Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Art Gallery of South Australia: Part Three

Moving perhaps to more familiar artistic territory for me, here are some more of the artworks I enjoyed.
The Letter (1889) by Emma Minnie Boyd
This is a fine example of the later nineteenth century Victorian narrative style of painting which told stories and pointed morals. It hints at the young woman's possible future as she looks away wistfully, the letter tucked behind her back and the opened envelope lying at her feet, pointing to a world beyond the threshold of the drawing room.

I also like the treatment of light in this painting as the interior is dark and precise highlighting the peacock floor feature and Persian style carpets indicative of the popular aesthetic movement, while the sunlight filtering through the curtains and the impressionist style brushwork of the outdoors world provide a pleasing contrast.
Peacock Panel (1899) by Albert Pedvin
And speaking of peacocks and aesthetics, this glorious beast shines brightly against the walls. It's watercolour, pencil and gold leaf on wood, and is quite a remarkable feature in the gallery.

The Four Seasons (1902) by Hugh Ramsay
Detail from The Four Seasons
This is Hugh Ramsay’s only known multiple panel work. It was originally placed in a Tasmanian hospital and later incorporated into a bookshelf in the billiard room in the house of John Ramsay, the artist’s brother. Illustrating women in harmony with their environment, the figures can be identified by their corresponding landscapes as spring, summer, autumn and winter. The lyrical treatment of the figures and drapery show the influence of French symbolist Puvis de Chavanne, while the Latin inscriptions reference the romantic Pre-Raphaelite tradition. Ramsay’s embrace of these influences reveals a more poetic side to his more typically masculine work.

Onions (1905) and Still life with celery and apples (1901) by Margaret Preston
The Tea Urn (1909) by Margaret Preston
Aboriginal landscape (1941) by Margaret Preston
Margaret Preston was one of Australia’s foremost modernists. Travelling widely both in Australia and overseas brought her into direct contact with modern European art and its assimilation of oriental and so called ‘primitive’ art influences. As early as the mid 1920s Preston began to reference Aboriginal art, in some instances borrowing directly from the designs made on rainforest shields.

In Aboriginal Landscape Preston modernises the then waning landscape tradition via the visual language of Aboriginal art. Furthermore, Preston believed that it was through the influence and agency of Aboriginal art that Australia could develop a truly national art form.

The Pink Scarf (1913) by Hilda Rix Nicholas
I know very little about this artist and less about this painting, but the soft gentle colours moved me, along with the young woman's slightly wounded expression. Apparently Nicholas has been accused of painting 'picturebox perfection' but I wonder if the fear of the young woman's propensity to blend into the wallpaper is what we see reflected in her features.

French Café (1936) by Peter Purves Smith
French Café was painted towards the end of Purves-Smith’s study at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London. Depicting three men and a woman seated at a table it pays homage to Cézanne’s famous series Cardplayers. The work shows, on one hand, compliance to artificial form with flattened planes, modelled figures and flat light while also representing a departure into an imaginary realm characterised by elongated arms and exaggerated facial features. A sense of alienation is evoked by the open doorway where a loan figure stands in the shadow of an isolated tree.

The Bridge (1030) by Dorrit Black
The Olive Plantation (1946) by Dorrit Black
Dorrit Black travelled overseas and studied in both London and Paris. It was her training in France in the Cubist manner in the late 1920s that led her to simplify her compositions and focus on the fundamental structures of her subjects. On her return to Australia, Black made a significant contribution to the Australian artistic community by teaching, promoting and practicing the philosophy of modernism – initially in Sydney in the early 1930s, and later in Adelaide during the 1940s.

The Olive Plantation is one of Australia’s most distinctive landscapes of the 1940s. It is a tonal depiction of the Adelaide foothills at Magill, now surrounded by suburban houses. The rounded solid forms are characteristic of Black’s modernist compositions of the 1940s.
Subway Escalator (1953) by Frank Hinder
Frank Hinder was an artist known for abstract and semi-abstract paintings and drawings, which expressed his belief that art is a means of revealing the fundamental laws of design that underlie the world of appearances. He not only painted and exhibited as a Modernist artist, but also worked on theatre and costume designs, commercial art for book publishers, magazines and advertising agencies, textile designs, and lithographic printmaking.

In this painting he uses tempera to produce dry, light colours and precise lines, rendering the city as a dynamic, living organism, where everything (particularly people and buildings) is in a state of endlessly altering relationships.

The Lift (1954) by John Brack
John Brack is regarded as one of the most significant Australian artists of the twentieth century. His art is characterised by his carefully considered and controlled compositions, and by his choice of subject matter, often consisting of mundane images drawn from the world around him. Of course I had to take a picture of this one to show Him Outdoors (who didn't come to the gallery with me).

The Lift belongs to an important group of works from the 1950s which reflect the awful reality of the Holocaust. Rather than making an anguished or impassioned response to this subject, Brack imbues these paintings with their power by exercising constraint. The unnerving quality of this work comes from imagining that the steps leading up to this seemingly ordinary lift are analogous to the tragic fate suffered by the Jewish people led to their deaths in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany.

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