UA1-WA:P3-p1-Ex Finding affinities

This exercise asks for the floor plan of a building – real or imagined, public or private – designed between the wars (in the context of the course, clearly assuming World Wars I and II). We then develop a wish list of art works, the only proviso being their creation between 1900 and 1939.

I have decided to imagine a home for myself, reflecting my own tastes and environment. As always I prefer to select works that I have seen in person, and for the past few weeks every gallery visit has had an element of a shopping expedition.

This will be a modest home on the lower north shore of Sydney, looking out over bush and with harbour glimpses. The eaves should have a deep overhang to control summer sun and I would like an internal courtyard to bring light and any breeze into the centre of the house (also to cater for one of my chosen artworks).

planThe floor plan is heavily based on the Salter House by Walter Burley Griffen in Toorak, Victoria (c. 1925). It met all my requirements with the bonus of being by an architect with strong links to Australia. It is on one level, which is standard for Australian homes (or was!). The layout is very forward-thinking, with the living area largely open. I would make the entire house slightly larger in all dimensions. I’ve also combined the study and second bedroom to create a large workroom/studio, and added an external door there. If building today I would take down the wall between kitchen and dining room.

A plan and perspective view of the Salter House is at An internal view from the 1920s is at

For the public areas of the house I chose works which combined structure and curves. There were two key pieces from which I started my selection. The long chair designed by Marcel Breuer and manufactured by Isokon Furniture Company, c.1936, bent and laminated plywood ( sits in the centre of the house beside the courtyard. The second key is in the courtyard itself – Constantin Brancusi’s L’Oiseau dans l’espace [Bird in space] c.1931-36, displayed just as I saw them at the National Gallery in Canberra – see There are two “birds”, one black marble, white marble ‘collar’, sandstone base, the other white marble, limestone ‘collar’, sandstone base. They are set in a shallow pool of water which appears still but is actually falling over a concealed edge to provide the lovely sound of trickling water. I have some concerns about exposing these works to the elements, so will have to get some clever solutions from the architect and conservator.

Guests arriving would first see Kasimir Malevich’s Stroyuschiysya dom [House under construction] (see This Suprematist work may seem angular and boxy, but when actually standing before it the eye moves in smooth curves around the picture. I also find it welcoming and centering, there seem to be stopping guards that keep the eye in the frame, while the fine near-horizontal lines in the lower left somehow make it lively and light-hearted.

Moving further into the reception room one comes to Red and orange streak by Georgia O’Keeffe (1919) which is currently in Sydney in the America exhibition. This is a strong work, not at all restful, but I think appropriate in the most formal and public area of the house. Providing some balancing softness and texture is a rug on the floor designed by Roy de Maistre in the early 1930s (see The lines of the rug also link back to the Breuer chair, easily visible from the front door.

Moving into the less formal living room one’s attention would be taken first by The Bridge in-curve which was painted by Grace Cossington Smith in 1930 (see This celebrates the curved structure of the bridge, continuing the theme of the reception room in a softer and more varied palette. It grounds the room in its location and I can imagine glimpses of the harbour in the windows on either side. This wall – painting and view outside – provides the major colour in this room. On the righthand wall is a smaller work, the photograph Tea cup ballet by Olive Cotton circa 1935 ( The photograph combines structure, curves and movement in an unexpected way, an underlying domestic thread in a very sophisticated and sharp presentation. I imagine it as the focal point of an arrangement on the wall including bookshelves and family photographs. The work by Cotton is a gelatin silver photograph, so somewhat warm metallic monochrome.

On the opposite wall is another work in a related palette, Guitar, 1924, painted metal by Pablo Picasso (the best photo I found is The curves and structure are obvious. Thoughtful hanging and lighting would provide shadows to link with Cotton’s photograph opposite. Standing in the centre of the living room one could face the single wall of colour, then turn to the Picasso, Brancusi’s monochrome birds and the natural colour of Breuer’s chair, Olive Cotton’s photograph then back to the bridge and Grace Cossington Smith. I think they would live happily together.

Implement Blue Margaret Preston 1927 oil on canvas on hardboard

Implement Blue
Margaret Preston
1927 oil on canvas on hardboard

Moving through into the dining room one would first see Implement Blue by Margaret Preston. Depending on position one would be able to see this work and Cotton’s at the same time and it would provide an interesting comparison. I like the very controlled element of domesticity, the limited palette, curves and structure of course, and I feel a still life is very appropriate in a dining room. (Note there is an annoying reflection in the photograph I took, so it is particularly worth going to the Gallery’s website.).

Still life: apples and jar Samuel John Peploe circa 1912-circa 1916 oil on canvas

Still life: apples and jar
Samuel John Peploe
circa 1912-circa 1916 oil on canvas

The second work in this room is another still life, Still life: apples and jar by Samuel John Peploe. It could be endlessly fascinating to compare and contrast the two works. While the dining room is a public space, I can also imagine sitting at the table eating breakfast, eyes going from one work to the other while I think about the day ahead in the studio.

Moving to the private areas of the house and the bedroom, Henri Matisse’s large work L’Enlevement d’Europe [The abduction of Europa] (1929) would be wonderful. A work on this subject was the topic of my annotation of a sixteenth century Italian painting (28-July-2013), and it would seem entirely inappropriate in a bedroom. However Matisse’s work shows a moment later in the story and in fact I think is quite misnamed – “The seduction of Europa” would be more accurate. The scene is not the aftermath of an act of violence. The woman lies relaxed and satisfied, phallic symbols abound and the bull, triumphant tail aloft, appears to be winking at the viewer.

Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot  Edgar Degas bronze, cire perdu (lost wax) 1900-1910 cast 1919-1921

Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot
Edgar Degas
bronze, cire perdu (lost wax) 1900-1910 cast 1919-1921

On a small table in the corner between two windows is Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot. This is a lovely and inviting work with lots of interesting shapes and angles as you move around it. With light of different direction and intensity coming through the two windows some complex shadows could be formed.

The final work I have selected would be hung in the workroom / studio. Femme nue lisant (Nude woman reading) by Robert Delaunay (1920) is full of colour, full of curves (see It was one of three versions of this composition hung together in the Paths to abstraction exhibition a few years ago. I particularly like the stretch of her back in this version and the tilt of her foot. It seems energetic and purposeful and I think just right for my muse and companion in my workroom.

UA1-WA:P3-p1-Ex Finding affinities
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part three: Modern art and still life
Project one: Into the twentieth century
Exercise: Finding affinities

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December 2013

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