Ian Fairweather’s iconic painting Gethsemane 1958 has been recently gifted by Philip Bacon, AM, Special Patron of the Gallery’s Foundation and member of the QAGOMA Foundation Committee. The gift will enable Queensland’s future generations to enjoy the work of one of Australia’s greatest artists who created some of his most celebrated works here in Queensland, on Bribie Island. Mr Bacon’s donation is one of the most generous single gifts of Australian art in the Gallery’s history, and a pivotal work from a very important period in Ian Fairweather’s career.
The Gallery has been actively acquiring and exhibiting Fairweather’s work for more than 50 years, presenting major retrospectives on the artist in 1965 and 1994, and an exhibition focused on his late works in 2012. The entry of this painting into the state’s Collection strengthens the Gallery’s ability to present and interpret the works of this great Australian artist and helps give a more comprehensive understanding of Fairweather’s achievements.
In his lifetime, Fairweather created two masterworks relating to stories of Christ’s life – the occasion of Christ’s birth which he painted in 1962, titled Epiphany, purchased by the Queensland Art Gallery the year it was painted and Gethsemane painted earlier in 1958, which depicts Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. Importantly, both these major paintings were created while Fairweather was living on Bribie Island.
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 in 1959. In 1961 the painting was acquired by Nobel Prize-winning Australian author Patrick White who donated it to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1974. It is thought the painting was in the mind of the author as he wrote some of Australia’s greatest literary works. In 2010 the Art Gallery of New South Wales auctioned Gethsemane as part of a deaccessioning program and Philip Bacon purchased it. Seven years later, Mr Bacon has generously donated it to QAGOMA.
Gethsemane is displayed alongside the Gallery’s Epiphany and another of Fairweather’s biblical paintings, Palm Sunday 1951. Bus stop 1965 and Pumistone passage 1957, two other works by the artist gifted to QAGOMA in recent years by the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Foundation for the Arts also feature in the Australian Collection display.
Ian Fairweather (1891-1974) 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.
A prominent gallery director, philanthropist and significant long-time supporter of the Gallery and its Foundation, Philip Bacon’s outstanding support has included his time as a Gallery Trustee from 2012 through to early 2017, including his role as Deputy Chair of the Board from 2014. Mr Bacon’s significant generosity was recognised in 2009 through the naming of three specific exhibition spaces at the Queensland Art Gallery as the Philip Bacon Galleries.
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Feature image detail: Ian Fairweather Gethsemane 1958