout the 1960s and 1970s, it became more dramatic and abstract. In 1965 she visited Central Australia and painted extremely colourful modernist paintings of the Australian bush. She was awarded the 1966 Crouch Prize for Embedded Rock (1964, BFAG). Her major work Landscape Quartet from her second solo exhibition, held at Georges Gallery in 1966, was purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria, which awarded her a retrospective in 1982, held at Banyule Gallery in 1982, which subsequently toured regional galleries in Victoria.

Nevertheless, as Forwood notes (2001), her portraits ‘best reveal her contribution to Australian art’, moreover, ‘her seventy-three portraits of friends engaged in the world of art and letters form a pictorial biography of Bryans herself’. Her well-known portrait of Australian writer Jean May Campbell, The Babe is Wise, (named after Campbell’s novel of the year before) was painted in 1940. It is held in the National Gallery of Victoria collection.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

John Perceval (1923-2000) 'Double Sunset' 1961

 

John Perceval (Australian, 1923-2000)
Double Sunset
1961
Oil on composition board
Purchased 1962

 

John Perceval (1923-2000) 'Double Sunset' 1961 (detail)

 

John Perceval (Australian, 1923-2000)
Double Sunset (detail)
1961
Oil on composition board
Purchased 1962

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Dream Image' 1963

 

Charles Blackman (Australian, 1928-2018)
Dream Image
1963
Oil on canvas on composition board
Purchased 1964

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Dream Image' 1963 (detail)

 

Charles Blackman (Australian, 1928-2018)
Dream Image (detail)
1963
Oil on canvas on composition board
Purchased 1964

 

View of Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with works in situ

View of Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with works in situ

 

Two views of Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with works in situ

 

Clifton Pugh (1924-1990) 'The Crab Catcher' 1958

 

Clifton Pugh (Australian, 1924-1990)
The Crab Catcher
1958
Oil on composition board
Purchased 1958

 

Robert Jacks (1943-2014) 'Goddess' 1959/60

 

Robert Jacks (Australian, 1943-2014)
Goddess
1959-60
Bronze
Gift of the artist 2001

 

Clifford Last (1918-1993) 'Family Group' 1958

 

Clifford Last (Australian, 1918-1993)
Family Group
1958
Limed Pine
Gift of the Subscribers 1958

 

 

Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum
14 Lyttleton Street (PO Box 248)
Castlemaine, Vic 3450 Australia
Phone: (03) 5472 2292
Email: info@castlemainegallery.com

Opening hours:
Thursday – Sunday 12 – 4pm

Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum website

David Moore Facebook page

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

12
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Max Dupain 
The Paris ‘private’ series and other pictures’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 14th September 2014

 

Max Dupain. 'Embassy of Australia, Paris, France' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Embassy of Australia, Paris, France
1978
Silver gelatin print

 

 

A good friend of mine, who should know what she is talking about, observed that you cannot look at Dupain’s photographs of Paris without first looking at his commissioned photographs of the then new Embassy of Australia. Unfortunately, I could only find one photograph online to show to you, Embassy of Australia, Paris, France (1978, below), but you get the idea. Dupain’s The Paris ‘private’ series were taken during a couple of days off that he had from the commissioned job. Basically they are tourist photographs, a record of things Dupain wanted to see in Paris on one of his few overseas trips. Most of them are disappointing images, serviceable but disappointing.

Having studied Eugène Atget I expected more from Dupain. In these photographs he tends to shoot obliquely into the object of his attention, directing the lead in and vanishing point(s) within the image. For example, in Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III) and Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade) (both 1978, below), Dupain allows the bridge parapet to lead the eye into the image, while the vanishing point is positioned at far right. Neither are very successful as formal compositions. The same can be said of Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars) (1978, below) with the vanishing point this time at the left of the image. More successul is Dupains’s Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly) (1978, below) with its foreshortened out of focus entrance, geometric planes and multiple exit points – but then he goes and spoils it with the simplistic Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly) (1978, below) taken at the same location. The best image from the series is undoubtedly Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle) (1978, below) with its restrained and refined aesthetic. A beautiful image and a wondrous space. The photograph of the people at the Eiffel Tower is also a cracker.

As I said at the beginning, these are tourist art photographs of Paris, but they could have been so much more.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to The Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) is one of the leading figures of 20th-century Australian photography. The group of 21 photographs in his Paris ‘private’ series was taken when he travelled to Paris in 1978 with architect Harry Seidler to photograph the Australian Embassy, designed by Seidler. The series consists of transcendent photographs of Paris. Dupain had studied the work of Eugène Atget, and there is a similar enigmatic atmosphere to be found in Dupain’s examination of the city. Primarily depicting 18th- to 19th-century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Chantilly, this compilation offers a view of the city and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art.

Given to the Gallery by Penelope Seidler in memory of her husband and the photographer, this portfolio is shown alongside other photographs of made and natural structures by Dupain from the 1930s to the 1980s.

 

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (cars on rue de Rivoli)' from The Paris 'private' series Year 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Untitled (cars on rue de Rivoli)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Silver gelatin print
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

“I like to involve myself in, maybe, a small area geographically and work it out, as simple as that” said Max Dupain in a 1991 interview.1 During his lifetime the photographer visited only three countries outside of Australia. His 1978 trip to Paris was made together with architect Harry Seidler, whose newly built Australian embassy building Dupain was commissioned to document. The long professional association between the architect and the photographer stretched back to the early 1950s, soon after Seidler’s arrival in Australia. Dupain, through his expressive architectural photographs, was closely involved in popularising the modernist aesthetic espoused by Seidler’s starkly functional buildings.

Conversely, the set of 21 photographs of Paris which Dupain compiled and presented to Seidler as a personal gift, does not contain any images of modern architecture. Primarily depicting 18-19th century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Versailles this compilation offers a view of the city and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art. Dupain was nonetheless well read in modern French culture and aware of photographers such as Eugène Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The Parisian images vary from pure architectural studies to compositions with an almost literary scope. They demonstrate Dupain’s signature trait of combining the formal and social aspects of photography. In some of the works, Dupain gives classical architecture the same reductive treatment he brought to modern buildings. Stripped of embellishments, these photographs bring to the fore the essence of order, logic and harmony which lies at the core of classicism. The presence of human figures in photographs such as that of Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides adds a dramatic element to the compositions. Dupain wanted “to extract every ounce of content from any exciting form and I want to give life to the inanimate.”2 Time and the built environment converge in this personal ode to Paris, manifesting the incessant flow of life and the connectedness of past with the present.

1. Max Dupain interviewed by Helen Ennis in Max Dupain: Photographs, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1991, p. 13
2. Max Dupain, “Max Dupain – modernist”, exhibition catalogue, State library of NSW, Sydney, 2007, p. 9

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (statue of Maréchal Joffre, Place Joffre, Champ-de-Mars)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
30.0 x 33.7cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (staircase to the park, looking toward Bassin des Serruriers, Domaine de Chantilly)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 x 36.7cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly)' from 'The Paris 'private' series' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (staircase and statue of Anne de Montmorency 1886 by Paul Dubois, Domaine de Chantilly)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
31.2 x 30.3 cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the balustrade of Pont Alexandre III)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Pont Alexandre III with sculptural balustrade)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the glass dome of Grand Palais)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the glass dome of Grand Palais)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (interior staircase and cart wheels)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (interior staircase and cart wheels)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (cannon with a guard standing in a doorway)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (cannon with a guard standing in a doorway)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (the statue of Christ at the portal of La Sainte-Chapelle)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Place Vendôme with the column)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Place Vendôme with the column)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 - 27 Jul 1992) 'Untitled (tree on Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, with Hôtel des Invalides in the distance)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Australia 22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992)
Untitled (tree on Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, with Hôtel des Invalides in the distance)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
35.6 x 30.2cm image
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (mythological sculptural group at the Grand Palais)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (mythological sculptural group at the Grand Palais)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (woman with pram in Jardin des Tuileries)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (woman with pram in Jardin des Tuileries)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (group of people near the Eiffel tower)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (group of people near the Eiffel tower)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Les Invalides)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Les Invalides)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Untitled (Napoleon's statue on the balcony of Les Invalides)' 1978

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Untitled (Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides)
1978
From The Paris ‘private’ series
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of Penelope Seidler AM in honour of Max Dupain AC and Harry Seidler AC 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Max Dupain. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

An exhibition of 36 photographs – 21 of which were taken in Paris in 1978 by one of Australia’s most well-known photographers, Max Dupain (1911-92) – will go on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Donated to the Gallery by Penelope Seidler in 2012, this will be the first time the Paris ‘private’ series portfolio will have ever been seen publicly. Max Dupain had gifted these works to renowned architect Harry Seidler and in a handwritten note he wrote:

I owe you so much. For nearly twenty five years I have dwelt on your philosophy of architecture. We register alike about clear thinking, logic of application, poetry of form etc etc. [sic] I have tremendous regard for architecture as a stabilising force in this turbulent society and I think my best work will ultimately show the significance of this by virtue of the photographed form thrown up by architecture and by engineering.

.
Dupain made the trip to Paris, his second outside Australia and his first to Europe, to accompany his long-time colleague and friend, Harry Seidler (1923-2006). Dupain’s task was to photograph the Australian Embassy there, which Seidler had designed (completed 1977). The pair were not only friends but shared a deep appreciation for form and light, for the modernist curves in space that can be created both architecturally and photographically.

Dupain explored many monuments around Paris. These impressions of a place he was seeing for the first time reveal his exploration of a new city and its sites, varying from formal compositions of photographic space, such as the image of Napoleon’s statue on the balcony of Les Invalides, to more personal or candid moments, as with the group of people captured beneath the Eiffel Tower. Many photographs depict 18th- and 19th-century landmarks such as the ornate Alexandre III bridge, the Grand Palais and Chantilly; the compilation offers a view of Paris and its environs shaped by layers of history, mythology and art.

Despite the diversity of subject matter across the 21 images, Dupain always maintained his signature poise and rigour, appreciation of the way light interacts with the objects it touches, and attention to the composition of photographic space through a play of scale.

In addition to the Paris ‘private’ series, 15 of Dupain’s photographs of architectural and botanical forms will be on display. Almost all are taken in and around Sydney; some of the flowers are from Dupain’s Castlecrag garden and iconic Sydney buildings such as the Opera House are included. These images cover 50 years of the photographer’s practice from 1933 to 1983, and indicate his enduring appreciation for the order, logic and harmony which lie at the core of classicism, the movement that produced many of the iconic Parisian monuments he saw, and for the modernism which Seidler endorsed through his work.

Press release from the AGNSW website

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1933, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased 1976

 

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M 1938, “Letter to the editor,” in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain. 'Monstera deliciosa' 1970

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Monstera deliciosa
1970
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Max Dupain, 1970. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain 'Nasturtium leaves' 1981

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Nasturtium leaves
1981
Gelatin silver photograph
40 × 50.4cm
Gift of Edron Pty Ltd 1995 through the auspices of Alistair McAlpine
© Estate of Max Dupain, licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain 'Australia Square and Calder sculpture, Sydney' 1968

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Australia Square and Calder sculpture, Sydney
1968
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Estate of Max Dupain, licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'The magnolia' 1983

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
The magnolia
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1986
© Max Dupain, 1983. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Max Dupain. 'Stair rail' 1975

 

Max Dupain (Born Australia 1911, died 1992)
Stair rail
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
Gift of the artist 1981
© Max Dupain, 1975. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

09
Jun
09

Review: ‘Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 12th July 2009

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Colour Composition derived from three bars of music in the Key of Green' 1935

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Colour Composition derived from three bars of music in the Key of Green
1935
Oil and pencil on composition board
Private Collection

 

 

Despite some interesting highlight pieces this is a patchy, thin, incoherent exhibition assembled by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney now showing at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Featuring a hotchpotch of work ranging across fields such as drawing, architecture, photography, painting, film, graphic design, craft, advertising, Australiana and aboriginal works the exhibition attempts to tell the untold story of Modernism in Australia to little effect. Within the exhibition there is no attempt to define exactly what ‘Modernism’ is and therefore an investigation into Modernism in Australia is all the more confusing for the visitor as there seems to be no stable basis on which to build that investigation. Perhaps reading the catalogue would give a greater overview of the development of Modernism in Australia but for the average visitor to the exhibition there seems to be no holistic rationale for the inclusion of elements within the exhibition which, much like Modernism itself, seems eclectically gathered from all walks of life with little regard for narrative structure.

With work spanning five decades from 1917-1967 we are presented with, variously, Robert Klippel’s kitsch Boomerang table from 1955, Robin Boyd’s ‘House of Tomorrow’ from 1949, Wolfgang Sievers ‘new objective’ photographs, Berlei’s scientific system for calculating beauty in woman in use till the 1960s, swimsuits from the 1920s-1940s, Featherston chairs from the Australian pavilion at the 1967 Expo, a recreation of Australian architect Harry Seidler’s office (the most interesting part of this being the books he had in his office library: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe and Concerning Town Planning by Le Corbusier) and the wind tunnel test model of the Sydney Opera House in wood from 1960. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera …

Highlight pieces include the above mentioned test model of the Sydney Opera House which is stunning in its scale and woodenness, in it’s simplicity of shape and form. Other highlight pieces are the colour music compositions of Roy de Maistre which were the tour de force of the show for me, true revelations in their rhythmic synchronic Moebius-like construction with layered planes of colour swirling in purples, greens and yellows. The large vintage photographic print of Sunbaker (1934) by Max Dupain was also a revelation with it’s earthy brown tones, the blending of the atmospheric out of focus foreground with the clouds behind, the architectural nature of the outline of the body almost like the outline of Uluru, the darkness of the head with the sensuality of the head and shoulders framed against the largeness of the hand resting on the sand. Lastly the two paintings and one rug by French artist Sonia Delaunay are a knockout. It says something about an exhibition when the best work in the show are two paintings by a French artist seemingly plucked at random to show external influences on Australian artists and designers.

While the exhibition does attempt to portray the breadth of the development of Modernism in Australia ultimately it falls well short in this endeavour. The most striking example of this shortcoming is the true star of the exhibition – the building that is Heide II itself. Commissioned by John and Sunday Reed and designed by the Victorian architect David McGlashan of the architectural firm McGlashan and Eversit in 1963 the building epitomises everything that is good about architectural Modernism and it’s form overshadows the exhibition itself. In this building we have beautiful spaces and volumes, an amazing staircase down into the lower area, suspended decking overlooking gardens, the blending of inside and outside areas, large expanses of glass to view the landscape, nooks and studies for privacy and the simplicity and eloquence of form that is Modernist design. With money one can indulge in the best of elitist Modernism. With position, position, position one can side steep the alienation of the city and the spread of surburbia where the dream of Australians owning a home of their own still continues in the vast, tasteless expanses of McMansion estates.

Robert Nelson in his review of this exhibition sees the car as creating the suburbs and Modernism as the emptying of the city after 6pm, the lessening of community and the devaluing of space he insists that there is little difference between a Californian bungalow in the suburbs and a utopian geometric neo-Corbusian box by Harry Seidler because they were equally shackled to motor transport.1 This is to miss the point.

Although Modernism in its basic form influenced most walks of life in Australia from swimsuit design to milk bars, from cinema to naturism, from bodies to advertising the most effective expressions of Modernism are architectural (as evidenced by Heide II) and were only open to those with money, power and position. Although Le Corbusier’s concept of public housing was a space ‘for the people’ the most interesting of his houses were the private commissions for wealthy clients. And so it proves here. One can imagine the parties on the deck at Heide II in the 1960s with men in their tuxedo and bow ties and woman in their gowns, or the relaxation of the Reed’s sitting in front of their fire in the submerged lounge. For the ordinary working class person Modernism brought a sense of alienation from the aspirational things one cannot buy in the world, an alienation that continues to this day; for the privileged few Modernism offered the exclusivity of elitism (or is it the elitism of exclusivity!) and an aspirational alienation of a different kind – that of the separation from the masses.

Go to Heide for the glorious gardens, the wonders of Heide II but don’t go to this exhibition expecting grand insights into the basis of Australian Modernism for that story, as Robert Nelson rightly notes, remains as yet untold.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thankx to Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

An excellent review of the exhibition by Jill Julius Matthews, “Modern times: The untold story of modernism in Australia,” (reCollections Volume 4 number 1) can be found on the Journal of the National Museum of Australia website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

  1. “Emanating from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Modern Times “explores how modernism transformed Australian culture from 1917 to 1967.” But something is missing. The overwhelming modern development in these 50 years was the proliferation of automotive transport, which redefined the layout and function of Australian cities.

    The cars created the suburbs; and as the individual bungalow drew out the vast dormitories of Sydney and Melbourne, the city centre was spiritually drained, dedicated to bureaucratic and commercial premises.

    The story at Heide emphasises the gradual triumph of the tall buildings of the CBD. It doesn’t really reflect how these abstract monuments didn’t contain a soul after 6pm.Although the project makes such a big deal of being interdisciplinary, the social history doesn’t have a robust geographical basis. And because of this, the exhibition and book fail to handle the new alienation that modernism brings: the evacuation of the city and the insularity of suburban people in bungalows with little street life and roads increasingly deemed unsafe for children.

    What does it really matter if a house looks like a Californian bungalow or a utopian geometric neo-Corbusian box by Harry Seidler? In social terms, they’re structurally the same, equally retracting from a sense of community and equally shackled to motor transport. In this sense, the styles are immaterial, except that one of them gives you a feeling of intimacy while the other has a bit more light and is easily wiped with a sponge.

    At the end of the chosen period, the folly of the dominant suburban pattern came to be understood in its dire ecological consequences. Alas, it was too late. The modernist devaluation of space had already occurred, and our whole society had been reorganised around petrol.”

    Robert Nelson. The Age. Wednesday 6th May, 2009

 

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Arrested Movement from a Trio' 1934

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Arrested Movement from a Trio
1934
Oil and pencil on composition board
72.3 × 98.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor' 1919

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor
1919
Oil on paperboard
85.3 x 115.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Caroline de Mestre Walker

 

 

In late 1918, Roy de Maistre collaborated with fellow artist Roland Wakelin in exploring the relationship between art and music. Their experiments produced Australia’s first abstract paintings, characterised by high-key colour, large areas of flat paint and simplified forms. The works received critical acclaim, but modernist developments were largely derided by the conservative establishment.

This painting exemplifies de Maistre’s theory of colour harmonisation based on analogies between colours of the spectrum and notes of the musical scale. It is also aligned with de Maistre’s search for spiritual meaning through abstraction, akin to other artists such as Kandinsky who were interested in the ideas of the theosophy and anthroposophy movements, spiritualism and the occult.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968) 'Colour chart' c. 1919

 

Roy de Maistre (Australian, 1894-1968)
Colour chart
c. 1919
30.5 x 40.5 cm
Oil on cardboard
Gift of the executors of the artist’s estate 1968
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Caroline de Mestre Walker

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Rhythm' 1938

 

Sonia Delaunay (Ukraine, b. 1885 moved Paris 1905-1979)
Rhythm
1938
Oil on canvas

 

Wolfgang Sievers (German Australian 1913-2007) '"House of Tomorrow" exhibition at Exhibition Building, Melbourne' 1949

 

Wolfgang Sievers (German Australian 1913-2007)
“House of Tomorrow” exhibition at Exhibition Building, Melbourne
1949
Gelatin silver print
National Library of Australia

 

Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski (Poland, Australia 1922-1994) 'Nymphex' 1966

 

Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski (Poland, Australia 1922-1994)
Nymphex
1966
Gelatin silver photograph from electronic image
50.6 x 60.8 cm image/sheet
Gift of Dr George Berger 1978
Art Gallery of New South Wales
@ Estate of Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski

 

Rayner Hoff (United Kingdom, Australia 1894-1937) 'Decorative portrait - Len Lye' 1925

 

Rayner Hoff (United Kingdom, Australia 1894-1937)
Decorative portrait – Len Lye
1925
Marble
30.5 x 22.5 x 16.5 cm
Purchased 1938
Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1934 printed 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Sunbaker
1934 printed 1937
Gelatin silver print

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia, 1892-1984) 'Rushing' c. 1922

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia, 1892-1984)
Rushing
c. 1922
Oil on canvas on paperboard
65.6 x 91.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

Cossington Smith captures the drama of a crowd in Rushing, which depicts commuters clamouring down to the ferries of Circular Quay to get home after work. The flying scarf and fallen hat emphasise the speed at which the travellers are moving and the peril and claustrophobia of a, mostly faceless, city crowd. The steep gangplank and diagonal composition accentuates the dynamism of the painting.

A brilliant colourist, Cossington Smith’s work of the early 1920s adopts a darker palette than the vivid colours she is usually associated with. Inspired by a visit to Sydney in 1920 by the tonalist painter and teacher Max Meldrum, her paintings became studies in tone, rather than colour, a practice she had abandoned by 1925.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Robert Klippel 'Boomerang' coffee table 1955

 

Robert Klippel (Australian, 1920-2001)
Boomerang coffee table
1955

 

 

“The Powerhouse Museum travelling exhibition Modern times: the untold story of modernism in Australia explores how modernism transformed Australian culture from 1917 to 1967, a period of great social, economic, political and technological change. From the ideals of abstraction and functionalism to the romance of high-rise cities, new leisure activities and the healthy body, modernism encapsulated the possibilities of the twentieth century. This exhibition is the first interdisciplinary survey of the impact of modernism in Australia, spanning art, design, architecture, advertising, photography, film and fashion.

Modern times is presented at Heide across all four of the Museum’s gallery spaces. It unfolds in thematic sections highlighting key stories about international exchange, the modern body, modernist ‘primitivism’, the city, modern pools, and the Space Age. Comprising over 300 objects and artworks, it showcases works by major artists including Sidney Nolan, Margaret Preston, Albert Tucker, Grace Cossington Smith, Max Dupain, Wolfgang Sievers, and Clement Meadmore, key architects Robin Boyd, Roy Grounds and Harry Seidler, and designers Fred Ward and Grant and Mary Featherston. An installation, Cannibal Tours, by Madrid-based Australian artist Narelle Jubelin is a contemporary adjunct to the exhibition.

Inspired by the futurist visions of various European avant-gardes, modernist ideas were often controversial and shaped by many competing positions. Modern times reveals how these ideas were circulated and took hold in Australia, via émigrés, expatriates, exhibitions, films and publications. Australian contact with significant international modernist sources, such as the Bauhaus school in Germany, occurred through figures such as influential artist and teacher Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, who taught Bauhaus principles at Geelong Grammar, and renowned architect Harry Seidler, who played a central role in shaping the modern city in Australia. Hirschfeld-Mack’s extraordinary film Colour Light Play of 1923 is shown for the first time in Australia, and Seidler’s 1948 studio, designed on his arrival from New York, has been re-created for the exhibition.

While modernism was international in character, an ‘Australian modernism’ was first championed in the 1920s by artist Margaret Preston, whose promotion of Aboriginal forms and motifs was important to the understanding of their artistic value. Preston’s designs, Len Lye’s stunning animation Tusalava (1929), Robert Klippel’s boomerang table (c. 1955) and other works show the development of a vernacular modernism.

Other highlights of Modern times include works from the visionary experiment in colour theory by Roy de Maistre and Roland Wakelin in 1919, a model of Robin Boyd’s innovative House of Tomorrow (1949), the iconic Featherston wing sound chairs from the Australian pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo, and a large wooden model for Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House.”

Text from the Heide Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 06/06/2009 no longer available online

 

Athlete and movie-star Annette Kellerman's 'Modern Kellerman Bathing Suit for Women' which became commercially available by the mid-1920s. The one-piece bathing suit became Kellerman's trademark.

 

Athlete and movie-star Annette Kellerman’s Modern Kellerman Bathing Suit for Women which became commercially available by the mid-1920s. The one-piece bathing suit became Kellermans trademark
Gift of Dennis Wolanski Library, Sydney Opera House, 2000
Photo: Powerhouse Museum

 

'On hot summer days cool off with Tooth's KB Lager', advertising poster (about 1940).

 

On hot summer days cool off with Tooth’s KB Lager
About 1940
Advertising poster
Colour and process lithograph, artist name “Parker” in image lower right
100.4 x 75.4cm
Sydney Living Museums

 

Grant and Mary Featherston. 'Expo mark II sound chair' 1967

 

Grant Featherston (Australian, 1922-1995) and Mary Featherston (Australian, b. London 1943, migrated to Australia 1952)
Expo mark II sound chair
1967
Aristoc Industries
Polystyrene, polyurethane foam, Dunlopillo foam rubber, Pirelli webbing, fibreglass, hardwood, sound equipment, upholstery fabric
Powerhouse Collection

 

 

The Expo Mark II sound chair, adapted for the Australian domestic market after Expo 67 in Montreal.

A cloth-covered high back winged chair with a circular base. The chair has a circular orange cloth covered cushion in the base and an integral full-width headrest. Two 125mm diameter inserts are pressed into the top of the back of the chair where speakers are fitted inside it. There is a cylindrical knob on the side of the chair.

 

James Birrell. 'A modernist vision of Australia - The interior of the Australian Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal' 1967

 

National Archives of Australia
A modernist vision of Australia: Grant and Mary Featherston’s wing sound chairs were a feature of the Australian Pavilion, designed by architect James Maccormick with exhibits selected by Robin Boyd, at Expo 67 in Montreal, 1967
1967

 

 

In 1967 Australia participated in the International and Universal Exposition held in Montreal, Canada. Australia’s Expo ’67 theme was the ‘Spirit of Adventure’. In the 30,000 square feet glass-walled Australian Pavilion, developed by the Australian Government and designed by Robin Boyd, exhibits explored Australian science, arts, people and development. The pavilion was designed as a ‘haven’ of ‘space and tranquillity’ floating above an Australian bushland setting. Inside, 240 innovative sound chairs offered ‘foot-weary Expo visitors’ the chance to hear the voices of famous Australians describing the exhibits, in French as well as English. The Great Barrier Reef was re-created in a lagoon beneath the pavilion while wallabies and kangaroos could be viewed in a sunken enclosure.

Text from the National Museum of Australia website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

James Birrell. 'View of the elevated restaurant, Centenary Pool, Brisbane' Nd

 

James Birrell (Australian, b. 1928)
View of the elevated restaurant, Centenary Pool, Brisbane
Nd
Powerhouse Museum

 

 

“A major exhibition opening for Sydney Design 08 in August, Modern times looks closely at the transformation of modern city life. The advent of cars, freeways, skyscrapers and new entertainment such as cinemas, milk bars, swimming pools, cafes and pubs are all legacies of modernism as revealed through the exhibition. The exhibition spans five decades from 1917 to 1967 – a tumultuous period marked by global wars, economic depression, a technological revolution and major social changes – out of which a modern cosmopolitan culture was shaped.

“The modernist movement was inspired by various European avant-gardes that projected visions of a better future, shaped by many competing positions. It was through émigrés, expatriates, exhibitions and publications that modernism become known in Australia,” Ann Stephen said. Encompassing art, design and architecture, Modern times focuses on seven themes: 1. the human body, image and health; 2. international influences and exchanges; 3. Indigenous art and modernism; 4. Interdisciplinary projects with retailers; 5. city landscapes and urban life; 6. public pools and milk bars; and 7. the space age.

Several great modern public pools were designed in Australia initially as part of an international swimming boom in the 1930s and boosted by the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. These will be shown on a large, immersive, panoramic audio visual screen celebrating the most Australian of past-times, being poolside. The earliest 1920s swimming costumes by silent film star Annette Kellerman, several decades of Australian icon ‘Speedo’ cossies and an early bikini will also be on display.

The much-loved corner milk bar from the 1930s will also be recreated in the exhibition for visitors to enter, complete with lolly jars, milkshakes and a juke box.

Other story highlights in the exhibition include Robin Boyd’s ‘House of Tomorrow’ that featured at the 1949 Modern Home Exhibition in Melbourne; and Boyd’s memorable Australian pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo that showcased Australian design including the iconic Featherston wing sound chairs and hostess uniforms designed by Zara Holt, wife of then prime minister Harold Holt.

Modernism also inspired new forms of public art and design like the abstract fountains by Tom Bass on Sydney’s former P&O building and Robert Woodward’s El Alamein Memorial Fountain, a popular tourist site in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Modernism shaped an exultant explosion of experiment as part of the Space Age informing such spectacular architectural feats as Roy Grounds’ dome for the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra and Jørn Utzon’s internationally-acclaimed Sydney Opera House, both featured in the exhibition.”

Text by Ruzan Haruriunyan, “Modern Times: Untold Story Of Modernism In Australia,” on the Huliq News website [Online] Cited 20/02/2019

 

Heide II

Heide II

 

Hedie II photographs by Rory Hyde. More photos of Heide are on his Flickr photoset

 

 

Heide II – commissioned by John and Sunday Reed 1963, designed 1964, constructed 1964-67

Designed by Melbourne architect David McGlashan of McGlashan Everist, it was intended as “a gallery to be lived in” and served as the Reeds’ residence between 1967 and 1980. The building is considered one of the best examples of modernist architecture in Victoria and awarded the Royal Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter) Bronze Medal – the highest award for residential architecture in the State – in 1968. It is currently used to display works from the Heide Collection and on occasion projects by contemporary artists.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Australia Square Tower' 1968

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Australia Square: a keyhole to the future [Australia Square Tower]
1968
Gelatin silver print
49.9 × 39.2 cm
Courtesy of Max Dupain and Associates

 

Jeff Carter. 'At the Pasha Nightclub, Cooma' c.1957-59

 

Jeff Carter (Australian, 1928-2010)
At the Pasha Nightclub, Cooma
c. 1957-59
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia, edited by Ann Stephen, Philip Goad and Andrew McNamara, Powerhouse Publishing, 2008 (paperback).

Heide Museum of Modern Art
7 Templestowe Road,
Bulleen, Victoria 3105

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday
Public holidays
10am – 5pm

Heide Museum of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email me at bunyanth@netspace.net.au and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Join 2,765 other followers

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

Blog Stats

  • 11,245,550 hits

If you would like to unsubscribe from the email list please email Marcus at bunyanth@netspace.net.au and I will remove you asap. Thank you.

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Lastest tweets

October 2021
M T W T F S S
 123
4