australian art 1930 to 1960 by samc

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									AUSTRALIAN ART 1930 – 1960
• The late 1930s and the 1940s was a period of ferment and change in Australian society. • Prior to this period, there was a sense of well being generated by Australia’s isolation from the rest of the world.

• This was threatened by the impact of the world economic depression in the 1930s, the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 and the rise of fascism.
• Australia could not remain isolated during such a tumultuous period of history, a sense of despair and the end of the utopian dream entered our society.

• Prior to this period the established art tradition was one of landscape painting, the continuance of late 19th century, `plein air painting `(painting outside) and realist portraiture. • The young artists wanted a new language to express their discontent at what they saw as moral and ethical crisis confronting Australian society.

• In 1939 an exhibition, The Herald Exhibition of Modern European and English Painting, was exhibited in Melbourne and provided Australian artists to view original works by Cezanne, Picasso, Seurat, Van Gogh, Vuillard, Gaugin, Matisse, Dali, Ernst and Leger. • The radical break with tradition by the European artists provided the young Australian artists with a new voice to express their protest.

AUSTRALIAN ART 1930 - 1960

TWO IMPORTANT INFLUENCES Development of Styles based on overseas influences Abstraction Expressionism Surrealism

Development of Social Realism based on the experience of the Depression and consequent social and political change

While embracing overseas trends and influences – artists did so by using local contexts, eg landscape, social, political and cultural issues, by which they were able to construct their own unique variations of style.

MODERNISM - Overseas
• To use colour, shape and form to make works that were ‘modern’ in look and feel. • Art that reflected an era of experimentation, innovation, invention and social and technological change. • To make art about art, addressing ideas about colour and flatness rather than depicting human beings or nature. The result being carefully designed images organised according to formal principles of composition and design to create contrast, harmony and/or discord.


Henri Matisse – The Red Room Fauves

Rene Magritte SURREALISM Marcel Duchamp – Nude Descending a Staircase No 2 1912 DADA SURREALISM

Franz Marc – The Little Yellow Horses 1912 EXPRESSIONISM

Picasso – Les Demoiselles D’Avignon 1907


• The influence of art from Europe, exhibitions, reproductions, migrants. • Effects of social and political unrest in Europe. • Sigmund Freud, Surrealism and Expressionism.

• • • • • • The Anti-Fascist Exhibition The Angry Penguins The Dobell Case – The Archibald Prize The Contemporary Arts Society Antipodean Group Non-Objective Art

MODERNISM - Australian
• Dynamic compositions expressing movement, vitality and rhythm rather than static balance. • The use of various mediums, painting, linocut prints, etchings, magazine designs and illustrations, and photographs. • Connections between colour schemes and music. • Tonal cubist style paintings. • Diversity of Australian subjects including outback landscapes, Australian ‘types’ and studies of native plants.

Grace Cossington-Smith Rushing 1922

Grace Cossington-Smith The Bridge In-Curve Margaret Preston

The Aeroplane 1925

• During the 1930s there was a reaction of Modernism – the public was not interested in buying this style of art and the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria disliked Modernism so much that he did not want any of this art in ‘his’ gallery. • Many art students returned from overseas with new ideas and were keen to share their knowledge. They returned with such new painting styles as Abstraction, Cubism and Constructivism.

The Contemporary Art Society and The Australian Academy of Art

In Canberra
• In 1937, an Academy of Art was set up in Canberra, it was supposed to provide a forum for Australian art and foster art appreciation and art education. Some groups of painters thought that an academy would be too conservative and eventually stifle contemporary art and expression. In 1938 the Contemporary Art Society was founded in opposition to the academy.

In Sydney and Melbourne
• A similar society was set up in Sydney called the Sydney Contemporary Art Society. • The Melbourne CAS had its first exhibition in 1939, the artists included representatives from both Melbourne and Sydney. The CAS proved a valuable forum in which artists could show and sell their work, heighten their awareness and voice their feelings and ideas about modern art and life. The society proved to be so strong that after only five shows the Australian Academy of Art dissolved.

The Dark Years and The Depression 1933- 50
• The Great Depression reached Australia in the late 1920s. Economically, Australia was in great trouble: production halved and, as a consequence, jobs were lost. Wages were cut between 10 and 20 per cent. With increasing unemployment many families were left penniless and out of work, in many cases evicted from their homes because they were unable to pay the rent.

• During the height of the Depression, parts of the inner cities became slums, where people frequently dumped their household waste into the street, creating a public health hazard. Hygiene was a serious problem in these areas and public health suffered. Inner city scenes were portrayed by some social realist painters.

The Social Realists
• The art of the 1930s illustrated a new wave of thought and to a certain degree, discontent. The painting of the traditional Australian landscape and of European influenced painting meant little to a group of Melbourne painters who felt that art affected society and that art could even change the world. The social realists were concerned in particular with the effects on Australia of World War II, the Spanish Civil War and the Depression.

1940s The Angry Decade
• Two aligned groups of Melbourne artists emerged during this decade. • The ‘Social Realists’ Yosl BERGNER, Noel COUNIHAN. • They were painters of contemporary social and political themes concerned with the struggle of ordinary working people. They used painting to express sympathy and support for the socially and economically disadvantaged in the community.

Social Realists
• The art of the 1930s illustrated a new wave of thought and to a certain degree, discontent. The painting of the traditional Australian landscape and of European influenced painting meant little to a group of Melbourne painters who felt that art affected society and that art could even change the world. The social realists were concerned in particular with the effects on Australia of World War II, the Spanish Civil War and the Depression.

Artists who embraced Social Realism Noel COUNIHAN Yosl BERGNER Robert DICKERSON



• Counihan attended art school at night and worked as a storeman during the day. After losing his job and going on the dole, he became active in the Communist Party. • The memories of the Depression remained clear in his mind. One of Counihan’s most highly emotional works is ‘At the Start of the March’. Completed in 1944, it portrays the plight of a hungry family. Painted in sombre tones, the background reveals a line of figures, possibly a food queue. Counihan used emotionally charged short brushstrokes and added areas of strong pale yellows to give a sense of drama. • Counihan blamed the capitalist system for the Depression and he aimed to show this in his art.



• Josl BERGNER was not concerned with local issues. His concerns lay in depicting the gross injustice of the world. He was born in Austria into a Jewish family and, on arrival in Melbourne, settled into its Jewish community. Shortly after his arrival in Melbourne, BERGNER was employed selling food at the Victoria Market. Here he frequently saw the poor, the drunk and the homeless – people in a similar predicament to himself, scavenging for any food they could find.

• It was during these years that he painted ‘The Pumpkin Eaters 1942, and the ‘Pie Eaters’ 1940. The couple in the ‘Pie Eaters’ consider a bare table, an empty plate and a bottle. The title of the work suggests they have already eaten, but the bleak barren space that they inhabit speaks of their continuing hunger. They have an air of suspension. This painting illustrates a very personal and passionate response to poverty and dispossession.

• ‘The Pumpkin Eaters’ 1942, is painted in muddy browns and yellows and is typical of social realist subject matter. It shows a terribly thinlooking family, including their shoeless young boy, walking beside a cart fully of pumpkins which is being hauled by his father. Although not a good piece of drafting, the message of the painting is adequately conveyed: the misery and plight of the impoverished during the Depression.




• Robert DICKERSON explores social concerns using a figurative style of expression as opposed to an abstract language. • In ‘The Tired Man’ DICKERSON shows us a man sitting alone on the end of a bench, in his signature ‘chunky block style’. Who is the man waiting for? We are given no clue, he seems weighted heavily to the seat and appears dejected or perhaps exhausted. His legs are limp, one arm hangs down, his other clutches the bench in a last effort to support himself. The red bench slightly juts into the canvas and with the high horizon line the landscape appears vast and uninhabited. The mood is sombre and leaves open to speculation the identity and emotional and physical state of the tired man.

Angry Penguins
• A group of painters who had similar concerns to the social realists developed later, they were known as the Angry Penguins. They were called this because of their association with a cultural magazine called Angry Penguins. The painters were Sydney NOLAN, Albert TUCKER, John PERCEVAL and Arthur BOYD.

• Sidney NOLAN, Albert TUCKER, John PERCEVAL, Arthur BOYD. • Unlike the Social Realists the Angry Penguins as a group, believed that freedom of expression was essential to art and they explored a wide range of imaginative subjects drawn from mythology, the subconscious mind, the legends of bushrangers and human sexuality. • They were tired of people being so complacent about the developments in world politics, they wanted to awaken people to what was happening. Painting was their voice, the Social Realists believed that art should reflect society and expose injustice. They were political artists, making statements and questioning the values and standards of society.

Sidney NOLAN
• Sidney Nolan depicted the effects of war; however he later ventured into landscape painting. His painting ‘Head of a Soldier’, 1942, was actually reproduced on the cover of a book on war psychosis. The work depicts the face of a soldier with large popping, bloodshot eyes, twisted and suck in cheeks. The soldier’s tongue is hanging out of his mouth. Childlike in its simplicity but powerful in its message, the work all too readily conveyed the horror of war.

Sidney NOLAN ‘Head of a Soldier’


• John Perceval first began painting when he copied reproductions of pictures of van Gogh. Perceval’s early paintings were mostly of people he had seen around him, various ‘generic’ types of people that he used to symbolize a whole range of situations and social conditions. Children were a favourite subject and featured in many of Perceval’s pictures during this time.

• ‘Boy with Cat’ shows impending diaster. The young boy holds a cat which turns on him and the moment when the claws are about to dig into his face. Perceval has turned what would normally be a cute domestic scene into an image of evil and betrayal. The brushwork is crude and expressionistic, while the colour range is dull and muddy, consistent with the mood of the scene. Perhaps Perceval is making a statement that danger is present everywhere and can be disguised under any mask.


Albert TUCKER
• The horrors of war were also brought to light with the works of Albert Tucker. Tucker never attended art school but was self taught. He responded to the influence of the war on Australian society. Tucker’s antiwar themes were similar to the war paintings of the German Expressionist painters. During the war years in Melbourne there was an influx of soldiers, particularly Americans. Khaki uniforms became part of everyday life in wartime Melbourne; soldiers were constantly looking for a ‘good time’. This was all part of the ‘moral decay’ that Tucker believed went hand in hand with the war. Tucker explores these issues with his ‘Images of Modern Evil’ series.

Albert TUCKER
• He explained where his inspiration for this series came from: • ‘They came out of wartime Melbourne. I remember a newspaper story about girls in a back alley, with some diggers, doing a striptease for them – great old fun and games. This was part of the image stock-piled in my mind. Beer and sexual contests along Swanston Street, all along St Kilda Rd from Princess Bridge, down to Luna Park at St Kilda. The GI, the digger, the schoolgirl tarts, Victory girls. All these schoolgirls from fourteen to fifteen would rush home after school and put on short skirts made out of flags – red, white and blue – and go tarting along St Kilda Road with the GIs and of course the diggers – when the diggers could get a look in, because they were all poor men compared with the Americans’.

Albert TUCKER
• The ‘Victory Girls’, painted in 1943, is an image taken directly from this experience. Despite its horrifying subject matter, the painting is superb in its execution. Large colourful brushstrokes in blue, red and white were slapped on to the canvas board. The women’s faces are dominated by the large, brilliant, orange-red ‘V’ shaped mouths filled with teeth. While the women are portrayed as sexual toys, the soldiers’ image is not one of Anzac heroes, but one of drunken sleaziness.

Arthur BOYD
• The devastating effects of the war also confused and angered the young Arthur Boyd. Boyd’s work of the 1940s depicted scenes of horror, degradation and twentieth century sophistication, and the ultimate act being the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. Boyd felt so strongly about this that he painted a holocaust scene of Melbourne in 1945.

Arthur BOYD
• This made quite a few people think about how close the war was to home. • In ‘Melbourne Burning’, 1946-7 figures are depicted screaming and running from a raging fire, other figures are shown lying dead among the trees. Even animals are shown fleeing across the river.

• Public reaction to the work of the SOCIAL REALISTS and the ANGRY PENGUINS was mixed but predominantly hostile. The response was one of disbelief that artists could paint such depressing scenes.

• NOLAN and BOYD; the use of narrative of history, myths and legend and religious subjects; the place of humans in the landscape and folklore.

Arthur BOYD



Boyd – Shearers Playing for a Bride 1957-58
• Arthur Boyd developed his own personal mythology as a metaphor for the human condition. In many of his works he often places mythological figures in an Australian bush setting to tell his stories about Australia and its people. In Shearers Playing for a Bride, Boyd presents a haunting, dreamlike image in which a black bridegroom conjures up a vision of marriage to a white bride. • Strange symbols add to the unreality of the situation: colourful moths flutter around the lamp; a blue beetle crawls on the foot of one of the shearers; and a lustful ram grabs at the white-faced bride whose wedding veil is pinned to the ground by the gamblers, leaving her unable to flee. Boyd did not want this image to be viewed as a real situation, he wants the painting to appear as a metaphor for the strange world which exists between black and white, which by virtue of birth, many people have been unwittingly thrust, never quite belonging to either.

Boyd - continued
• Boyd became aware of the poverty and dereliction of the half-castes in Central Australia during a trip to Alice Springs during 1951. This painting is part of a series, Love, Marriage and Death of a Half-Caste, the paintings do not refer to an actual event, they are conceived as a dream. Boyd’s paintings are a brilliant vindication of the role of the artist as a critic of society.

The Environment
• The Elemental landscape • Isolation and distance (The Outback, the Dead Heart, the Never Never) • The mythical and the visionary in the landscape. • Rejection of Romantic idealism • National identity which fed originality. • International and local ideas.


• Drysdale and the ‘real’ Australia; people in the landscape.

• The Rabbiters 1947

• Australian landscape painters had concerned themselves with more ‘attractive’ elements of the land, beautiful vistas with wide rivers and blue skies. Drysdale gave another perspective to the land. His painting from the post-war years depicted a new vision of the Australian landscape unseen by city dwellers. After making many trips to the outback from the mid 1940s, Drysdale became familiar with different types of landscape, from the burnt reds and ochres of the desert through to the vibrant, iridescent lush green of Cape York.

He loved the different people he met along the way, the pastoralists, hotel keepers, station hands, stockmen, shearers, mothers, wives and their children, the migrant café owners and the Aboriginal people. He painted types rather than individuals and many of then remain as classics in Australian life and art.

• Drysdale found the outback forbidding and unkind to both nature and humans. But he also became increasingly fascinated with the colours and mystery of the outback. • ‘The Rabbiters’ relies upon ambiguity and the surreal to give it its eerie quality. The dramatic use of black in the shadows and rock formations gives the painting a strange menacing mood. We are unable to see what is lurking behind the rocks. The strong vertical rock formation on the right is reminiscent of the lower leg bone of a cow, the uprooted tree looks like it ‘died in agony’ and resembles the skeletal remains of a claw or hand. The rabbiters are dwarfed by the lifeless formations.

Sidney NOLAN
• ‘First Class Marksman’ 1946

Sydney Nolan Ned Kelly and Symbolism
• The home-made black armour of Ned Kelly became an unforgettable symbol. What it did was to combine narrative and symbolism in an unparalleled way in Australian art. The symbolism of the black square armour poised on top of the silhouetted figure of the outlaw in the red landscape married narrative, Australian history, myth and poetry as well as creating tremendous visual impact

Sidney NOLAN
• Nolan’s grandfather had told him stories, about the bushranger Ned Kelly, and he had been one of the policemen involved in the capture of Ned. Nolan had spent his school holidays in Glenrowan, Kelly’s stamping ground. Nolan was fascinated by Kelly’s life and it was not surprising he evolved a body of work around the events of the bushranger’s life.

Sidney NOLAN
• In a series of 27 paintings made between 1946 and 1947, Nolan chose to depict the figure of Kelly in a stylised manner characterised by the use of a black rectangle with a slit. This motif, taken from the form of Kelly’s head guard – part of his metal armour which he adapted from an old farm plough – has become one of the most powerful and pervasive images in Australian art.

Sidney NOLAN
• It reached iconic status when it was used as a costume for a performance in the opening ceremony for the Sydney 200 Olympic Games. • In ‘The First Class Marksman’, Nolan makes reference to the precise and skilful shooting ability of the Kelly gang. Nolan’s uses the motif of the black square steel head guard, which dominates the composition. The intensity of the colours of the bush and the brilliant smooth texture is due to the enamel house paint he used, called Ripolin, a favourite medium of his during this period. Nolan’s Kelly series has been widely acclaimed as some of the most powerful works in Australia’s art history.

The artists also adopted Aboriginal styles and motif. ABORIGINAL ART was reappraised as an aesthetic force by some artists. Margaret PRESTON Arthur BOYD Yosl BERGENER Sidney NOLAN Russell DRYSDALE

• The Impact of Aboriginal art. • Aboriginal art as a decorative device. (PRESTON) • Aboriginal art as an aesthetic force. (DRYSDALE, NOLAN, BOYD)

Important Women artists Grace CROWLEY Thea PROCTOR Grace COSSINGTON –SMITH Elise BLUMANN Kate O’CONNOR Margaret PRESTON Their role in the development of Australian art and the dominant position of male artists.


• One of the most significant artists to experiment with the principles of Cubism in Australia was Grace Crowley. • ‘Girl with Goats’ 1928, was painted while she was in France and is an academic study painted in the style of Cezanne, and embraces the formal structure of Cubism. The colour range is restricted to warm ochres and cool greens and the subject matter is particularly French rural. The rendering of the forms and their opposing curved and flattened shapes recalls the work of Cezanne and perhaps the early Cubist work of Braque and Picasso. • On her return to Australia in 1932, she opened her own modern art school which became an important venue for the study and promotion of modern painting. The school taught the concepts of Cubism and Constructivism and regularly held forums and discussions as a means of broadening the dialogue about modern art.


• Cossington-Smith’s early work was figurative and relied heavily upon the events and images that surrounded her immediate environment as her inspiration. • Between 1917 and 1925 she painted socially topical pictures drawn from urban life, which included crowds of people marching in protest, return of troops from war posts abroad and a range of views of people in the city.

• From the mid twenties she returned to the landscape to draw inspiration. In the 1930s she was focused on the changing modern city, which is manifest through her vibrant and energetic pictures of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

• ‘The Bridge In-Curve’ used the Sydney Harbour bridge as subject matter. The bridge became an icon and a Modernist motif, it was regarded as a marvel of engineering and a delightful piece of architecture that complemented the vista and Sydney’s growing skyline. • Using a colourful palette of colours, Cossington-Smith painted a wonderfully dramatic composition of the bridge under construction. It was painted from an angle that gives the bridge a roller-coaster look as the main girder sweeps across the picture surface. Homes are dwarfed beneath its huge form and the solitary figure of a person gives another dramatic dimension to the work: humans’ shrinking into insignificance in the rapidly modernising world. The spans almost meet but not quite, and the sun’s halo effect of broken brush marks radiating from the arch gives the work a religious reverence.


‘The Bridge In-Curve’


• Kate O’Connor was a Perth artist who went to Europe in 1905. She was independent minded women who thought a woman’s self-sacrificing role towards her husband inhibited women from being successful artists. • O’Connor was a woman of firm character and opinions. She said, ‘I don’t paint things out of my head, my impression of something is what I see, nearly always what I see is what I paint’.

• Kate was influenced by Impressionism but she remained an individualist with a strong sense of form. Her artworks included small, intimate studies of strangers in public parks, large decorative still lifes, and portraits. • She painted on cardboard, employing different techniques, from broad brush to pointillist, and often included a palette knife.

Margaret PRESTON
PRESTON’S art incorporated three distinct periods:
• The beautiful, traditional colour painting of domestic scenes and still-life subjects, 1915-28; • The modern geometric phase, 1927-28; • Hhe phase that drew on Aboriginal art for inspiration, 1940-45. • She pushed for a national art in both her teaching and painting. She exploited the beautiful forms of Australian flora, particularly the texture and shape of the native banksia. She used these forms of these flowers as designs in her coloured woodcuts.

Margaret PRESTON


Margaret PRESTON
• ‘Implement Blue’ is one of Preston’s most interesting formal and modern still-life pictures. It is an abstract work in the sense of treating the cups, jug and sugar bowl not as items but as pure forms with their own reflected shapes and shadows. The angles are acute, while the colours are bold and contrasting. The use of dramatic light and dark reflects the commercial photography of the period.

Margaret PRESTON
• Preston was one of the first Australian artists to draw on the colours, images and symbols of Aboriginal art. In the twenties she made many trips to Central Australia and the Kimberley region of Western Australia seeking out rock carvings, engravings and rock paintings. In 1925 she campaigned for a national style based on Aboriginal art and culture. While she probably did not fully understand the complexity of Aboriginal culture with its rituals and religious ceremonies, she did expose Australian to Aboriginal art when it was far from fashionable.

Margaret PRESTON
• Preston believed that her choice of ochres and markings were respectful to the Aboriginal art and culture from which she drew inspiration. Her interest was in developing a national style and culture, and in so doing, casting off the British cultural ‘inheritance’.

Margaret PRESTON


Margaret PRESTON
• ‘Flying over the Shoalhaven River 1942, is one of Preston’s first attempts at an aerial view of the landscape and one of the first in history of Australian painting. Bird’s eye views of the landscape were conceptual representations made by Aboriginal people. The artist has depicted an overcast day, the fluffy clouds sit low in the sky and cast their shadows over the brown and sunburnt landscape of the Shoalhaven valley. The grey river cuts through the landscape like a large serpent and references both the indigenous spiritual nature of the land and its geographical elements.

William DOBELL
• Portrait of an artist (Joshua Smith) 1943

• • • • • • Melbourne in the 1940s. The avant garde and the intellectuals. The Contemporary Art Society. The Herald Exhibition. The Angry Penguins. The rise of figurative expressionism and a ‘national school’.

• The emergence of Sydney in the 1950s and the rise of modern abstraction, looking outwards to the world.

• During the late 1950s there was growing uncertainty and suspicion from conservative forces in the art world at the rise of abstract art. These feelings motivated a number of artists to form a group to counter the promotion of abstract art over figurative work. • The Antipodean Group formed in 1959 and was made up of several artists including, John BRACK Arthur BOYD John PERCEVAL Clifton PUGH Robert DICKERSON.

• This group fought against the promotion of abstract art as its members believed abstract painting could only damage Australian art. They published a manifesto and stressed the importance of looking to Australia for their ideas rather than going ‘international’ and seeking this new modern way of painting. • Above all, it celebrated the importance of figurative painting in art. • The Antipodean Manifesto was published in 1951 – the artists staunchly defended the position of the image in art. The group was not necessarily advocating a highly realistic art, but an art that was figurative, and one that drew on their own environment and experience. • The manifesto created a lot of fuss and critical response from abstract painters and critics alike.

• The response of artists in the urban areas; John BRACK, Clifton PUGH, Robert DICKERSON. • The abstract artists; John OLSEN, John PASSMORE and Ian FAIRWEATHER


Clifton PUGH

• Journey into the You Beaut Country No 2 1961


• Roi Soleil

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