In his lifetime, Ian Fairweather (29 September 1891–1974) — one of Australia’s greatest artists who painted some of his most celebrated works here in Queensland, on Bribie Island — created two masterworks relating to stories of Christ’s life: the occasion of Christ’s birth which he painted in 1962, titled Epiphany (illustrated), purchased by the Gallery the year it was painted and the iconic painting Gethsemane (illustrated) painted earlier in 1958, which depicts Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion.
ARTISTS & ARTWORKS: Explore more works by Ian Fairweather in the QAGOMA Collection
Ian Fairweather on Bribie Island
In 1958, Fairweather embarked on a major series of biblical studies. Larger in scale than his earlier works, Gethsemane which is painted over four panels conveys the artist’s new-found confidence and ambition. The work depicts Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he prayed during the night before his crucifixion. Heavily abstracted, Christ’s face is fused with the chalice. Appealing to God, Christ said: ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’, as he realised he had to suffer death so humanity might be saved. At the bottom of the painting, sleeps one of Christ’s disciples. The work’s strong calligraphic lines are a testament to Fairweather’s years spent living in China, immersing himself in the culture. Fairweather’s biblical images were not intended to emphasise a particular religious message by the artist, but to convey an aesthetic experience of the subject and the event.
Gethsemane was selected for the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1959. In 1961 the painting was acquired by Nobel prize-winning Australian author Patrick White, at first it hung in his bedroom, and later above his writing desk. Writing to father Michael Scott, one of the founders of the Blake Prize, White said, ‘I am proud to own [Gethsemane], and hope Fairweather will get all the credit he should for having created it.’ It is thought the painting was in the mind of the author as he wrote some of Australia’s greatest literary works.
Ian Fairweather was born in Scotland and studied at London’s Slade School of Fine Art from 1920 to 1924. In 1927 he left England and spent the next two decades travelling to Canada, China, Indonesia, South America, the Philippines and Japan. After returning to London in 1952 after a near fatal raft trip from Darwin to Timor, he travelled to Australia in August 1953, retreating from society and establishing himself in a hut on Bribie Island where he remained until his death.
Ian Fairweather’s Bribie Island hut
Ian Fairweather’s paintings are on display in the Queensland Art Gallery’s Australian Art Collection, Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries (10-13).