Sidney Nolan’s Platypus Bay, Fraser Island is a dreamlike landscape


The purchase of Sidney Nolan’s Platypus Bay, Fraser Island 1947 adds an important work from this series to the Collection. One of the works from Nolan’s 1948 exhibition at Brisbane’s Moreton Galleries, it allows the Queensland Art Gallery to tell, in greater depth, the significant part that the state played in Nolan’s artistic development.

Sidney Nolan, Australia 1917-1992 / Platypus Bay, Fraser Island 1947 / Enamel on board / Purchased 2013. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The Bridgeman Art Library

In July 1947, Sidney Nolan travelled to Brisbane, eager to escape his increasingly uncomfortable and tense relationship with John and Sunday Reed at Heide. His affair with Sunday Reed had soured, the bonds between them being completely severed when he married John Reed’s sister, Cynthia, in Sydney the following year. Interestingly, Nolan’s marriage certificate records Fraser Island as his place of residence, suggesting the island had worked its magic on his psyche. For Nolan, his time in Queensland was an opportunity to be energised by fresh, fertile landscapes, both physical and cultural.

The fascinating and compelling narrative and the Queensland settings of Nolan’s Eliza Fraser paintings have wide appeal and hold a particular interest for local audiences. Nolan’s own interest was originally sparked by two visitors to Heide: Tom Harrison, who had trained commandos there during World War Two, and Barrett Reid, a Brisbane poet. Between 1947 and 1948, Nolan stayed in Brisbane with Reid and visited the rainforests, swamps, and lagoons of Fraser Island. He was introduced to the historical figure of Eliza Fraser, a Scottish woman who was shipwrecked near the island in 1836, and after whom it was subsequently renamed. Nolan read an account of the incident in Robert Gibbings’s 1937 book John Graham, Convict, 1824: An Historical Narrative Written and Illustrated by Robert Gibbings at the John Oxley Library in Brisbane. He was fascinated by the story of her survival, her time spent with the island’s Indigenous people (variously described as captivity or salvation) and her rescue by escaped convict John Graham. Nolan detailed the Fraser Island landscape — and Eliza Fraser and John Graham’s engagement with it — in obsessive detail. He captured various island scenes, of Platypus Bay, Lake Wabby and Indian Head, while other works incorporated a lone female or male figure in the landscape, as in the Gallery’s Mrs Fraser 1947, and these were displayed in his 1948 exhibition at Moreton Galleries, Brisbane.

Platypus Bay, Fraser Island presents a dreamlike landscape of lustrous blues and greens. Its subtle beauty, rendered mysterious and otherworldly with a foggy dissipated central band (possibly morning mist, or cloud), disrupts the visual progression between land, bay and sky, partially obscuring what appear to be trees. Perhaps this ‘impediment’ finds its best explanation in an address that artist Judith Wright gave to the 1975 Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry, during which she stated:

So many of us have as it were an inward expectation of a European landscape and therefore I think, it has been difficult for us to appreciate the subtle beauty of Australia . . . Painters have trained our eye much more to appreciate this beauty.1

Between 1947 and 1948, Sidney Nolan painted at least 15 images of Fraser Island and Eliza Fraser. He then returned to the same theme briefly in 1952, and again during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he produced numerous works referring, either obliquely or directly, to the Eliza Fraser story and the landscapes he had encountered on the island. Their continuing presence in his paintings, almost 20 years after his initial curiosity, suggests that the episode affected his work greatly, making Queensland instrumental in his development as an artist.

1  ‘Fraser Island in history and art’, <>, viewed 11 September 2013.

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Michael Hawker is Associate Curator, Australian Art, QAGOMA

Transparent: Watercolour in Queensland 1850s-1980s

JJ Hilder, Australia 1881-1916 / Island schooner, Moreton Bay 1910 / Watercolour over pencil on wove paper on cardboard / Purchased 1967 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Transparent: Watercolour in Queensland 1850s–1980‘ presents an exploration of the breadth and diversity of watercolours held in the Collection. Watercolours appear in the earliest records of European exploration and settlement of Queensland. This new display demonstrates the medium’s important role in the state’s visual history.

Join us at the Queensland Art Gallery on Saturday 22 March for our opening weekend program.

12.00pm | In-conversation: Reflecting on the region
Michael Hawker, Associate Curator, Australian Art, reflects on the works in ‘Transparent’ with Glenn Cooke, Queensland heritage expert.

1.30pm | Conservation talk: Bringing watercolour to light
Join Samantha Shellard, Conservator, Works on Paper, in this exploration of watercolour materials, paints and paper throughout history.

The exhibition publication Transparent: Watercolour in Queensland 1850s–1980s presents the first comprehensive survey of the Gallery’s watercolour collection, bringing to light many never before seen works from our substantial holdings from the mid nineteenth century to the 1980s.

Watercolour’s continuous presence in the history of Australian art has seen it change and evolve with shifts in culture, as well as with the demands and innovations of its practitioners. The early importance of the medium is evident in the Queensland work of Conrad Martens and Harriet Jane Neville-Rolfe. Both produced important works based on the British watercolour tradition, a medium respected for the recording of fine detail and favoured for its portability and convenience. Martens embarked on a sketching tour of northern New South Wales in 1851. He travelled throughout the Darling Downs and surrounding areas sketching homesteads and landscapes in the hope of gaining painting commissions.1 On his return to Sydney, Martens completed commissions for watercolours by working from the pencil drawings and notes he had completed in the field. A fine example of this work is View of Brisbane (in 1851) 1862, which he worked up at a later date. In September 1883, Neville-Rolfe sailed to Queensland to stay with her brother Charles, the manager of ‘Alpha’, a remote cattle station west of Rockhampton. She also chose to capture her impressions in watercolour, which relied on just a few easily transportable materials. The works she produced over the next two years — largely of the local Aboriginal community, flora and fauna, and life on the land, such as family picnics and the breaking-in of horses — endure as documents of colonial life.

CGS Hirst, Australia c.1826-1890 / Erin’s home, Boggo Queensland 1876 / Watercolour on paper / Purchased 2003. The Queensland Government’s special Centenary Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

As the Queensland colony grew, a new group of artists emerged. Naive in style, their impressions documented the lives of smaller land owners and a burgeoning civic pride. This style finds one of its most eloquent expressions in A view of the new Post Office & School of Arts, Bourbong St. Bundaberg from Barolin St. Augt. 1st 1891, Queensland 1891. While the artist remains unidentified, this work is a visual manifestation in watercolour of the material and cultural riches of the regional city of Bundaberg at the time, and is typical of many similar attempts to picture the colony’s prosperity. One particular artist we do know of is CGS (Charles) Hirst, who worked mainly in south-east Queensland from the early 1870s and produced a series of charming, naive renderings of houses and public buildings in Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba, of which Erin’s home, Boggo Queensland 1876 is a fine example. It seems that property owners commissioned the artist to paint views of their holdings, so Hirst performed the same function, in effect, as had Conrad Martens some 20 years earlier (though Hirst’s clientele comprised the numerous small landholders of the Brisbane Valley rather than the wealthy property owners of the Darling Downs).

Unknown, Australia / A view of the new Post Office & School of Arts, Bourbong St. Bundaberg from Barolin St., Augt. 1st 1891, Queensland 1891 / Watercolour, pencil and wash on paper / Purchased 2007. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, as the infrastructure of the colony improved, Brisbane began to acquire facilities found in larger cities, including formal structures for teaching and education.

The emerging teaching system attracted artists like R Godfrey Rivers and FJ Martyn Roberts. Watercolour was an ideal medium in which these artist–teachers could perfect their own skills and they encouraged their students to exploit its versatility. This training often engendered an intense appreciation of watercolour, as can be seen in the early works of Vida Lahey, a student of Rivers. Her mastery of the medium would lead to her using watercolour throughout her career, developing her own highly distinctive, colourful, decorative style.

Vida Lahey, Australia 1882-1968 / Building the bridge 1931 / Watercolour and gouache over pencil on wove paper on cardboard / Gift from the estate of Mrs Gladys Powell 1941 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © QAGOMA

While the early twentieth century saw the rise and rapid dissemination of modernist art and ideas, traditional styles lingered in Queensland, as expressed in the pensive watercolours of Toowoomba-born artist JJ Hilder. The consummate watercolourist, Hilder used the medium for the pure enjoyment of its properties, as in Island schooner, Moreton Bay 1910 where he uses the colour to collect in the textured grain of the paper, casting shadows and creating lyrical effects. However, Australian artists began to increasingly look overseas for inspiration, travelling to Europe to study and often to stay for long periods. Ipswich-born artist Bessie Gibson was one, settling in France in 1906 and not returning to Brisbane until 1947. Artists including Gibson used the medium to record impressions of their travels, just as an earlier generation of British watercolourists had responded to their experiences of Australia.

Kenneth MacQueen, Australia 1897-1960 / Hills and dam c.1930 / Watercolour with pencil, heightened with white on paper adhered to cardboard / Purchased 2002 with funds from Leighton Contractors Pty Limited through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Kenneth Macqueen Estate

The importance of the watercolour medium is mirrored in the establishment of the Australian Watercolour Institute in Sydney in 1924. There is little doubt that Queenslanders Vida Lahey and Kenneth Macqueen, who were both elected to the society in 1926, were the outstanding watercolour practitioners in Queensland at the time. Both used the medium expertly and almost exclusively, achieving national reputations as a result. Lesser known but highly skilled watercolourists working in Queensland at the time included William Bustard, Roy Parkinson and FW (Wal) Potts.

Roy Parkinson, Australia 1901-1945 / The coast at Port Macquarie c.1933 / Watercolour and gouache over pencil on wove paper on cardboard / Gift of public subscribers through Miss Jeanettie Sheldon, Gainsborough Gallery, Brisbane 1934 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Watercolour’s immediacy and vibrancy gave it new impetus during World War Two, where its ‘economy of materials and ease of transport made it an ideal medium for the rapid sketch of impression, for work in the field during war’.2 For example, Douglas Annand was engaged as an RAAF camouflage officer in north Queensland (1941–44). There he endured long and isolated leisure hours, which he filled with painting, producing enough works to hold a number of solo exhibitions at Sydney’s David Jones Gallery in 1944–45, and at the Canberra Hotel, Brisbane, in 1945. Wartime shortages and the scarcity of art materials were not limited to the experience of military personnel. Many artists had to adapt their practices to include watercolour on paper due to availability. One of the most important watercolour painters of the 1940s in Queensland was WG Grant, who came to the medium relatively late in his career, when it became difficult to secure oil paints during the war. Grant’s watercolour style is characterised by its free exploration of brushwork and colour, as in Woman with blue parasol c.1950, which expresses a sense of Brisbane’s unique light.

In the 1950s, a different, more descriptive strain of watercolour expression, which harnessed the powerful connection of Aboriginal Australians with the land, emerged in the work of Joe Rootsey. While Grant’s art focused on Brisbane and its environs, Rootsey’s was based firmly in his country in north Queensland. Inevitably compared with Albert Namatjira, who used Western watercolour techniques to paint his country in central Australia, Rootsey similarly used the medium to paint his own affiliation with country.

The 1960s saw an emergence of a local school of Expressionism in Queensland, which was fully realised in the freely executed watercolours of Joy Roggenkamp. Her technique, although appearing deceptively simple, demonstrated a dazzling handling of the medium, and her work expressed an acute interest in nature, largely exploring the local landscape. A particularly fine example is the late work Thunder and lightning, Glasshouse valley c.1990, where the fluidity of watercolour is an instinctive response to the rhythms and shapes occurring in nature. The beautiful, light liquid washes of the artist’s paintings evoke a highly personal vision of Queensland light, atmosphere and place. A strong counterpoint to earlier uses as a means of record and documentation, Roggenkamp’s works demonstrate watercolour’s seemingly limitless potential for expression.

. . . watercolour painting has been an energetic area of artistic production in Queensland . . .

Joy Roggenkamp, Australia 1928-1999 / Thunder and lightning, Glasshouse Valley c.1990 / Watercolour / Proposed gift to the Queensland Art Gallery Collection

For more than a century and a half, watercolour painting has been an energetic area of artistic production in Queensland, reflecting the history of the state’s development following European settlement. Since its beginnings as a tool of documentation, watercolour has revealed over many years its versatility in the expression of individual artistic visions. In ‘Transparent’, these qualities are revealed in the considerable achievements of Queensland’s watercolour artists who occupy a significant place in the history of Australian art.

1  Martens completed well over 100 drawings and watercolours during his journey, many executed on site. These artworks now form a valuable topographical record of the Queensland landscape only ten years after European settlement.
2  Jean Campbell, ‘A tribute’, in Douglas Annand Watercolours 1935–50, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, 1988, unpaginated.

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The exhibition publication is available from the QAGOMA store and online

Richard Stringer: A gift of works

Richard Stringer, Australia b.1936 / Before the service station, Charters Towers 1966, printed 2013 / Black-and-white digital print / Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2013 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Richard Stringer

The recent gift of 25 photographs by Queensland artist Richard Stringer, which are included in the current exhibition ‘Pleasure of Place: Photographs by Richard Stringer’, makes a splendid addition to the existing ten works held in the Gallery’s Collection.

‘Pleasure of Place’ on display at the Queensland Art Gallery until Sunday 16 March explores the varied subjects that have inspired Richard Stringer (b.1936) throughout his photographic practice, including industrial archaeology, the urban environment and landscapes.

The accompanying publication explores over 40 years of image-making and is available for purchase from the Gallery Store and online.

The addition of a group of photographs to the Collection showcases the work of Richard Stringer, one of Queensland’s most important photographers, and is an outstanding historical record for future generations. Stringer’s photographs explore the social and cultural contexts that have led to current conditions, while the disquieting stillness of his images often belies the noisy history of the sites depicted. Most of these works are black and white, which lends them a timelessness associated with the documentary tradition.

Stringer is one of the few photographers working in Queensland who has consistently sought out and recorded the design, craftsmanship and character of threatened buildings across the state. Over four decades, he has documented, collected and archived thousands of photographs to acknowledge what has been, what is and what may not be with us in the future. In particular the photographs, Before the service station, Charters Towers 1966 and Curtain raiser, Bellevue precinct, Brisbane 1968 show how Stringer’s architectural studies have helped him to understand what lies beneath the surface of things, and to make things visible to those of us with untrained eyes, who look too quickly or too little.

Richard Stringer, Australia b.1936 / Breezeway, Yengarie sugar mill 1974, printed 2013 / Black-and-white digital print / Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2013 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Richard Stringer

His interest in ruins and dilapidated sites also points to the romanticism that swept European art and literature at the turn of the nineteenth century and can be characterised by the fact that ‘the human race is, and has always been, ruin-minded’ and that ‘all ages have found beauty in the dark and violent forces, physical and spiritual, of which ruin is one symbol’.1 This sensibility is evident in Breezeway,Yengarie sugar mill 1974, in which Stringer records the sheer visual pleasure of the movement of grass buffeted by wind in the arched doorway of a ruined wall of the old mill — the symbol of nature taking back a landscape once inscribed with our making and dwelling. Similarly, Goats, St Helena prison 1977, depicts the creatures standing sentinel-like on the collapsing prison walls, observing the photographer as he works. In this unlikely moment, nature is seen as ultimately holding dominion over all.

The selection also includes fine portrait photographs, through which he conveys something very specific about his sitters’ individuality, as in Luke Roberts Bellas Gallery 1988 and Anne Wallace 2004. Stringer’s portraits all share an engagement with the subject, an understanding and an appreciation of a kindred spirit. These portraits of contemporary artists play a significant part in recording the cultural life of Brisbane through its people.

This generous gift from Richard Stringer reflects his varied interests — architecture, interiors, industrial sites, nature and portraits — and substantially enhances the Gallery’s holdings of work by this important Queensland artist.

1  Rose Macaulay, Pleasure of Ruins, William Clowes and Sons, London, 1953, p.20.

Vale: Jeffrey Smart

Jeffrey Smart, Australia/Italy 1921-2013 | The traveller (and detail) 1973 | Synthetic polymer paint and oil on canvas | Purchased 1975 with the assistance of an Australian Government Grant through the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Queensland Art Gallery

Jeffrey Smart was Australia’s pre-eminent painter of the contemporary world. Born in Adelaide, in 1921, his first ambition was to be an architect, and though he eventually trained as an artist his love of the created environment remained. He taught art in Adelaide from 1941 until 1948, when he left Australia for London, travelling via the United States. In 1949 he studied under Fernand Léger in Paris, at the Academie Montmartre, and also as La Grande Chaumière. He returned to Australia in 1952, and worked as art critic for the Sydney ‘Daily Telegraph’ until 1954 and he was known to many Australian children as Phidias on the ABC Radio program ‘The Argonauts’ in the 1950s. Not until 1964 was he able to devote himself entirely to painting, when he made the move to Italy, where he lived until his recent death, but he returned frequently to Australia. In 1999 the Art Gallery of NSW held a major retrospective of his work.

Smart finds the poetry in modern urban environments and distils it into his compositions. The traveller assumes the presence of a cityscape, but the picture is predominantly composed around the form of the buses. There is also a tension between the purely formal elements of line and colour and the suggestion of narrative implied by the figure. The inclusion of the traveller in Smart’s urban composition reinserts a human presence into the formal concerns of modernist painting.


Highlight: Captain Hugh Knyvett

Gilbert P Riswold, United States 1881–1938 | Bust, Captain Hugh Knyvett c.1914–18 | Bronze | Gift of Mrs EF Knyvett 1933 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Hugh Knyvett was born in South Brisbane, Queensland on 15 September 1886. Shortly before World War One commenced he was a Home Missionary for the Presbyterian Church at Longreach. Enlisting as a private, he was an Intelligence Officer for the RAAF’s No.1 Squadron and the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion. Knyvett trained in Egypt, served at Gallipoli, then was badly wounded in France and sent home. After some months of treatment, he returned to active service and travelled via North America, intending to join the Royal Flying Corp. However, the United States Government employed him as a war lecturer, which involved recruiting drives and lecture tours across the country.

In 1918, his memoir, Over There with the Australians, was published in the States, where it became a rallying cry for Americans to join the war. Knyvett was befriended by presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. The latter wrote to his mother, stating how impressed he had been with Knyvett’s gentleness and courage.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote: I never came in contact with anyone who impressed me more with that combination of qualities so indispensable if humanity is to be saved — extreme gentleness and high idealism, with the loftiest and sternest courage and sense of duty.

Hugh Knyvett died in New York on the 15 April 1918, from the effects of shrapnel wounds he had received at Bapaume in France. He was honoured by the Chicago Club, who commissioned a bust in his memory from American sculptor Gilbert Riswold. Founded in 1869, the Chicago Club’s membership has included the city’s most prominent businessmen, politicians and families. A copy of the bust was sent to Knyvett’s mother, and this was donated to the Queensland Art Gallery in 1933.

Sculptor Gilbert Riswold was born in Baltic, South Dakota, in 1881. He was a pupil of Ada Caldwell, instructor of art at South Dakota State University, with whom he studied until he went on to the Chicago Art Institute. There he studied sculpture with Lorado Taft and Charles Mulligan. Riswold’s well-known works include the Mormon Battalion Memorial in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Oak Park and River Forest Memorial (World War One) in Chicago. He lived most of his life in Chicago, moving to California in the 1930s. His sculptures were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago between 1909 and 1920. Riswold died in Hollywood, California, on 15 March 1938.

Bust, Captain Hugh Knyvett is currently on display in the new Australian art collection display in the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries, Queensland Art Gallery (QAG).


Vale: John Rigby (1922-2012)

John Rigby, Australia 1922-2012 | Photograph: Richard Stringer, 9 January 2003 | © John Rigby family

The passing of John Rigby on 18 October 2012 allows us to reflect on what a senior figure in Queensland and Australian art he was. Rigby began exhibiting in 1941 as a member of the Younger Artists Group of the Royal Queensland Art Society and had some 35 solo exhibitions, principally in Brisbane but also in Sydney and Melbourne. He received several prestigious awards, including the Dante Alighieri/Italian Government Prize (1955), Australian Women’s Weekly Art Prize (1958), Caltex Centenary Art Competition (1959), H.C. Richards Prize for Landscape Painting at the Queensland Art Gallery (1960) and the Finney’s Art Prize (1965), amongst others.

John Rigby | Lady Cilento1973 | Oil on composition board | Bequest of Lady Cilento 1987 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © John Rigby family

Landscape and portraiture were his favourite subjects and in January 2004, the Museum of Brisbane presented ‘Portraits: John Rigby’, including many works that had been entered in important portrait competitions, such as the Archibald Prize, Doug Moran Portrait Prize and the Australian Women’s Weekly Portrait Prize. An example of Rigby’s keen interest in portraiture is seen in the Gallery’s work, Lady Cilento 1973. This portrait was hung in the Archibald Prize of 1973 and remains a sensitive tribute to this well-known and respected Queensland identity.

Apart from John Rigby’s contribution as a major artist, he admirably served Queensland in art administration. He was appointed Officer in Charge of the School of Fine Art, Queensland College of Art in 1974 and he taught there for ten years. He was a Trustee of the Queensland Art Gallery from 1969 to 1987 and helped oversee the transition from temporary premises in the city to then Gallery’s new purpose- built accommodation on Brisbane’s Southbank in 1981. John Rigby will be remembered, not just as a fine artist but also a teacher who influenced generations of Queensland artists and students.

John Rigby | A place for people 1973 | Oil on canvas | Purchased 1973 with the assistance of an Australian Government Grant through the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Queensland Art Gallery