Family jewels tell two Queensland stories

 

The Gallery recently acquired a fine piece of late-nineteenth-century, Queensland-made jewellery — the D Mackay and Co. Gold and topaz bangle c.1900 (illustrated). Its making and provenance builds on an earlier Queensland piece already in the Collection — the Hogarth, Erichsen & Co. Archer mourning brooch c.1860 (illustrated). Together, these beautiful objects tell the historic stories of two Queensland families.

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The striking King family bangle was made by jewellers D Mackay and Co. in Cairns and originally acquired by Joseph Patrick King (1889–1942) for his wife, (Lilian) Eugenia Maud Hillson (1893–1978), at the turn of nineteenth century. Joseph King was born in Galway, Ireland, and worked for the Queensland Railway from 1906 to 1942.1 The King family settled in the north Queensland town of Charters Towers and the gold used in the construction of the bangle was most likely locally mined. Numerous goldfields were developed in the region during the late nineteenth century, encompassing Charters Towers and the Palmer, Hodgkinson and Mulgrave Rivers.

Mackay and Co Gold and topaz bangle c.1900

Mackay and Co. Australia active 1884–1982 / Gold and topaz bangle c.1900 / 18k yellow gold in hinged triple-bar design, set with a large central facetted topaz, approx. 22.5cts / 5.5cm (inside diam.); 24 grams (weight) / Purchased 2020. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Charters Towers

The town of Charters Towers was founded in the 1870s when gold was discovered and rich deposits under the city were developed. During the boom years 1872-99 and following, the ‘Towers’ was Queensland’s largest city outside of Brisbane, boasting its own stock exchange and its own railway connecting to the coastal port of Townsville some 136 kilometres east.

Charters Towers railway station

Charters Towers railway station, c. 1888 / 75511 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane / Photograph of the wooden station building adjoining the covered station platform at the Charters Towers rail terminus, the railway to Charters Towers opened in 1884.

Charters Towers settlement

Charters Towers c.1890 / 21272106270002061 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane / Due to the gold boom between 1872 and 1899, Charters Towers operated the only Stock Exchange outside of a capital city. Its population of around 27,000 made Charters Towers the largest regional city in Queensland.

Charters Towers goldfields

Charters Towers goldfields, c.1900 / 57987 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Business district, Charters Towers

Mosman Street, Charters Towers, c.1900 / 41142 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

The bangle’s refined design emphasises the natural radiance of its substantial cut-and-polished topaz. Topaz is found throughout Australia in the alluvial gravels (wash) of creeks and gullies with a history of volcanic activity. This impressive stone probably came from Mount Surprise, about 200km south-west of Cairns, between Mount Garnet and Georgetown. The nearby O’Brien Creek is also well-known for its gem-quality topaz.2 Topaz has a noteworthy history in Queensland jewellery, with gold-set brooches of white topaz found in Moreton Bay exhibited by Mrs Marsh in 1862, at the Queensland Court of the International Exhibition in London.3 At the Exhibition of Women’s Work in Melbourne in 1907, the Brisbane firm Flavelle, Roberts & Sankey exhibited a blue topaz said to be the world’s largest. It had been discovered in the hut of a north-Queensland miner, where it had been used ‘for shying at a neighbour’s thieving dog’. When first cut and polished, it had been submitted to King Edward VII in London for inspection, with a view to its inclusion in the new imperial crown. Owing to royal illness, the event did not take place and the topaz was returned to Australia.4

The makers of the King bangle, D Mackay and Co., were originally established in Brisbane in 1884 and opened a branch in Cairns in 1890, presumably to cater for the needs of the goldminers in the far north.


Hogarth, Erichsen & Co Archer mourning brooch c.1860

Hogarth, Erichsen & Co. (Manufacturer), Australia c.1854–65 / Julius Hogarth (Designer), Australia 1821–79 / Conrad Erichsen (Maker), Australia c.1825–1903 / Archer mourning brooch c.1860 / Matt gold with oval section (containing hair), embroidered over silk with seed pearls, chain and pin / 5.8 x 5.6 x 1.3cm / Gift of Mrs Alison Forster 1990 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

The outstanding gold Archer mourning brooch was made some 40 years earlier. It is attributed to Hogarth, Erichsen & Co. as it bears a strong resemblance to the massive and beautifully wrought brooches and bracelets made by the Danish-born sculptors Julius Hogarth and Conrad Erichsen during their partnership in Sydney from 1854 to 1861. The brooch was gifted by Alexander Archer (1828–90) to his mother, Julia, in Norway. Her husband, William Archer, was a trader in Scotland who lost most of his ships in the Napoleonic wars, and the family moved to Norway and set up in the timber trade. Julia had brothers in Australia, and in due course, all of their nine sons travelled here, while their four daughters remained in Norway.

Gracemere Station near Rockhampton

Sketch of Gracemere Station near Rockhampton, 1869 / APE-072-0001-0021 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
Archer family having tea on the lawn at Gracemere c.1872 / APO-027-0001-0022 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

Charles Archer

Charles Archer, aged 47 / 13851 / Courtesy: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

In 1855, Alexander’s brothers, Charles and William Archer, established ‘Gracemere’ (illustrated) — a station outside of Rockhampton that remains with Archer descendants to this day — while Alexander was an early Bank of New South Wales gold buyer. The brooch was most likely made to commemorate the death of his brother, Charles, in 1861 (illustrated). Locks of hair beautifully arranged with seed pearls form a memento at its centre. Family lore relates that the gold for the brooch came from ‘Gracemere’. Alexander became the manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Brisbane in 1864, and Inspector in 1867. After 36 years of service, he left for England on the Royal Mail Ship, the Quetta, (illustrated) accompanied by his wife, Mary Louisa. Tragically, both were lost in the wreck of the ship on 28 February 1890 at the entrance to Torres Strait.5 The Quetta’s sinking killed 134 of the 292 people on board, making it one of Queensland’s biggest maritime catastrophes.

RMS Quetta in Brisbane in 1886

Photograph of RMS Quetta, c. 1886 taken from Bowen Tce, Brisbane

Isaac Walter Jenner painted the RMS Quetta in 1888

Isaac Walter Jenner, England/Australia 1836-1902 / Brisbane from Bowen Terrace, New Farm 1888 / Oil on board / 14.5 x 21.8cm / Purchased 1995. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. The main ship in the painting is the RMS Quetta, which was regularly used on the London-Brisbane ocean mail service.

Hogarth, Erichsen & Co. were outstanding craftsmen who were intent on expressing an Australian identity with motifs derived from flora and fauna, including banksias, a native pear, ferns and palm trees, and the emu, kangaroo, sulphur-crested cockatoo, kookaburra, snakes, possums and lizards. The following description, which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of 9 July 1859, affirmed the quality of their workmanship:

As truthful illustrations of the natural history and floral beauties of the colony, nothing could be more perfect, the different objects whether quadrupeds, birds, foliage, fruit or flowers being truly lifelike. Never, perhaps in gold at least, has the plumage of the feathered tribes of Australia or the airy lightness of the flowers and ferns been displayed to such advantage, as in these chefs d’ouvre of art.6

Surviving examples of Australian colonial goldsmithing are rare due to there being few craftsmen working in the material and a small market. The Archer brooch has strong similarities to a marked example in the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, with the use of a gold nugget, similar banksia, pod and bullrush motifs and similar effect of chasing.7 At the base of the brooch, a lizard is poised across two waterlily leaves, with a gold nugget. The ‘Gracemere’ homestead was built next to a large natural lagoon, and one wonders if the leaves’ inclusion points to the brooch having been inspired by the site.

Detail of lizard and waterlily leaves

Hogarth, Erichsen & Co. (Manufacturer), Australia c.1854–65 / Julius Hogarth (Designer), Australia 1821–79 / Conrad Erichsen (Maker), Australia c.1825–1903 / Archer mourning brooch (detail) c.1860 / Matt gold with oval section (containing hair), embroidered over silk with seed pearls, chain and pin / 5.8 x 5.6 x 1.3cm / Gift of Mrs Alison Forster 1990 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

These impressive pieces are so desirable in part for their beauty, but also because they have belonged to the same families since their creation. Both bangle and brooch have been used to commemorate significant events in their respective family’s lives. For the King family, the topaz bangle was a significant piece of jewellery worn at weddings and major social events; photographs supplied by the family of its members wearing the bangle enrich this narrative. It came down from Eugenia King to her daughter, Eunice, and then to her daughter, Margaret, for her wedding. The Archer family brooch, created as an act of family remembrance for a beloved son, was similarly passed through the maternal line thousands of kilometres away in Norway to Alexander’s elder sister, Catherine Jorgensen, to Mrs Valbourg Jorgensen, then on to Mrs Karin Anderson, who decided the brooch, which she loved, should return to Australia to her Archer family cousin, Mrs Alison Forster. Mrs Forster donated the brooch to the Gallery in 1990.

Michael Hawker is Curator, Australian Art to 1980, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 Joseph King died of arsenic poisoning in 1942 as railway sleepers were, at that time, treated with arsenic to prevent white ant damage.
2 Queensland Government, ‘Northern Queensland fossicking’,
https://www.qld.gov.au/recreation/activities/areas-facilities/fossicking/north-qld/obriens-cre, viewed 16 October 2020.
3 Mrs Marsh was awarded a medal for her ‘turnery in myallwood’ in ‘beautiful bracelets consisting of beads turned in the sweet scented myall wood mounted in gold’. See Anne Schofield and Kevin Fahey, Australian Jewellery: 19th and Early 20th Century, David Ell Press Pty Ltd, Balmain, NSW, 1990, p.63.
4 Schofield and Fahy, p.148.
5 Obituaries Australia, Archer, Alexander, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/archer-alexander-1448, viewed 16 March 2021.
6 Quoted in Schofield and Fahy, p.201.
7 ‘Gold brooch by Hogarth, Erichsen and Co.’, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, https://collection.maas.museum/object/186427, viewed 1 March 2021.

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Interior view encapsulates Charles Blackman’s new love and muse

 

The time Charles Blackman (1928-2018 ) spent in Queensland was central to his development as one of the most important Australian artists of his generation. It was during his early visits to Brisbane first in 1948 and then regularly from 1951, that the artist experienced the sense of intense personal discovery that was to launch his career trajectory.

Interior view, Spring Hill Brisbane 1951 is from this profoundly creative period in his oeuvre, and provides compelling evidence to demonstrate the major influence that Blackman’s sojourn in Queensland had on his career from the late 1940s.

Charles Blackman, Australia 1928-2018 / Interior view, Spring Hill Brisbane 1951 / Oil and enamel on board / 62.5 x 72.5cm / Purchased 2017 with funds from Wayne Kratzmann in memory of Olive and Noel Kratzmann through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency

After resigning from a journalism cadetship at the Sydney Sun, Blackman hitchhiked to Brisbane in early 1948. He met the young artists of the Miya Studio, including Laurence Hope, Don Savage, and Laurence Collinson, and the closely affiliated group of Barjai writers, including Barrett Reid and, most significantly his wife-to-be, Barbara Patterson. Blackman’s association with young artists and writers greatly influenced his personal and artistic development.

In 1950 Blackman reconnected with Patterson who was then living in Sydney, and the couple moved to Melbourne where they married on 18 June 1951. That year the couple travelled north for the winter to make their first visit to the poet Judith Wright and her husband Jack McKinney on Mt Tamborine. The couple’s union ensured an ongoing connection to Brisbane, Charles and Barbara travelling north for the winter to Barbara’s mother for several years. Blackman would later comment that ‘it wasn’t until Barbara and I were actually living together that I really started painting pictures’.1

Their marriage was to become a continuing source of nourishment and mutual development and Interior view, Spring Hill Brisbane is a lovely evocation of this connection, the figures of Barbara with bright yellow hair and red dress appears fused with the figure of Blackman, their faces blurred together as one. The opaqueness of the faces could also reference Barbara’s progressive blindness. Barbara’s condition taught Blackman not to rely solely on his visual engagement with the world, but to consciously experience it through all his senses, seeking to capture this heightened sensory engagement in his work. The painting effectively conveying a feel for the textures of the room, the ceiling light shade, mirror, flooring and empty chair, all in a child-like quality that Blackman achieved in his best work.

The interior scene is aligned to the timber architecture that defined Brisbane’s inner suburbs at that time, and still does to a large degree. Blackman had a particular affinity with these buildings stating:

‘I especially liked the Spring Hill sort of slanting, slatting latticed timber houses… I still have terribly clear pictures of those sort of tropical nights; we use to play jazz records staring out into the crazy landscape.2

Spring Hill, Brisbane

Overlooking the rooftops in Spring Hill / 77247 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
Leichhardt Street, Spring Hill c.1940s / 1009404 / Courtesy: Queensland State Archives
View from Spring Hill looking towards the Story Bridge c.1950 / 30871-0001-0005 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane
Charles Blackman, Australia 1928-2018 / (Self-portrait in front of a boarding house, Spring Hill) 1951 / Oil and enamel on cardboard / 63.5 x 75.5cm / Purchased 2011. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency

The juxtaposition of Interior view, Spring Hill Brisbane and (Self-portrait in front of a boarding house, Spring Hill) (illustrated) is particularly effective in showing the exterior and interior of the unique ‘Queenslander’ architectural style. This would emphasise how this early Brisbane period was a time of personal discovery essential to Blackman’s painting career. Interior view, Spring Hill Brisbane encapsulates his new found love and muse in a visual language which suggests his inner world. This painting and the paintings completed in Queensland in these early years are all articulated through a strong and unique visual vocabulary focused on an inner, psychological reality, which found its inspiration in the artist’s immediate environment at the time.

Michael Hawker is Associate Curator, Australian Art, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 Thomas Shapcott, “Focus on Charles Blackman”, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1967, p.13.
2 Ibid, p.16.

Mark Strizic, Australia / Charles Blackman, 1968 (from ‘Involvement’ and ‘Portrait’ series) 1968 / Gelatin silver photograph on paper / Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2008. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Mark Strizic

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On display in the Josephine Ulrick & Win Schubert Galleries, Australian Art Collection at the Queensland Art Gallery
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Significant Australian Ceramics

 

Australian ceramic pieces dating from the 1960s to 1980 by six highly respected ceramic artists and teachers of the period are fine examples of the artists’ practices at influential periods of their careers. You can view a selection of QAGOMA’s ceramics in Gallery 3 at the Queensland Art Gallery.

Ivan Englund

Ivan Englund, Australia 1915–2007 / Rosey morn no. 1 c.1980 / Stoneware, thrown, with copper glaze / 39cm high / Purchased 2017. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / © Estate of the artist

In 1956, Ivan Englund (1915–2007) became one of the four founding members of the Potters Society of Australia. He taught art and ceramics in institutions in Canberra and across Victoria and New South Wales, and from 1972 to 1977, he conducted the Ivan Englund Pottery School at the Rocks in Sydney. His early work evolved under the influence of Japanese potter Shoji Hamada and his British follower, Bernard Leach. Englund’s work on glazes required extensive research, and he published two books on the subject, for which he received a doctorate from Wollongong University in 1995. Rosey morn no.1 c.1980, with its copper glaze, is an exceptional example of his innovative practice.

Peter Rushforth

Peter Rushforth, Australia 1920–2015 / (Blossom jar) c.1979 / Stoneware with ash glaze (fired upside down) / 29 x 28cm / Purchased 2017. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of the artist

Peter Rushforth (1920–2015) was a committed and inspiring teacher at the National Art School, Sydney, where he went on to lead the ceramics department. His pots commanded great respect from other potters and his students. His course became the most respected in the country; each year, more than 200 students would apply for one of only 18 available places. Rushforth believed that his students should first learn to make useful pots, which, for him, was the basis of the craft. Should a later interest in non‑functional or sculptural ceramics develop, the previously mastered techniques would stand the student in good stead. Drawn to Japanese ceramics and after direct contact with Japanese potters and traditions on a visit in 1963, Rushforth’s own works became freer and more spontaneous. (Blossom jar) c.1979 is a beautiful example. The upside-down firing creates a serendipitous effect.

Bernard Sahm

Bernard Sahm, Australia 1926–2011 / Flattened form 1975 / Stoneware, thrown / 60cm high / Purchased 2017. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of the artist

Bernard Sahm (1926–2011) studied painting and sculpture, and eventually ceramics, at the East Sydney Technical College from 1945 to 1952. In 1976, he was appointed to the role of Inaugural Head of Ceramics at the newly developed Sydney College of the Arts. Reviewing an exhibition of Sahm’s work, artist and art critic James Gleeson wrote of his ceramics: ‘His work is strong and elegant. He is a traditionalist but he is never dull or conventional’.1 Sahm’s pottery is marked by its impressive technical facility combined with a strong sense of vessel design. Flattened form 1975 is an impressive example, through the artist has explored a less utilitarian ceramic aesthetic, and concentrating on a powerful, flanged design.

Shigeo Shiga

Shigeo Shiga, Japan 1928–2011 / Landscape pot c.1979 / Stoneware, thrown / 46 x 40cm (diam.) / Purchased 2017. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of the artist

Shigeo Shiga (1928–2011) was a distinguished potter in both Japan and Australia. From 1966–72, he taught at the East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School), becoming known as Shiga-San to a generation of potters. Greatly influenced by the intensity of the Australian light and landscape, Shiga once stated that: ‘The climate, history and culture of each country are different, and have a strong effect on the work produced there’.2 Landscape pot c.1979 is a unique exceptionally large and spherical. This was one of the last large pots Shiga made, having received advice from his doctor that lifting such heavy pieces was detrimental to his heart.

Robert Forster

Robert Forster, Australia b.1944 / (Spherical pot) 1977 / Stoneware, thrown, with iron glaze / 19cm (diam.) / Purchased 2017. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Robert Forster

Queensland potter Robert Forster (b.1944) lectured in ceramics at the Queensland College of the Art from 1974–76. Of his exhibition at the Design Arts Centre, Brisbane, in 1977, Dr Gertrude Langer wrote:

So we have some sumptuous spheroids with a rich red iron glaze contrasted with ash glaze and clay slips, and among these a very large piece impresses with its excellent control, resulting in a lyrical effect . . .’.3

(Spherical pot) 1977 is an accomplished work that corresponds closely to Langer’s description, with its rich red iron and contrasting ash glaze.

Colin Browne

Colin Browne, Australia b.1949 / Winter pot c.1979 / Stoneware, thrown 35cm high / Purchased 2017. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Colin Browne

Colin Browne (b.1949) is a conceptual artist potter interested in the purity of basic shapes and form. In 1975, he set up a studio in Carlton, Victoria and taught with the Beaumaris Pottery Group, then at RMIT. His ovoid forms are appreciated for their sculptural qualities. Winter pot c.1979 has an organic presence, but is altered by its hard-edged ridge shapes. This biomorphism of abstract forms was an important and consistent theme in Australian art in the 1960s and 70s.

Michael Hawker is Associate Curator, Australian Art, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 Peter Pinson and Guy Warren, ‘Bernard Sahm obituary’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 March 2011.
2 Glenn Cooke, ‘Shigeo Shiga: Vase 1977’ (QAGOMA unpublished material).
3 Gertrude Langer, ‘Attractive display of stoneware’, Courier-Mail, Brisbane, 14 November 1977, page unknown.

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Another troubled moment in history

 

In this time of disruption and distress I am reminded of three Australian artists who worked through their complex feelings and articulated their anguish in these memorable works of art. James Gleeson (1915-2008), Peter Purves Smith (1912-49) and Albert Tucker (1914-99) completed the following paintings between 1938 and 1946 using surrealist methods and approaches to express their own responses to the trauma of the times.

Completed during the Second World War, Gleeson’s self-portrait actually references the death of his father in the Spanish-flu pandemic after the First World War — a traumatic memory likely stirred by the terrible reappearance of conflict in Europe. Purves Smith’s painting is an expression of his frustration and anger with the public and press for failing to see the rising threat of Nazism in Europe earlier. Similarly, Tucker’s painting deals with the personal cost of depression and isolation he experienced in Melbourne where he spent time as an Army artist at the Heidelberg Military Hospital, drawing in graphic detail the wounds of disfigured veterans.

These three works demonstrate the power of art to condense a troubling experience and put our minds back together when our thoughts and feelings are fragmented.

Structural emblems of a friend (self-portrait)

James Gleeson, Australia 1915-2008 / Structural emblems of a friend (self portrait) 1941 / Oil on canvas board / 46 x 35.6cm / Purchased 1984 with the assistance of the John Darnell Bequest / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

Among Australia’s most prominent surrealists James Gleeson was deeply inspired by the poetry of T.S. Eliot and the paintings of Salvador Dali which were first shown in Australia in 1939. Gleeson wrote about this self-portrait Structural emblems of a friend (self portrait) 1941, explaining;

Above the head a hand holds a ‘blood line’ which links all the elements in the painting. Someone has suggested it represents the hand of God. My own feeling is that it is a symbol of my father who died in the Spanish-Flu pandemic early in 1919, when I was barely three years old. I have no recollection of him at all, though from a surviving drawing he did in his teens (dated 1897) without art training of any kind, I seem to detect a talent that was never allowed to develop. The figure in the bridal gown was adapted from a photograph of my mother, and at the end of the ‘blood line’ the little boy looking at the sky and holding a balloon / moon / sun / world is of course an early me, wondering what lies ahead.

The Nazis, Nuremberg

Peter Purves Smith, Australia 1912-49 / The Nazis, Nuremberg 1938 / Oil on canvas / 71.4 x 91.4cm / Purchased 1961 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

The paintings of Peter Purves Smith are recognised for their surrealist undertones and idiosyncratic wit. Purves Smith aimed for his works to be ambiguous, disturbing or even shocking — and approached his subjects with an originality and playfulness that is often echoed in the formal aspects of his paintings.

The Nazis, Nuremberg 1938 was inspired by photographs from ‘The Times’ newspaper, and events Purves Smith had witnessed on his own travels in Europe. The exaggerated goose step of the troops and conflicting lines of the disproportionately elongated arms, rifles and tank cannons mock the spectacular regimentation and narcissism of the Nazi army. The windows of the buildings that surround the square appear derelict, with the demolished buildings to the back possibly referring to a Jewish Synagogue and administration building that had been destroyed in Old Nuremberg in August 1938.

Tramstop

Albert Tucker, Australia 1914-99 / Tramstop 1946 / Oil on canvas on board / 35 x 47cm / Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 1995. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery’s Centenary 1895-1995 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Albert & Barbara Tucker Foundation. Courtesy of Smith & Singer Fine Art

Albert Tucker’s paintings are often concerned with ideas of social dislocation and human loss. In his series ‘Images of modern evil’ he described certain social changes in Australia that accompanied World War II which he saw as evidence of a moral decline. Influenced by German expressionists such as Max Beckmann and George Grosz, as well as the surrealist movement more broadly, Tucker’s painting Tramstop 1946 depicts the nocturnal world of public spaces within the inner city that play host to evermore-private acts that certainly would defy the social-distancing protocols asked of us all at present.

Viewing this change as threatening and alienating, Tucker has said of the series:

All I can remember is blankness and anxiety and fear and desperation. This dominated the entire period… this is where these rather terrifying and miserable ‘Images of Modern Evil’ came from. It was this overwhelming oppression and sense of evil, of rejection… My emotional problem arose from the whole social and historical pressure and my isolation as a person—my inability to fit in with what was going on.

These three paintings are an important artistic record from another troubled moment in history. Amidst the frightful challenges at present, it is encouraging to see how previous generations of artists have dealt with their own darker times to produce powerful artworks that process terrible experiences and provide a site for future reflection.

Michael Hawker is Curator, Australian Art (to 1980), QAGOMA

Featured image detail: James Gleeson Structural emblems of a friend (self portrait) 1941

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Kenneth Macqueen: A fresh approach to Australian landscape

 

Exceptional works in both style and subject, a generous gift of five paintings by Kenneth Macqueen (1897-1960) from the artist’s son and daughter‑in-law, Revan and Nell Macqueen, not only add to the Gallery’s existing holdings, but also confirm QAGOMA as the largest institutional holder of works by this significant Australian artist.

Five new works by Kenneth Macqueen

Kenneth Macqueen, Australia 1897-1960 / (Feeding the pigs) c.1929 / Watercolour over pencil on paper / 38 x 48.3cm / Gift of Revan and Nell Macqueen through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Kenneth Macqueen Estate

Australian modernist Kenneth Macqueen brought a fresh, dynamic approach to Australian landscape painting. Watercolour was a medium he loved and worked to refine, becoming the most distinctive watercolourist of his generation. Macqueen was also a farmer, and his works reveal his deep bond with his property, Murralah, near Millmerran on Queensland’s Darling Downs, where he settled in 1922.

The open, undulating landscape became the focus of both his farming and his art from this time — crisp, vibrant washes evoke its climate and landforms, and reflect a confident vision of the country he worked. Macqueen’s works also incorporated the daily routines of farm life, represented splendidly in (Feeding the pigs) c.1929, in which figures distribute the dairy farm’s unsold milk. This is a rare work: the artist’s wife, fellow artist and illustrator Olive Crane, may have helped in the rendering of the figures, although Macqueen’s is the only signature. Crane tragically contacted meningitis in hospital after the birth of her second child, and died in 1935.

Kenneth Macqueen, Australia 1897-1960 / Cloud arrangement c.1945 / Watercolour over pencil on paper / 32 x 41cm / Gift of Revan and Nell Macqueen through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Kenneth Macqueen Estate

Macqueen was inspired by natural patterns he observed around his farm and found particular delight in clouds:

Living on the top of a mountain range, as I do, cloud formations offer a never-ending source of interest; very seldom is the sky devoid of cloud patterns sweeping into designs of lively beauty . . . Often the sky is the cause of my painting a subject.1

The cloud formations Macqueen painted in the mid 1920s were stylised, and treated as part of a general design scheme. From the 1930s, however, he increasingly depicted clouds as three-dimensional forms, with equal weighting to other elements within his compositions. Cloud arrangement c.1945 is a marvellous example of this rich source of inspiration. Billowing storm clouds, coloured by light and shadow, dominate the scene, with a sliver of distant hills and trees in the immediate foreground serving to accentuate their grandeur.

Kenneth Macqueen, Australia 1897-1960 / The march past 1935 / Watercolour over pencil on paper / 38 x 47.5cm / Gift of Revan and Nell Macqueen through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Kenneth Macqueen Estate

From the 1930s, Macqueen’s oeuvre expanded to include coastal scenes, inspired by his holidays, and which explore the forms and pleasures of the seaside. The march past 1935 captures the burgeoning beach culture of the time in its depiction of a colourful procession of surf lifesavers. Macqueen travelled to the Great Barrier Reef in 1938, which had long attracted naturalists, but was becoming increasingly popular through the publication of books on the subject. S Elliott Napier’s On the Barrier Reef: A Story of Australia’s Coral Wonderland (1928), and TC Roughley’s Wonders of the Great Barrier Reef (1939), were part of Macqueen’s own library, and point to his fascination with the area.

In At anchor off a Barrier Reef island c.1938–39, which is based on a sketch, he captures the viewpoint of a reef island from a boat deck. The taught lines of anchor and mast ropes dissect the composition, which creates a dynamic tension to the work, drawing the eye into the scene.

Kenneth Macqueen, Australia 1897-1960 / At anchor off a Barrier Reef island c.1938-39 / Watercolour with pencil on paper / 39.8 x 46.8cm / Gift of Revan and Nell Macqueen through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Kenneth Macqueen Estate

While the farm and the sea remained the focus of his art, his style gradually evolved. In works like Wheat motive c.1959, painted the year before he died, he experimented with abstracted form. Curator Samantha Littley made special mention of this work in her 2007 essay ‘Making it modern: The watercolours of
Kenneth Macqueen’, published in the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition of the same name:

The repetition of golden wheat stalks and their shadows crisscrossed against a background of blue forms, a sophisticated pattern which dissolves effortlessly into a passage of abstract marks towards the top of the picture plane. Macqueen himself felt the watercolour marked a ‘small step ahead’.2

These outstanding works showcase not only the varied and engaging subjects of a Queensland artist of national importance, but also his considerable contribution to the development of Modernism in the depiction of the Australian landscape.

Michael Hawker is Associate Curator, Australian Art, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 Kenneth Macqueen, ‘Adventure in Watercolour: An artist’s story’, Legend Press, Sydney, 1948, p.9.
2 Samantha Littley, ‘Making it modern: The watercolours of Kenneth Macqueen’, ‘Macqueen’s modernism’, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 2007, p.20

Kenneth Macqueen, Australia 1897-1960 / Wheat motive c.1959 / Watercolour over pencil on paper / 37.6 x 49cm / Gift of Revan and Nell Macqueen through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Kenneth Macqueen Estate

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Featured image detail: Kenneth Macqueen’s Wheat motive c.1959

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Carnivals an inspiration for Jon Molvig

 

Jon Molvig (1923–70) settled in Brisbane in 1955 and the city became the catalyst for his major work. A volatile and rebellious character, he was also a charismatic teacher and his figurative expressionist art had a lasting influence on a number of artists who would come to dominate the local art scene. The Gallery holds an impressive collection of his works, now joined by Carnival motif c.1952 — an early work most likely completed while Molvig was travelling in Europe. The painting’s bold, patterned forms bear the influence of his time abroad, where he was exposed to a variety of artistic approaches.

After he was discharged from the army in 1946, the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme provided Molvig with the opportunity to train as an artist. The scheme for postwar veterans offered him an education not usually available to members of the working class. However, three years into the five-year course, which he attended at the East Sydney Technical College, Molvig decided to head to London aboard the Orontes with fellow students Bob Mitchell, Bob White and Bruce Armstrong in late 1949. On arrival, Molvig immediately immersed himself in European art, viewing paintings he had known only in reproductions. In 1964, he recalled: ‘I learned from Europe, not in Europe, but from European painting; we all do to some extent’.1

DELVE DEEPER: The life and art of Jon Molvig

Jon Molvig ‘Carnival motif’

Jon Molvig, Australia 1923–70 / Carnival motif c.1952 / Oil on board / 67.1 x 100.7cm / Purchased 2016 with funds from the Estate of Betty Quelhurst through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Otte Bartzis

In her book on Molvig, Betty Churcher observed three major influences during this time that had a direct effect on Carnival motif. The works of Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947) particularly impressed him, the way that ‘Bonnard, ignoring style, had tracked down his subject through the vehicle of paint . . . the physical world illuminated by memory and colour’.2 During the summer of 1951, Molvig saw an exhibition that had an equally profound and lasting effect on him. Organised by UNESCO to accompany a seminar on the Teaching of Visual Arts in General Education, it was an exhibition of the art of very young children. Molvig was impressed by the effortless invention of these paintings, later saying: ‘a painter has to fight his way back to the innocent eye, to the verve and sparkle of child art’.3 The third major influence was Norwegian Expressionism, which he experienced after a visit to the Nasjonalgallerie, Oslo, in 1951, where he would have seen the work of Edvard Münch (1863–1944). For Molvig, this visit confirmed the importance of colour as an expressive force to carry the mood of a picture, and the use of strong, rhythmic patterning. Churcher sums up the importance of his sojourn in Europe as a time of ‘assimilation and absorption’.4

Carnivals would have been a common sight in Europe at the time, especially in seaside resort towns, providing Molvig with visually arresting subject matter.

With its pinwheel patterning and warm tones of red and orange, Carnival motif is one of the few surviving works from this period that shows the artist engaging with these influences, using simple forms and colours to convey energy and vibrancy.

Michael Hawker is Associate Curator, Australian Art, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 Betty Churcher, Molvig: The Lost Antipodean, Allen Lane, Rigwood, Victoria, 1984, p.29.
2 Churcher, p.30.
3 Churcher, p.31.
4 Churcher, p.29.

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