Archive for the '4.1 The portrait' Category

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait

Although this exercise suggests further analysis of one of the works seen at a portrait gallery, I would like to celebrate the great Sydney institution of the annual Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This is awarded for the best portrait entered, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’. It was first awarded in 1921 and was established by a bequest from journalist Jules François Archibald to foster portraiture, support artists, and commemorate great Australians. The Archibald Prize is a huge event, complete with controversies, Packing Room and People’s Choice awards and a Salon des Refusés. It has generated ongoing debate on the nature of a portait, with one prize-winner being disputed in court as a caricature and distortion (the challenge failed). An often seen quote from Dobell, the artist involved, was that he was “trying to create something, instead of copying something. To me, a sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is living in itself, regardless of its subject. So long as people expect paintings to be simply coloured photographs they get no individuality and in the case of portraits, no characterisation. The real artist is striving to depict his subject’s character and to stress the caricature, but at least it is art which is alive.”

Ben Quilty Margaret Olley oil on linen 170 x 150cm

Ben Quilty
Margaret Olley
2011 oil on linen 170 x 150cm


Ben Quilty won the Archibald Prize in 2011 with this portrait of artist Margaret Olley.

quilty_02The large scale and tight framing of the face give an almost overwhelming sense of a dominating presence. On the face large areas of smooth white-primed linen support thick, generous, yet precise sweeps of rich paint, and dense, textured impasto fills the background. The work seems close to the boundary of representation and abstraction.

The bright colours reflect the colours of Olley’s own work, which is often still-lifes of her own home – an eclectic, colourful jumble of treasures and inspiration. Margaret Olley, a grand dame of Australian painting, died only a few months after this work won the Archibald. Her home and its clutter were so well-known, seen as so central to Olley’s work and legacy, that it has now been recreated within the Tweed Regional Gallery (see http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre). The straw hat which frames her face in the portrait is classic Olley, as is the general expression – compare for example Greg Weight’s 1991 photograph (http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?&irn=811&acno=2004.62). Here she looks to me a touch tired, but alert, determined, opinionated, colourful… I would say that both the features and the character would have been clearly recognisable to most visitors to the exhibition.

This portrait was painted for the specific purpose of entry in the Archibald Prize. The artist, Ben Quilty, is a young star of Australian painting. His work is often gritty and masculine, so the portrait showed a new side to his work. Margaret Olley was a very successful and highly respected painter who has also contributed greatly to Australian art both by mentorship of younger artists and through philanthropic gifts. Olley was one of the judges who selected Quilty as winner of the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 2002. Their mutual affection and respect could be seen in footage taped at the time of the Archibald award (see http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/archibald-wynne-sulman-prizes-2011/video/).

The portrait was clearly very successful in that it won the Prize it was created for. It still hangs in a place of honour in the New South Wales Art Gallery. Whether it is successful as a portrait or was the “best” work in competition is a matter of debate – as is every Archibald. The competition has a strong populist slant and this was a popular selection. The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes together form an annual exhibition that gets a lot of press and a lot of visitors (The Wynne Prize is for landscape painting of Australian scenery, or figure sculpture; the Sulman Prize is for a subject or genre painting or mural.)

This exercise asks for a “formal portrait” and I have wondered if my selection fits. Being so tightly cropped it has virtually none of the additional identifying marks of the subject. The painting style, level of detail and type of finish don’t match the standard row of heads one sees in a boardroom or the corridor of some institution. However as a portrait by a modern painter, intended for a popular, celebrity-focused portrait competition, capturing not just the features but the character of a well known and admired icon of recent Australian painting, I think it is a very good example of a formal portrait.

Resources

Archibald Prize, including past winners: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/prizes/archibald/

Australian Story profile of Quilty: http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/onthewarpath/default.htm

Ben Quilty’s website: http://www.benquilty.com/

Discussion of the Archibald and other 2011 entrants: http://theconversation.com/archibald-argy-bargy-as-ben-quilty-wins-populist-prize-841

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Project one: The portrait
Exercise: Analyse a formal portrait

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Visit a portrait gallery

npg_01For this exercise I visited the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in Canberra – http://www.portrait.gov.au/. This is a fairly new institution in a new building. NPG’s first exhibition was held in 1994, but it was under the management of the National Library of Australia. It became an institution in its own right in 1998 and was housed in Old Parliament House until the purpose-built gallery was opened in 2008.

npg_02In the entranceway to the gallery is this work, Geo Face Distributor by James Angus (2009, enamel paint on cast aluminium) (NPG link). The Gallery website catalogue entry refers to “our innate capacity to recognise and respond to the faces of others”, and I think this work fits the location very well.

I have already written about two works in the NPG – the busts of Trucaninny and Woureddy by Benjamin Law (see 13-Mar-2014). The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) is about 200 metres away and also has casts of the busts. The NGA pair are on plinths of equal height, set at either end of a Regency period double-end sofa (NGA link). In my eyes the formal setting combined with the distance between the two busts turned these significant works into decorative items. Probably this is reflective of their original use, but the arrangement at the NPG – the busts on unequal plinths, the closer space between them – create hugely greater emotion and meaning. This could be in keeping with the purpose of the two Galleries, NGA presenting art, and NPG telling a story about people, their identity and culture.

I chose three focus paintings at NPG. The first is Portrait of Captain James Cook RN by John Webber (1782; oil on canvas) (http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?irn=143&acno=2000.25) (unfortunately photography is not permitted and the Gallery declined my request for photographs to use). Cook died in 1779, so this work was posthumous, however Webber had travelled with Cook and painted at least two other portraits of him, so knew the subject well. Cook of course was a great navigator, and in 1770 as a lieutenant took formal possession of the east coast of Australia on behalf of England. A biography can be found at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917, and includes the information Cook “was also severe on uncompliant natives whom he met on his voyages, and his readiness to use force contributed to his untimely death” at the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).

Cook is seen in uniform, including a sword. He has signet (seal), suggesting the official documents he wrote. His right hand is gloved, showing the personal knowledge of Webber (Cook’s hand had been injured by an exploding horn of gunpowder). He looks confident and relaxed, at home and in control in any environment.

The sea, so long Cook’s home, is in the background on the left. An overgrown hillside is on the right, symbolic of the lands he “discovered”, explored, and in some cases claimed. The sky is dark, with pinks and grays in the clouds and glimpses of lighter blue, including one to the right of the face which provides contrast the the modelling shadow.

The OCA course notes ask about where the portrait was originally displayed and who would have seen it. Strangely enough it seems it may have remained in Webber’s possession until his death, then possibly passed through the hands of William Segieur (first Keeper of London’s National Gallery), spent 150 years or so in Hull Trinity House (for infirm seamen), before a complex sequence involving failed high-flying business men and a mysterious stint in Switzerland. An odd history, but certainly this formal portrait of a famous seaman would have been very appropriate at Trinity House. (Information from Huda, 2008).

My second focus work is Dame Mary Gilmore by Lyall Trindall (c. 1938; oil on canvas) (http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?searchtype=basic&irn=196&acno=2001.42). Gilmore (1865 – 1962) was an Australian writer and a social crusader. She campaigned on “a wide range of social and economic reforms, such as votes for women, old-age and invalid pensions, child endowment and improved treatment of returned servicemen, the poor and deprived and, above all, of Aboriginals” and wrote about “such diverse subjects as the English language, the Prayer Book, earthquakes, Gaelic and the immigration laws, the waratah as a national emblem, the national anthem and Spanish Australia” (Wilde, 1983). She is featured on the Australian $10 note and there is an annual poetry prize in her name, among many other legacies of her contribution to the country.

The portait shows a woman of keen intelligence, one willing and able to speak her mind, with a direct gaze and a firm mouth. Gilmore is seated and appears relaxed but alert. The clothes suggest the period and that she was neither greatly wealthy nor poor. There is a wedding ring but no other jewellery. There is a sense of authority and a no-nonsense approach. However there are few other details provided, unlike for example Gilmore’s 1943 portrait by Joshua Smith (http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/7619/), which includes books, Gilmore writing, native flowers and that same direct gaze. Another portrait of Gilmore painted by Tindall is held at the State Library of New South Wales (see http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemLarge.aspx?itemID=433038) and shows the same alert stance, steady gaze and firm mouth, but this time holding a book, perhaps (patiently?) dealing with an interruption before she returns to her reading. I haven’t been able to find any detail on the painting’s provenance, but it seems the sort of work that could be hung in a school to inspire students (a number of schools have a “Gilmore” house).

The final focus work is Eddie Mabo (after Mike Kelley’s ‘Booth’s Puddle’ 1985, from Plato’s Cave, Rothko’s Chapel, Lincoln’s profile) by Gordon Bennett (1996; synthetic polymer paint on canvas) (www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?&irn=67&acno=1999.27). Information from the NPG website: “Koiki (Eddie) Mabo (1937-1992) was a leader of the indigenous population of Townsville, where he established a pioneering Black Community School, before he initiated a legal case for native title against the State of Queensland in 1982. Along with his fellow Meriam people, Mabo was convinced that he owned his family’s land on Murray Island (Mer) in Torres Strait. By contrast, Queensland Crown lawyers argued that on annexation in 1879, all the land had become the property of the Crown. In 1992, the High Court found 6-1 in favour of Mabo and his co-plaintiffs, overturning the accepted view that Australia had been terra nullius (empty land) before white settlement. Mabo died before the historic decision, which was permanently to alter the way Australians think about Aboriginal land ownership.”

Unlike Trindall’s portrait of Gilmore, Bennett’s portrayal of Mabo is dense with symbols and indicators. Frustratingly I haven’t been able to learn much about Kelley’s work in the time available – such a specific subtitle would surely help me to understand quite what Bennett is telling us. The NPG website has “Gordon Bennett said ‘To me the image of Eddie Mabo stood like the eye of a storm, calmly asserting his rights while all around him the storm, a war of words and rhetoric, raged.'”, but that seems only a part of what is being shown.

Hinkson (2010) suggests “Simultaneously, a transformative set of events and an ongoing unresolved tension at the heart of Australian identity are galvanised in this picture. Rather than portraying Mabo the man heroically, Bennett’s picture is a powerful statement about the nature of our mediated public culture and the processes through which we grasp and indeed produce images of persons, the events with which they are associated and the ideas they come to stand for in the present… [The work] conveys a sense of the myth making we, the nation, undertake when we turn a person and his achievements into an element of public imagination.” It’s not a portrait of a man, but a wish or dream?

To be honest, I feel overwhelmed in writing this report. There is so much I don’t know or understand, of art and art history of course, but much more importantly of Australia’s history and place and people – and possible future(s).

I have a developing theory, heavily influenced by recent viewing of Hannah Gadsby’s Oz (see 14-Mar-2014), that Australia as a nation, Australians collectively and individually, are struggling with identity. It’s a theme many artists around the world explore in their work, but it seems to be a particular obsession here. To test this sweeping generalisation I went looking at Mission Statements of various national portrait galleries – surely they show the level of comfort of a people with their national stories. I’m throwing in a couple of basic statistics for support.

Under Corporate Policies and Operational Information on the NPG website I found “The purpose of the National Portrait Gallery is to increase the understanding and appreciation of the Australian people – their identity, history, creativity and culture – through portraiture” (National Portrait Gallery, [n.d.]). Searching for a more formal charter I found in their Corporate Plan: “The purpose of the National Portrait Gallery is to increase the understanding and appreciation of the Australian people – their identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity – through portraiture” (National Portrait Gallery, 2012, p.2). How significant is the extra word?

Both versions seem to give possible support to my theory. Based on recent data, 27% of the Australian population were born overseas and 2.5% are indigenous.

To test the theory further I checked National Portrait Galleries in other countries. In the UK the National Portrait Gallery (established 1856): “The Gallery’s overall aim (derived from the provisions of the 1992 Museums and Galleries Act) is ‘to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the
men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and … to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media’.”(National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 1) (their ellipsis, not mine). The UK has 13% of the population born overseas.

In the USA “The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the history of America through individuals who have shaped its culture” (Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, [n.d.]). While there is no single succinct statement in their Strategic Plan the Introduction includes its “purpose is to illuminate the American experience and help people understand it” and in more general text there is reference to “important questions about our shared identity, our individual place within it, and about what it means to be an American” (Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, 2011. [not paginated]). 13% of the USA population were born overseas while American Indian and Alaskan Natives make up 1.6% of the population.

The New Zealand Portrait Gallery te pukenga whakaata (established 1990) website includes “Our Vision: Portraying New Zealanders and our cultural heritage to all New Zealanders”, and in later text “Our aim is to present portraits of our peoples who, from various cultural or political standpoints, have shaped our country’s development or influenced the way we think about ourselves” (New Zealand Portrait Gallery, [n.d.]). 17% of NZ population were born overseas, 15% are Maori.

Possibly suggestive, certainly not conclusive.

When I had written most of this post I came across an article quite critical of aspects of the NPG and its effectiveness in telling the Australian story. Given the timing I haven’t integrated the information here – so see At the National Portrait Gallery: Art or history? by John Thompson http://recollections.nma.gov.au/issues/vol_5_no_1/notes_and_comments/at_the_national_portrait_gallery_art_or_history (2010).

Resources

‘Cook, James (1728–1779)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-1917/text2279, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 10 April 2014.

Hinkson, M (2010) “Seeing More than Black and White: Picturing Aboriginality at Australia’s National Portrait Gallery” In Australian Humanities Review (49) [online] Available from http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-November-2010/hinkson.html (Accessed 11-Apr-2014).

Huda, S. (2008) Pedigree and Panache: A History of the Art Auction in Australia Canberra: ANU E Press [online] Available from http://press.anu.edu.au/?p=75451 (Accessed 10-Apr-2014)

National Portrait Gallery (Australia), [n.d.] Corporate Policies and Operational Information [online] Available from http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/corporate_info.php (Accessed 6-Apr-2014).

National Portrait Gallery (Australia) (2012) Corporate Plan 2011-2014 [online] Available from http://www.portrait.gov.au/UserFiles/file/CorporatePlan2011-2014-2012-07-24.pdf (Accessed 6-Apr-2014).

National Portrait Gallery (UK) (2009) Strategic Plan 2009 – 2015 [online] Available from http://www.npg.org.uk/assets/files/pdf/strategic-plan/NPGStrategicPlan2009-2015.pdf (Accessed 6-Apr-2014).

New Zealand Portrait Gallery, ([n.d.]) About New Zealand Portrait Gallery [online] Available from http://www.nzportraitgallery.org.nz/about-us/about-new-zealand-portrait-gallery (Accessed 6-Apr-2014).

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, [n.d.] Visiting the Museum [online] Available from http://www.npg.si.edu/inform/visit.html (Accessed 6-Apr-2014).

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, (2011) Beyond the frame: National Portrait Gallery Smithsonian – Strategic Plan 2011 – 2016 [online] Available from http://www.npg.si.edu/docs/npgsp2.pdf (Accessed 6-Apr-2014).

Wilde, W.H. (1983) ‘Gilmore, Dame Mary Jean (1865–1962)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gilmore-dame-mary-jean-6391/text10923, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 10 April 2014.

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Visit a portrait gallery
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Project one: The portrait
Exercise: Visit a portrait gallery

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Annotate a portrait

Maurice Felton Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark

Maurice Felton
Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark
1840 oil on canvas 142.5 x 114 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection
/works/117.1974/

For this exercise I have chosen a painting from just a few year’s after Law’s sculpture Trucaninny, wife of Woureddy (see post 13-Mar-2014).

Maurice Felton’s painting Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark brings us north to Sydney and a world away in terms of social strata at the time. The first impression on viewing this portrait is of ostentatious display of wealth. That impression persists – this portrait is a clear declaration of wealth and social position. The artist has lavished attention on the silk, lace, pearls, diamonds, sapphires and exquisite detail of the ensemble. “Mrs Spark’s fine gown features the decade’s distinctive V-shaped waist and lace bertha” notes a volume on the history of Australian fashion, which devotes a full page to this image as an exemplar of the fashion and aspiration of the period (Joel, p. 17).

felton_03The lady looking out at the viewer is not overwhelmed by her finery. She appears calm, clear-eyed, a firm chin, a hint of a smile. She has a book with her – a flash of red and gold that lifts the image, on the leather binding a family crest with the crest “Virtute et valore”. There is education, virtue and valour with this beauty and wealth. The book also gives an opportunity to display a delicate wrist and hand loaded with gems.

felton_02She stands on a terrace with a broad expanse of land behind leading to an expanse of water. The empty space balances with the foreground figure while a tree frames and curves protectively around her. Angels Trumpet flowers echo the white and curves of the clothes and jewellery, and give a hint of the exotic. The straight lines of horizon, balustrade and book play against the curves throughout the image.

felton_04One technique I haven’t noticed on a painting of this age before is the use of what may have been the end of the paintbrush scrapped through the paint to form the stitching on the fur-trimmed glove.

The frame adds to the impressive size and decoration of the picture and is the restored original.

Maurice Felton Mrs [Anna Elizabeth] Walker

Maurice Felton
Mrs [Anna Elizabeth] Walker
1840 oil on canvas 74.8 x 62.2 cm
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
http://www.acmssearch.sl.nsw.gov.au/search/itemDetailPaged.cgi?itemID=404700

Maurice Felton arrived in Sydney in 1839. He was a qualified medical practitioner, but appears to have spent most of his time in Australia in his secondary occupation as a painter. In the few years before his death in 1842 Felton painted many society portraits. The example on the right shows many similarities – a woman with carefully dressed hair, similar face and expression, well dressed, framing foliage, view to the horizon and the pop of red this time provided by the shawl. Not all Felton’s subject appear quite so similar. In the collection of the National Gallery of Australia is A woman of NSW, which shows an older, larger woman with decided features, wonderful earrings and a most remarkable headdress (http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=200464).

Apparently Felton painted some landscapes as well as portraits, but I have not been able to locate any examples. Much early colonial art has this focus on specific people and places, with few if any paintings of “higher” historical or mythological themes. This could be related to the “provincial” nature of the colony. Joan Kerr wrote “In fact, the primacy of some non-aesthetic purpose might be said to be a distinguishing characteristic of provincial art. In colonial New South Wales, painting or collecting portraits and views might be summarised as souvenir hunting for a specific purpose: … to prove one’s triumphant survival…” (Kerr, p. 15).

Sydney’s economy had boomed in the 1830s and the wealthy wanted to advertise their fortune and raise their social standing. Joanna Gilmour has explained “Felton’s subjects, though from a mix of spheres and origins, largely shared the supposed taint of commercial motivations and the experience of finding in colonial life and enterprise a high degree of wealth or social profile… In their ornate gold frames (some supplied by Felton’s brotherin- law, Solomon Lewis) and in his attentive rendering of fabrics, fashions and jewellery resides proof of the aspirations, pretensions or vulgarities of Felton’s sitters” (Gilmour, 2011). The fact that Felton worked in oil made it even more attractive to the very wealthy. The picture was commissioned by Alexander Brodie Spark, who “grew from a speculative trader to a rich banker and merchant, churchman, landowner and private collector. In the artificial aristocracy of the colony he was established as a leading citizen who had to ear and favour of the governor” (Abbott and Little, p. 1). Spark had married Maria 27th April 1840 and engaged Felton for her portrait on 18th May. The frame was chosen in June (from Lewis) and the final touches on the portrait completed 18 August. (Spark maintained a diary, giving a helpful amount of practical information from the period). Spark also used his wealth building his home at Tempe (architect John Verge, the same who oversaw the building of Elizabeth Bay House – see 30-Nov-2013). The extensive garden combined both kitchen and ornamental plants, with cuttings provided from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and a team of 13 convict labourers working under an English gardener (Morris, p. 70). It seems likely that the extensive view and exotic plant in Felton’s painting is another reminder of Spark’s wealth and taste.

In November 1841 the Sydney Herald opined that Felton’s work signalled that “the day was not far distant when we should no longer be characterised as a mere money-getting and money-loving people; but that we should become conspicuous for the … cultivation of those arts that at once improve the heart and mind” (quoted in Gilmour, 2011). As it happened, in the early 1840s the economy crashed, undermined by over-speculation in land and a prolonged drought. This was the same crisis that brought an end to Alexander Macleay’s control of Elizabeth Bay House, and it eventually bankrupted Spark. He and Maria survived by tending the garden themselves and selling their produce.

In evaluating this painting I would like to compare it with another hanging nearby at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Violet Teague Dian dreams (Una Falkiner)

Violet Teague
Dian dreams (Una Falkiner)
1909 oil on canvas 159.0 x 108.2 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection
/works/60.1975/

Dian dreams (Una Falkiner) by Violet Teague was painted around 69 years after Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark, and I suspect in Melbourne rather than Sydney. Both pictures are of beautiful women in fashionable, luxurious, expensive gowns.

teague_03Both contrast and stabilise a series of curves with shorter straight lines. Both echo colours and lines of the figure with a cream/white blooming plant on the right (magnolias in this instance).

The differences are significant, beginning with the genesis of each painting. Unlike Felton who made his living from commissioned society portraits, Teague was a financially independent woman. At times she chose to accept commissions, but this painting was not one. It was included in the Women Painters Exhibition of 1911 for sale at £105, a premium price.

felton_teagueFelton’s work is a familiar composition, the subject standing at a slight angle (more visual interest, a display of womanly curves) and gazing towards the painter / viewer. In a more modern composition Teague’s woman is seated with her back to the viewer, her face in profile. It is a very conscious pose, displaying a graceful, feminine form, but the subject is allowed her own thoughts. Anna Clabburn suggests Teague provides “a consistent sense of the sitter’s inner energy” in her portraits of women (Clabburn, 1999). “Her averted eyes are not deferring to a pressured male audience… but instead suggest a quiet independence and sense of self” (Neville, p. 56). The self-possession of this figure has disturbed some viewers. In a London exhibition in 1911 the painting was “attacked by a ‘madman’ with a knife, who justified his actions, ‘because she wouldn’t look’ at him” (Holmes, p. 42). At some time after the subject, Una le Souëf, married the next year, her husband purchased the painting and is reported to have “complained that his wife would ‘not sit with her back to a party'” (Neville, p. 53). Although not traditional a similar pose can sometimes be seen in works by other artists. John White Alexander was mentioned by Neville as one of the artist who influenced Teague, and his 1898 work The Blue Bowl (risdmuseum.org/art_design/objects/1016_the_blue_bowl) shows similarities. A Capriote (1878 https://www.mfa.org/collections/object/a-capriote-32955) by John Singer Sargent shows the subject woman’s back and profile, but in a more twisted pose that links her into the countryside. Closer to home, Tom Robert’s La Favorita (c. 1889 http://www.portrait.gov.au/magazine/article.php?articleID=354) could well have been seen by Teague in Melbourne.

Felton’s work displayed “the technical skill and showy sensibility that lent [his] work so effortlessly to the requirements of colonial clients” (Gilmour, 2011). Teague had more painterly ambitions. Her “rich dark palette … shows a keen sense of the chiaroscuro light contrasts used by Velazquez or the Italian masters Titian and Carravagio… ” (Clabburn). Teague was exploring colour and tone and shows the influence of Whistler. Neville claims “her paintings were more than portraits: they were as much about the act of painting and her ability to orchestrate a tonal palette as they were about people” (Neville, p. 53). There is a certain flattening of space, any depth limited by the flat geometry of wall and piano, a deceptive simplicity in the design, showing Teague connected to the sweep of painterly concerns in the late nineteenth and through the twentieth century.

I wonder if Teague also placed her work in the “higher” realm of mythological painting. Internet searches on variants of “Dian dreams” have yielded limited results. Endymion slept and perhaps dreamed of Diana, moon goddess – which doesn’t fit here. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummernight’s Dream Hermia is given a choice of accepting her father’s choice of marriage or lifelong chastity worshipping Diana as a nun. Apart from the possible link in the title I have no reason to suggest that Una was reflecting on her options the year before her marriage to Otway Falkiner. It seems clear that Felton had no deeper purpose than celebrating the prosperity of the new Mrs Spark and her husband. Just possibly her face is a touch tired, a touch sad, hinting at her previous marriage at age around 16, the eight children of whom five had died young (cholera, drowning in shipwreck, fire), or perhaps a more recent loss suggested in her husband’s diary entry of 8th June during the time Felton was painting her portrait: “Drove Maria to town for another sitting. She complained of a pain in the side, extinguishing late hopes…” (Abbott and Little, p. 120).

So clearly showing a person in her particular culture, meeting that culture’s specific needs and concerns, Felton’s Portrait of Mrs Alexander Spark now appears almost ethnographic in nature. Teague’s Dian dreams seems more introverted, less focused on the needs of the viewer, both in the averted gaze of the subject and the painterly concerns of the artist. There is thought and emotion, but a slight separation. Neither work shows the open depth of emotion of Truganini’s portrait bust by Benjamin Law (13-Mar-2014), bowed with grief and loss not only of herself and her family but of her people. Another link of the three works is Teague’s efforts raising money to bring a permanent water supply to an Aboriginal Mission suffering under a long-term drought. Her letter to the editor of The Argus in 1934: “Sir, Many people, among them artists, think that the best way to begin the Centenary year is to do something useful for the Australian Aborigine – for some of those who have survived the 100 years of our occupation … When it is remembered that all the land and all the water were the aborigines’ inheritance, this will seem a small act of restitution” (quoted in Clabburn).

There is a lot more information available about the women I have recently researched – Truganini, Frances Maria Spark, Una le Souëf Falkiner and Violet Teague – that hasn’t been included in this post / annotation. It would be interesting to revisit using a feminist framework, focusing on the challenges and constraints in their lives, and the choices they made.

Reference

Abbott, G. and Little, G. (1976) The respectable Sydney merchant: A.B. Spark of Tempe Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Clabburn, A. (1999) The art of Violet Teague: Education Kit. [Parkville, Vic.] : Ian Potter Museum of Art. (sheets unnumbered).

Gilmour, J. (2011) More cash than dash. Portrait: Magazine of Australian & International portraiture 41 (October – November 2011) [online] Available from http://www.portrait.gov.au/magazine/article.php?articleID=349 (Accessed 15-Mar-2014)

Holmes, K. (1992) Diaries as Déshabillé? The diary of Una Falkiner: A careful dressing. Australian Feminist Studies 7 (16) [preview online] Preview available from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08164649.1992.9994660#.UydaNPmSzCZ (Accessed 14-Mar-2014).

Joel, A. (1998) Parade: The story of fashion in Australia Sydney: Harper Collins Publishers

Kerr, J. (1988) “Views, visages, invisability: Themes in the Art of colonial New South Wales” In McDonald, P. and Pearce, B. (ed) (1988) The Artist and the Patron: Aspects of Colonial Art in New South Wales. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Morris, C. (2008) Lost Gardens of Sydney. Sydney: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales

Neville, R. (1999) “Violet Teague’s Portraits” In Clark, J and Druce, F. (ed) (1999) Violet Teague 1872 – 1951. [Roseville, N.S.W.] : Beagle Press.

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Annotate a portrait
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Project one: The portrait
Exercise: Annotate a portrait

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Research Point: Portrait sculpture

For this Research Point I decided to start my investigation with two portrait busts I saw recently when visiting the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in Canberra.

Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law
Bust
1936
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Trucaninny, wife of Woureddy (1936) by Benjamin Law is a painted cast plaster sculpture. In primary school I was taught that Trucaninny was the last Tasmanian Aborigine.

Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law
Bust
1935
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Woureddy, an Aboriginal Chief of Van Diemen’s Land (1835) was made by the same sculptor a year earlier.

There are multiple cast versions of these busts. The photographs here are from the British Museum because my use falls within their terms of use. Their colouring and condition are different to the ones I saw at the NPG which are painted black. The Australian Museum has two sets – one painted black, the other with more detailed paintwork. The Australian Museum photographs provide particular interest which I’ll mention later. The direct links are: British Museum –
www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?museumno=2009,2025.1
www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?museumno=2009,2025.2
NPG – www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?irn=1721
www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?irn=1722
Australian Museum – australianmuseum.net.au/Truganini-1812-1876

A very brief and rough history. Tasmania is a state of Australia, a large island and many small islands to the south of the main continent. Aboriginal people have been living there for 45,000 years or so. The British began to settle in southern Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land, in 1803. There was conflict virtually from the start, over land, food sources and abductions (for sexual partners and labourers). The situation worsened significantly from 1824 as the colony expanded and population grew. The Aborigines resisted with guerrilla war tactics, the colonial government declared martial law between 1828 and 1832 – the Black War. The Black Line in 1830 was a chain of colonists – convicts and freemen – which over several weeks swept across the settled land in an attempt to drive the Aboriginal people onto a peninsula where they could be contained. Disease, fighting, massacres had decimated the Aboriginal people. Eventually in 1833 around 220, given various promises, were persuaded to surrender and were moved to Wybalenna on Flinders Island. By 1835 there were fewer than 150 alive, by 1847 just 47, and the last, Trucaninny, died in 1876. Tasmanian Aborigines were said to be extinct. It wasn’t true, and there’s lots of scholarly and not-so-scholarly debate about the rest.

The busts are life-size. At NPG the Woureddy bust is set on a plinth putting it at an average man’s height. He looks out confidently, directly. Close by the Trucaninny bust is on a lower plinth – a small woman. Her gaze is down and unfocused, I couldn’t find a position where I could meet her eyes. Both are dressed in what appear to be animal skins. The contrast in their stance is striking. The simple explanation would be that this portrays the individual personalities, but from various accounts I have read Trucaninny was not a shy or easily overwhelmed woman, and the sorrowful, passive, submissive posture of the bust is extreme.

Benjamin Law arrived in Tasmania in 1835 and created the bust of Woureddy soon after. It could be that Law was not well informed of the history and situation of the aborigines in the colony and that he saw Woureddy as the “noble savage” of Rousseau, free of the vices of civilized men, peaceful, content, without foresight. When working on Trucaninny the next year Law may have been more informed about the devastation of her people and reflected that knowledge in the bust.

The contrast between the busts could been intended as a symbol of the binary nature of men and women. Europa and the Bull (see 28-Jul-2013) shows the strong, active male and the woman acted upon, with no voice in her situation. That explanation leaves a nasty taste, given both Woureddy and Tucaninny were ultimately unable despite their efforts to help their people against the power of the colonists (that is, they were together on one side of a different binary (power) relationship).

Benjamin Law Bust of George Augustus Robinson 1836

Benjamin Law
Bust of George Augustus Robinson
1836
State Library of Victoria
handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/71284

Of interest here is a third bust by Law, apparently dated between Woureddy and Tucaninny. George Augustus Robinson was the “conciliator” or “pacificator” who persuaded the remaining Aborigines in Tasmania to surrender and accept relocation. Robinson commissioned his portrait bust from Law. I saw a similar ones at Elizabeth Bay House (see 30-Nov-2013), although the one shown in my post was marble rather than plaster and commissioned by the Linnean Society rather than self-commissioned. Robinson’s bust is in neoclassical style, showing him draped in a toga, fit but slightly older than his age at the time (around 45), wise, calm, noble, with the authority of antiquity behind him. Woureddy and Trucaninny are depicted in the skins of the savage, deliberately stressing the primitive – at a time when they would have generally dressed in european style clothing. Combined they could be viewed as a Dying Gaul (see www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/press/exh/3655.html), defeated yet still in death noble, dignified.

Similar approaches can be seen in images of Native Americans, for example the sculptures of Ferdinand Pettrich (see www.skd.museum/de/sonderausstellungen/archiv/tecumseh-keokuk-black-hawk/index.html. His c. 1850 Bust of Kee-o-kuk (Watchful Fox) shows the proud, erect head of the chief of the Sauk-Fox, while The dying Te-cum-seh depicts the fallen, dying warrior. These works were created at a time “when the US government’s policy towards the Native Americans was becoming increasingly hostile and the young nation was striving for further expansion and a national identity, while the native inhabitants were fighting for their physical and cultural survival” (Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2013).

As mentioned above, Robinson commissioned his own bust. Law acted as an entrepreneur when he created the busts of Trucanniny and Woureddy, reproducing them multiple times in a money-making venture as a memorial to the end of the Black War. Public reactions at the time were quite different. A number of contemporaries saw Robinson’s bust as a vanity piece, self-aggrandisement by a man who had managed to make considerable money doing his “humanitarian” work with the natives. The other two busts were a commercial success for Law, but not as works of art. Instead casts were purchased by museums and individuals for their ethnographic value as a record of what was assumed to be a primitive and dying race.

There may be an extreme example of this ethnographic focus, seeing the casts as specimens rather than portraits of individuals. In the copies of Trucanniny shown above and at NPG the figure is shown wearing a necklace of shells. A staff member at NPG explained to me that these were a tangible sign of Trucanniny’s connection to land. The shells were a kind found at her traditional home, and the necklace was knotted in a specific way which she would have been taught as a young woman by tribal elders. I was taken to another part of the gallery and shown a later photograph of Trucanniny, still wearing the shells (see www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?searchtype=basic&searchstring=aboriginal&irn=1401&acno=2009.4). It seemed a small positive in a very difficult life that she had been able to keep the necklace and the connection to land. I was shocked later when researching for this post to find that on one of the versions of the cast at the Australian Museum the shells are absent – yet another layer of dehumanisation.

Researching these portrait busts I keep coming back to the beliefs and attitudes of the colonists. There was an assumption of superiority and often an expectation indigeneous people would die out. People acted in an involved web of financial, religious and humanitarian motives. Benjamin Duterrau’s painting The Conciliation (1840 – see foundingdocs.gov.au/enlargement-eid-49-pid-66.html) shows Robinson shaking hands with one of a group of Aborigines, bringing peace and fellowship after the dreadful Black War. It could be likened to Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1771-72) by Benjamin West (see http://www.pafa.org/museum/The-Collection-Greenfield-American-Art-Resource/Tour-the-Collection/Category/Collection-Detail/985/mkey–2609/). I don’t know American history so can’t comment on the earlier image, but Duterrau’s image of peace and harmony, the suggestion of equality in a handshake, the idea of a “treaty” is far from the actuality. Over 150 years later the Aboriginal Lands Act 1995 (Tas) “acknowledges the dispossession of Tasmania’s Indigenous people and recognises certain rights of Tasmanians of Aboriginal descent. It is the first such legislation in Tasmania, where the assumption that no Aboriginal people remained after the first 50 years of the Colony meant the issue of reconciliation in law was ignored” (Museum of Australian Democracy, [n.d.]).

Reference

Arnoldsche Art Publishers (2013) TECUMSEH, KEOKUK, BLACK HAWK (catalogue entry) [online] Available from www.arnoldsche.com/en/New-Books/TECUMSEH-KEOKUK-BLACK-HAWK.html#/16/ (Accessed 8-Mar-2014)

Museum of Australian Democracy, [n.d.] Documenting a democracy: Aboriginal Lands Act 1995 (Tas) [online] Available from http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-did-79-aid-7-pid-66.html (Accessed 13-Mar-2014)

Resources

‘Robinson, George Augustus (1791–1866)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robinson-george-augustus-2596/text3565, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 March 2014.

Delaney, JJ ([n.d.]) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712—1778) Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [online] Available from http://www.iep.utm.edu/rousseau/ (Accessed 9-Mar-2014)

Knapman, G. (2010) The Pacificator: discovering the lost bust of George Augustus Robinson. The La Trobe Journal 86 (December), pp. 37 – 52. Available online at http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-86/t1-g-t4.html (Accessed 8-March-2014)

Lyndall Ryan and Neil Smith, ‘Trugernanner (Truganini) (1812–1876)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trugernanner-truganini-4752/text7895, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 13 March 2014.

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Research Point: Portrait sculpture
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Project one: The portrait
Research Point: Portrait sculpture

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Looking at cartoons

This Part of the course starts with a challenge to assumptions by examining newspaper political cartoons. Two points in the course notes attracted my attention – ‘tabs of identity’ (quick and clear ways to identify the person) and a tendency to be coarse in line due to printing constraints. Is the quality of newsprint still an issue given modern printing technology and online distribution?

In Canberra last month I visited two relevant exhibitions at the Museum of Australian Democracy – Behind the Lines 2013 (moadoph.gov.au/exhibitions/behind-the-lines-2013/) and About Face: the art of caricature (moadoph.gov.au/exhibitions/about-face-the-art-of-caricature/). Relevant to the topic – but perhaps difficult for my British tutor and assessors. This led me to wonder about how ‘international’ cartoons can be. I searched on the internet for cartoons from different countries on a common topic – the current ongoing Russian incursion into Crimea.

http://www.kudelka.com.au/2014/03/sympathy-for-the-devil/: An Australian take is given by Jon Kudelka in a cartoon published in The Australian 4 March 2014. On the left is the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, identified by his red speedos (lycra swimming trunks – he is / was a volunteer surf lifesaver) which can’t actually be seen (an invisible but clearly present tag of identity!), sharp features and large ears. Abbott is on the phone to Vladimir Putin who is identified by his bare chest and muscular arms, large nose and short fair hair. There is a sparse economy of line – for example a puff of exhaust smoke, a single loopy line and a few brief marks behind the ear show the movement of Putin’s tank across the landscape. Colour shading takes advantage of new technology to a minimal extent. The men are clearly distant – Abbott in a small boat defending our borders, Putin in his tank – but the two sides are linked with a common horizon and blue sky. The politics are mainly local, referencing the Australian government’s responses to questions about people-smugglers / asylum boats, and a cheeky quote of an infamous phrase from a past Australian politician.

www.cagle.com/2013/09/putin-and-obama-2/: The first American cartoon I found, drawn by Nate Beeler, turned out on investigation to be related to a different, earlier crisis. Both line and colour here are more complex, but still clearly within the cartoon genre. Barack Obama can be recognised by his elongated head and exaggerated ears, nose and mouth. Vladimir Putin is once more shirtless and muscular, enormous as the school bully giving the scrawny kid a noogie. The politics are locally focused, but in the context of international relations. While searching for a stable link (I hope!) I came across two other cartoons by Beeler with art history links – www.cagle.com/2014/03/obamacare-changes/ and www.cagle.com/2013/09/syria-policy/. Whether the policy relates to healthcare or Syria, Obama remains the failed abstract expressionist painter, recognisable by long head, prominent nose, mouth and ears combined with a stick thin body.

www.independent.co.uk/incoming/dailycartoon20140303jpg-9164083.html: A European perspective is given by Brian Adcock’s cartoon published in The Independent 6 March 2014. The lines and shading maintain the cartoon appearance, but the use of white writing on shaded backgrounds could make it difficult to read if converted to black and white or gray-scale. Putin remains muscular, shirtless, fair haired with a large nose, large and controlling. His confident power play on the map of Europe is watched by Barack Obama (elongated head, prominent nose, mouth and ears) and two others. The middle aged woman with bobbed fair hair and a hint of double chin is clearly Angela Merkle. I was fairly sure the middle figure was British, given the location of both newspaper and cartoonist, but being unfamiliar with British politics I had difficulty with identification. The identity tags – short, almost bald, pug nose – don’t fit UK Prime Minister David Cameron. I found the same figure in another Adcock cartoon showing signatories to the Iran nuclear deal (www.cagle.com/2013/11/iran-nuclear-deal-3/), leading me to UK foreign secretary William Hague who appears to match the tags nicely.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/ukraine-crisis/russian-papers-cartoon-takes-aim-putin-over-crimea-crisis-n40876: Moving to a different alphabet was difficult – I was not successful. This link shows a cartoon from the Moscow Times. I’m fairly sure the artist is Sergei Elkin. The hard black line of the other cartoons has largely disappeared here, and even more so in some of the other work on Elkin’s blog. Putin’s fair hair and large nose remain, but the figure is dressed in a neat gray suit. The cartoon refers to a problem at the Sochi games, now overtaken by the Crimea story. International politics are certainly relevant to both the Olympic Games and the military movements, but the focus appears to be internal.

http://www.kyivpost.com/multimedia/cartoon/cartoon-285-338659.html: This cartoon in the KvivPost newspaper doesn’t have a signature or any helpful meta-data so I haven’t been able to identify the cartoonist. It uses a black to gray line like a marker pen, a softer effect. I find the colour selection and shading unsettling, adding expressively to the mood of the cartoon more than the examples above which are roughly life-like. Based on cartoon text and caption I gather overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych is shivering under a table. Although all the identity tags have changed I believe the second man, seated at the table, is Putin. He is dressed in a gray suit. The short hair is now brown. The headshape, ears and cleft chin are different but recognisable. In the country directly affect by the incursion the focus is on their previous leader and his relationship with the Russian President.

While each artist brings a different style to their cartoons, the general approach of tabs of identity, clear and simplified line, and shading in a limited colour range is common to all.

Back home, a very direct reference to art history can be seen in Alan Moir’s cartoon Raft of the ALP published in Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 2013 – http://behindthelines.moadoph.gov.au/2013/a-broken-budget-promise/cartoons/210. Moir appropriates Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa to illustrate the dire situation of the ALP government, inserting political identities such as then-Prime-Minister Julia Gillard (identity tags red hair, long pointed nose and glasses).

UA1-WA:P4-p1-Exercise: Looking at cartoons
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part four: Portraiture and figure painting
Project one: The portrait
Exercise: Looking at cartoons


Instagram

Germination II
In Basketry NSW Transformation exhibition Sunday 2 July. More info fibresofbeing.wordpress.com

Calendar of Posts

August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Archives

Categories