Australian art and artists in 1913
Andrew Sayers with introduction by Guy Hansen, National Museum of Australia, 30 April 2013
GUY HANSEN: Hello and welcome to the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 lecture series. My name is Guy Hansen and I am a senior curator here at the National Museum of Australia. I would like to welcome you here. It’s wonderful to see such a fantastic crowd for this event today. I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, past and present, on whose land we meet today.
The 1913 lecture series has been devised by our public programs team to augment the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition, which is currently on display in the gallery just off the main hall. This exhibition will be on display until 13 October this year.
This lecture series is being recorded, and your attendance here is considered consent to be recorded. So now is your chance to express your lack of consent if you are not happy with that. Also I would like to ask you to turn off your mobile phones or put them on to silent.
The Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition is our contribution to the celebration of Canberra’s centenary. But the exhibition looks beyond the events of 12 March 1913 in Canberra to explore the context for Canberra’s naming ceremony, it looks at what it was like to live in Australia in 1913: to the events, the beliefs, the fears of the time and how they reveal what remarkable optimism for the future there was in Australia at that time. And of course it’s an interesting precursor to what we all know was coming - World War I.
Our speaker today is Andrew Sayers, the Director of the National Museum of Australia. Andrew was the lead curator of the 1913 exhibition and the originator of the idea for this show as well. Many of you will know that Andrew was previously director at the National Portrait Gallery and also had a long and distinguished career at the National Gallery. Andrew’s research interests are very diverse and wide. He has published in the areas of Sydney Nolan, Aboriginal arts in the nineteenth century and many other things. Today he is going to be talking to us about art and the artists in Australia in 1913.
ANDREW SAYERS: Thanks very much, Guy. There is a book about the year 1913 - that book too [Guy holding up the catalogue of the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition] - called 1913: A beginning and a swansong. Given that this is my last public lecture as Director of the National Museum, it’s a swansong.
I want to begin by looking at what was the character of Edwardian art and look at three pictures painted by Australian artists living in London.
[image shown] This is George Lambert’s Chesham Street, 1910. It’s a painting that is in the National Gallery collection and is a self-portrait.
[image shown] This is Arthur Streeton’s lithograph Corfe Castle of 1912.
[image shown] This is Septimus Power’s A fox hunt in the Midlands painted in 1912 and exhibited in Melbourne in 1913.
The characteristic which unites these three pictures is that they all have a very weighty sense of their own place within tradition and they all are located very solidly within the British art world.
George Lambert, who painted Chesham Street, had left Australia as a brilliant student in 1900 and returned to Australia in 1921. Arthur Streeton had gone to London a few years earlier than that and returned to Australia in 1920. Septimus Power left Australia in 1905 and came back to Australia in 1913, the year of our exhibition, and had a lot of pictures such as this under his belt to show in Melbourne. In a sense, these were artists who everybody thought had made it because they had shown at the Royal Academy and they were really a part of British art.
[image shown] One of the tendencies within Australian art history is to think of the Edwardian period as a period in which the experience of the expatriate artists living in London and France really was the central focus of Australian art. I want to spend a bit of time today beginning by looking at what the domestic art scene really was like.
[image shown] This is a page from the Sydney Mail in 1913 and it shows a selection of pictures from the Royal Art Society exhibition. There are two pictures by Anthony Dattilo Rubbo including the Ruling Passion, which is a picture that still exists in the Manly Art Gallery; it is about problem gambling. Then there are two pictures by Septimus Power, horse pictures: one of them is called Young England and the other one is called The Uplands. Then in the bottom corner is Lister Lister’s painting called Canberra - more about that later.
[image shown] The strike’s aftermath, which is the middle of the screen, is actually in the 1913 exhibition and is a very typical successful picture from 1913. This picture went immediately into the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection in that year. To us it is all those caramel, toffee and chocolate colours that are distinctive of Victorian paintings and which survived into the Edwardian period. The subject matter is contemporary - labour relations - and that is where we have it in the exhibition.
[image shown] One of the great pictures of the year 1913 was Hans Heysen’s Red Gold. Like the Strike’s Aftermath, it immediately entered the state collection through a gift to the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1913. It was recognised as a major artistic statement in that year.
[image shown] Another picture to be very successful in its day in 1913 was Max Meldrum’s Portrait of the Artist’s Mother. Again, this work went immediately into its state gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria, in the year 1913. And like the artists with whom we began, Max Meldrum has spent many formative years in Europe, in France in fact, absorbing the old masters. You can see very much this is an old master tribute picture.
[image shown] This wonderful picture, which is in the National Gallery, was also one of the great successes of the year 1913. It’s Violet Teague’s portrait Boy with a palette. It was actually painted the year earlier in 1912, and shows the 12-year-old Theo Scharf, a child prodigy artist. Unfortunately we don’t have time today to get into his subsequent career, but he made an extraordinarily stylish portrait subject. This picture was included in the Society of Women Painters exhibition in Sydney where it was recognised as the great picture in that exhibition.
[image shown] Then we have another very highly regarded picture in 1913 - Manly Beach - Summer is here by Ethel Carrick Fox. That was included in her one person exhibition and was recognised as a very vibrant representation of Sydney beach culture in that year. Interestingly, one of the newspaper reviews said that this is Christmas Day. I am not sure that is necessarily right or not but it’s an interesting element. The beach was one of those subjects which Ethel Carrick Fox made her own. We are going to talk about her a little bit later.
[image shown] Hans Heysen - I mentioned Red Gold was one of the great pictures of the year. This is a painting from 1912, which he was still working on in 1913 and continuing to in 1914, called Approaching storm with bushfire haze. It’s that kind of very weighty, dramatic and serious subject painting which was one of the dimensions of the very popular painting of that year. Heysen’s career was fabulous in 1913. He sold prodigiously and he was able to consolidate the career that had begun around the 1890s. He was really on song and painting such pictures as these which are still some of the great loved pictures of the Australian landscape. Heroic; masculine.
[image shown] There is another side to Heysen, and that is this wonderful picture. It is fantastic that we were able to put it in the 1913 exhibition. Sewing (The Artist’s Wife) was also by Hans Heysen and depicting his wife Sallie at the Cedars, with that wonderful sunlit window that she is working behind - a really marvellous picture.
That foreshadows what I want to do now, to shift gear a bit and look not at these grand, weighty subject pictures and landscapes by artists such as Streeton, Lambert and Dattilo Rubbo but look at a more intimate dimension to the art of 1913.
[image shown] It’s kind of weird to see this tiny watercolour by JJ Hilder blown up to this colossal proportion. Hilder is here representing a part of art practice where artists were looking for the very quiet, tiny moment, making a subject out of a rusticated boatshed [image shown] or just a paddock with a few trees in the distance [image shown]. You can see in these watercolours the love of texture and the way in which Hilder used heavily textured paper to get these wonderful watercolour effects. Hilder was a very popular artist in 1913 and subsequent years. He died of tuberculosis in 1916, and there was a book about his work published. His work was cherished for that restraint which made art out of such small subject matter - he had lots of imitators.
[image shown] While we are looking at the intimate, we are looking at watercolours and we are looking at drawings, the case of Thea Proctor is one of the most interesting dimensions of art in 1913 - I shouldn’t really call it ‘the case of Thea Proctor’ because it sounds like an Agatha Christie story. Thea Proctor had decided at a very early stage of her career, in the 1890s, when she was starting off, to give up oil painting altogether and become a graphic artist. She went to London. When she went to London she described herself as a 'poster artist', which essentially meant a graphic artist, and specialised in drawing and in print making. She decided to base her artistic practice on two things: one was really solid, clear drawing; and the other dimension was a real embrace of the decorative. Right throughout her life, and Thea Proctor died in the 1960s, she held onto this idea that art should be decorative.
‘Decorative’ is a word that has come to have all sorts of rather negative connotations when it comes to art, but Thea Proctor embraced the best sense of what decorative actually meant. This is Siesta painted in 1913, one of a series of drawings of a model dressed up in nineteenth-century fancy dress. Thea Proctor came back to Australia after a number of years in London in 1912. She was here for two years and had a number of exhibitions which were hugely successful. In 1914 she went back to London describing the Australian art world as being entirely parochial and just not with it in terms of modernity. When she was on her way back to London the news came through that the First World War had broken out. Almost everybody going to London on the ship from Australia left the ship on the journey, but Thea Proctor continued on to London. Nothing, she said later, would have convinced her to come back to Australia at that time. She did eventually come back to Australia in 1921.
[image shown] This is Thea Proctor in 1912 photographed by May and Mina Moore, wonderful picture. You can see the way in which Thea Proctor was making of herself a decorative object. Her studio in the 1920s when she came back to Australia was the most elegant place you could possibly go and have tea - Lapsang souchong, to be precise.
[image shown] This is a work called Music Hall singer, which is not dated but was shown in Adelaide in 1914. So it was a work that Thea Proctor had with her when she came back from London and was shown just before she decided to return to London. Here you have a different note: if you think about what we started with, you have a sense here that art is about design and about colour. Of course, Thea Proctor was one of the artists who embraced the Ballets Russes as an experience in London and then later in Australia.
[image shown] This is an interior photographed in July 1913 of the house Merioola in Woollahra, Sydney. Merioola has a big history in Australian art, which we won’t go into today because we don’t have time, but in 1913 was a newly refurbished home of the Allen family, Arthur Wigram Allen. It was photographed by him in 1913. I include this simply to indicate the type of interior that was the interior into which Thea Proctor’s work would have been included. You can imagine those fan paintings, those watercolours, being a part of an environment such as this. Of course, in the 1920s that pared-down limewood, white-painted and lacquer interior aesthetic that Thea Proctor promoted was very different from this. But even so, in 1913, this was what we might call a decorative ensemble to live with. This is the environment that artists were working, at least in part, to have their work included in.
[image shown] The arts and crafts were almost indivisible from the fine arts in this period. You had really significant artists working outside of these large salon exercises such as the Royal Art Society. The arts and crafts societies, and there were arts and crafts societies in every capital city in Australia, were enormously popular. Their exhibitions were full of the most fantastic work, such as this piece of copper work by Elizabeth Söderberg. Elizabeth Söderberg was a stalwart of arts and crafts exhibitions in Australia from 1907 until 1922. She was from Denmark originally, studied in Australia, and she went back to Denmark and died there in 1939. This is a wonderful use of Australian motifs in the decorative arts [image shown], as is this bowl in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
[image shown] I am not sure there is too much in terms of an Australian motif in that work. It’s a dolphin candelabrum. It’s in the Art Gallery of New South Wales which has a very good collection of Elizabeth Söderberg’s work. In the 1913 exhibition she is there with Gertrude Rushton and her carved settle with beautiful kookaburra design to represent what was a very big movement in Australia, and that was to use Australian flora and fauna in the decorative arts.
[image shown] The other dimension of art in 1913, which was an antidote to these big set-piece pictures, was what was called black and white art - here represented by Norman Lindsay. This drawing The Crucified Venus was one of the great scandals of 1913. It had been made in 1912 and shown in Sydney without too much fuss - I think everybody was used to Norman Lindsay in Sydney. He was apt to shock. But when it went to Melbourne it was a different story. [http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/glorious_days/about/an_australian_style]
It was shown in an exhibition in Melbourne representing the artists of New South Wales, and it was removed from display at a result of protest from that part of society which Norman Lindsay enjoyed baiting - wowsers. In fact, he was very vigorously anti-clerical, as we know. The picture remained off display for a week. Julian Ashton, who was the leader of the New South Wales delegation, decided that he was going to protest, and after protests the work was re-installed on display. Interestingly, in a rather distorted form, that episode is included in that movie called Sirens - remember that?
[image shown] This is Norman Lindsay in 1904 Pollice verso, another Nietszchean kind of exercise where the world of the Greeks and the Romans are giving the thumbs down to Christianity. This picture was a pen and ink drawing and caused a scandal of a different nature when it was bought by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1907. What was the scandalous thing? That the National Gallery of Victoria paid a huge price for a drawing. That just shows you the way in which this kind of pen and ink drawing, which of course comes out of a long tradition of the illustrated newspaper - Punch, the Bulletin and so on - was considered to be one of the important dimensions of art practice.
[image shown] And of course etching. This is The bush track etching by Jessie Traill. I don’t need to tell you anything about Jessie Traill because there is the best exhibition which Roger Butler has put together at the National Gallery at the moment - [Stars in the River] - showing what a fantastic artist Jessie Traill was. This is a print from 1910. Although you can see in the shadows that there is a little horse cart, it’s a different view of the bush if we think back to Heysen’s Storm with bushfire haze or Red Gold. It’s a quieter view of the bush, beautiful print. I would love to have included a wonderful Jessie Traill etching called The little wood in the exhibition, but unfortunately it’s over at the National Gallery. You will have to go and see it there.
[image shown] This is in the exhibition, and again it’s a little corner of the world represented in a tiny print by Victor Cobb. It’s a mezzotint from 1912 called A Melbourne coffee stall. It was shown in his exhibition in 1913. So print making was very important in those years.
[image shown] And photography. Isn’t this wonderful? I just put it in because I love it so much. I am not going to talk about photography. Helen Ennis is going to talk about photography in this lecture series on 25 June. So come and hear Helen Ennis talking about Rudolph Buchner and other artists working in photography in that year.
[image shown] From the intimate to the official art world of 1913 if you can stand this little excursion into officialdom. This is Lister Lister’s prize-winning picture of the Canberra site painted in 1913 and which won him the first prize of £250 – it was big prize money - in the competition to paint the site of the federal capital. It won, but it’s not a patch on this picture, [image shown] which is Penleigh Boyd’s second prize-winning picture. There wasn’t to be a second prize in the competition, but the judges loved this picture so much that they decided to give him £150 pounds for this picture. And of course they both now generally hang at Parliament House. The competition said that you had to paint the federal capital site in the middle of the day. You couldn’t do it at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day, it had to have the effect of midday sunlight - interesting. So those beautiful evenings that we are getting at the moment - sorry, they’re out.
[image shown] There was a lot of hope - one of the themes, as Guy mentioned, in the 1913 exhibition is optimism - amongst Australian artists that the newly-built Australia House in London would be the source of great public commissions. Arthur Streeton mounted a campaign in 1911 to have Australian artists commissioned to paint frescos and to create sculptural pieces. Unfortunately, as soon as Australia House got started in 1913, 1914 came along, and cost cutting in order to fund the war effort meant that Australia House’s art commissioning program essentially fell into abeyance. The big mural pieces were never completed. But one work was completed, Phoebus driving the chariots of the sun, a sculpted piece, which is a vast bronze ensemble sitting atop the building where it sits still. It is by Bertram Mackennal, Australia’s most successful expatriate artist, the first Australian artist to be knighted and a very successful Australian artist living in Britain. He went there in 1882 and lived there until his death. This was one of his great pieces. It actually managed finally to be installed in 1923, so no big public commissions happen quickly when it comes to sculpture. This was conceptualised in 1912 and took a decade to be completed and installed finally. [image shown] I just included this photograph because it’s the most charming picture I have ever seen of an Australian artist. That is Bertram Mackennal with his wife. It gives a different view of the man from Phoebus driving the chariots of the sun. Anyhow, that is just a bit of fun.
[image shown] This is in the exhibition [The Rt Hon. George H Reid KC, 1913–14]. It represents a very large number of commissioned works, portraits that were commissioned by the Historic Memorials Committee, which was established at the end of 1911 and was going strong by 1913. The Rt Hon. George H Reid KC, 1913–14, George Lambert’s portrait of the previous Australian Prime Minister George Reid, who was by then Australia’s High Commissioner to Britain, painted in 1913 and 1914, was rejected on the basis that it was a bit parodic and a bit too modern. That pale background was a sign of modernity in 1913. John Longstaff, a painter who used a lot of bitumen in his paint and was famous for pictures with very dark backgrounds, eventually got the gig and painted a much less interesting picture of George Reid which was duly accepted by the Historic Memorials Committee. Again, it shows the way in which Australian artists in London - Lambert was still in London in 1913 - really hung out for these big commissioned works. It’s interesting that when Septimus Power, whose horse pictures we began with, came back to Australia, he said, ‘In Chelsea we know all about what’s happening in Australia and we are hearing that exhibitions are doing really well in Melbourne and Sydney, and we’re also hearing there are these great plans for commissioned works.’ These commissioned works kept a lot of artists going for quite a number of years.
[image shown] I don’t have a slide of the official commission that Emanuel Phillips Fox undertook. It’s a much more official picture than this rather charming work of his from 1907, Bathing Hour, now in the Queensland Art Gallery. But I put it in because in one sense Phillips Fox and his wife Ethel Carrick Fox [image shown] represent the great moment of 1913 for the returning expatriate artists. Phillips Fox had been in Europe on and off since the 1890s. He originally trained in Melbourne and spent much of the years from 1905 until his return to Australia in 1913 in France. I think you can see in his work and also in the work of his English-born wife Ethel Carrick some of the influence of impressionist painting.
[image shown] You can also see it in the work of Hilda Rix Nicholas, who isn’t actually included in the 1913 exhibition but could have been. This is a work of hers from 1912 called Arab marketplace, Morocco and was painted as a result of her time in Morocco. What we see here is a lightness and a colour starting to be a part of Australian art. [image shown] Here is a picture of all the crowds pouring along the road to South Head to see the fleet arrive in Sydney Harbour - the great event of 1913 is the arrival of the Australian fleet. That’s a photograph. [image shown] This is a painting of the subject - of crowds looking at the fleet in the distance by Ethel Carrick Fox. She had a very successful series of exhibitions in 1913 and 1914. Her life was changed considerably when Emanuel Phillips Fox died in 1915.
[image shown] We are beginning to see Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and colour start to make its appearance. This is the Sydney Mail in September 1913, an article called ‘The revolutionary spirit in art’. There is this idea that Australian artists didn’t really know what was happening in avant garde circles in Europe. Well, here we have Futurist pictures by Severini, a Cubist picture by Francis Picabia and a wonderful portrait by Matisse in the middle. It wasn’t the only article about Cubism and Futurism in the Australian press at the time.
What is interesting is that journalists in Australia didn’t quite know what to make of these new forms of art. In 1913, though, Australia hadn’t yet developed the very virulent anti-modern stance that characterised official art circles in the 1920s and 1930s. There was something of an openness to look at modernity, at new things. [image shown] Famously, Norah Simpson, a pupil of Anthony Dattilo Rubbo, went to London in these years immediately before the First World War and painted this picture which is considered one of the seminal works in Australian modern painting Chelsea portrait in 1915. She came back to Australia and was a great proselytiser for a different approach to art, one based on colour. You can see how light filled and colourful this picture is, even in this rather poor reproduction. She was a pupil of Dattilo Rubbo.
[image shown] This is his picture from 1913. You can see the effect on Dattilo Rubbo himself a few years later. [image shown] This is Pea pickers, Kurrajong painted in 1918. You can see what an extraordinary difference a receptive artist, as indeed he was. He was the teacher of Grace Cossington Smith, a great Australian modernist painter, Roland Wakelin and Roi de Maistre. Here he has discovered broken colour, the daylight effect, sunshine. That’s all beginning to happen in 1913.
[image shown] I did promise that we were going to look at some under-rated artists. If I have anything to do with it, Florence Rodway won’t be under-rated for much longer. Florence Rodway is a fantastic artist and there is a beautiful pastel of hers in the exhibition. We couldn’t get this for the exhibition which is a wonderful pastel from 1912. [image shown] This is a work that is in the National Gallery collection of hers, probably from about 1913.
[image shown] I would have loved to have included this in the exhibition, but unfortunately it’s too fragile. It resides in the State Library of New South Wales and is clearly a portrait of Henry Lawson by Florence Rodway that was drawn in 1913. It would have been a wonderful thing to have in the exhibition, particularly as we begin the exhibition with a quote from that fantastic poem of Henry Lawson’s about being young, which gives the exhibition its title.
Florence Rodway, fantastic artist, and using the kind of broken – it would have been brush work in an oil painting but in a pastel she used this effect to mix colour, and of course with pastel the less you smudge the colour, the better. It’s almost like the perfect pure pigment technique for a colourist. But unfortunately this really represents what has happened to Florence Rodway. We couldn’t get this to include in the exhibition. It won’t be seen outside the State Library of New South Wales because it’s too fragile. It really is fragile; it can’t travel; and it can’t be exposed to light for long periods of time. So, as a pastellist, unfortunately Florence Rodway has disappeared from view. A medium choice has unfortunately obscured a great Australian artist. Rodway Street in Yarralumla is named after her father who was the state botanist in Tasmania.
[image shown] This is a portrait that is in the exhibition. It’s a cutdown picture in the exhibition of something which was originally absolutely splendid A low-toned harmony, a picture by Norman Carter painted in 1911. You can see in this illustration from a magazine at the time that it was awarded the bronze medal at the Paris Salon in 1913. I wish this picture still existed in its full form. It’s absolutely magnificent - A low-toned harmony - a symphony of greys and browns with touches of red. Something must have happened to the picture over the course of its life. When the Mitchell Library was given the picture by Norman Carter in the 1960s, it had already been cut down. A great shame for a picture that shows Florence Rodway not only as an artist but also as a model.
[image shown] Now a shift: we have been looking at the art world such as it existed in the metropolitan centres of Australia and Europe, and here we are introducing something very different. This is a 1901 photograph of Baldwin Spencer, [http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/glorious_days/about/australias_first_peoples] who is sitting on the right-hand side, and Frank Gillan, who was the post master at Alice Springs sitting to his left, and behind from left to right are: Jim Kite, Erlikilyika, one of the expeditionaries by the name of Chance in the middle, and one of the other Aboriginal guides on this expedition starting from Alice Springs, Purunda.
[image shown] Jim Kite, who was on the left-hand side of that previous picture, was himself an artist. This is a page from an Illustrated newspaper of 1913 and is entitled ‘Aboriginal art carvings on kaolin’. Jim Kite worked making all sorts of decorated objects and artworks on plaster in Charlotte Waters. In 1913 he was recognised not only in this article but in a number of newspaper articles for his unique quality as an artist. [image shown] This is one of his fabulous sculptures, two grasshoppers, that is in the National Museum collection [http://www.nma.gov.au/collections-search/display?irn=11572]. This is a decorated spear thrower by Erlikilyika.
It’s interesting that, as soon as you go outside of this circle of metropolitan Australia, all sorts of other fascinating things happen in art. We are going to end with one of those moments, a portrait of Baldwin Spencer rather differently composed from the photograph that we saw earlier. [image shown] The portrait of Baldwin Spencer was started in 1917 and finished in Australia in the early 1920s by George Lambert. George Lambert has attempted to capture the gravitas of the great Australian pioneer of anthropology and given him the suggestion of a desert background, central Australian background.
[image shown] Baldwin Spencer was responsible for making this fantastic collection of 50 bark paintings when he was in Arnhem Land in 1911 and 1912 [http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/glorious_days/about/australias_first_peoples]. He continued to commission artists to create bark paintings through his collaborator Paddy Cahill, a buffalo farmer at Oenpelli. One of the most exciting things about putting on the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition for me was the fact that we were able to borrow nine of these bark paintings from that sensational collection at the Museum of Victoria. We will run through a couple more, but you can see them in the flesh in the exhibition. You can see what an extraordinarily striking expression this was for Baldwin Spencer when he saw bark painting such as this when he was in Arnhem Land. In a sense, he was looking forward to the future in terms of what we now regard - and what in 1913 would have been probably impossible for most people to regard - as being the great art of Australia by our Indigenous artists.
Okay, that is 1913, end of story. [applause]
GUY HANSEN: Thanks very much, Andrew, for that wonderful glimpse into the world of art and artists in 1913. We now have about 10 minutes for questions. Any questions for Andrew?
ANDREW SAYERS: About anything.
GUY HANSEN: Andrew, I can warm you up to give people a chance to think. As you talked about those artists, so many of them went to England to make a mark in their careers that it makes me wonder: were there artists who chose not to go to England; or was it really such a dominant thing that, to make your professional career as an artist, you had to go to the metropolis, you had to go to London? Was that really the only path or were there artists who forged other ways?
ANDREW SAYERS: There were lots of paths. There is no doubt that in 1913 most serious Australian artists in terms of international careers – this period is really the beginning of Australia’s engagement with the international art world - would have seen success in London as the apogee. Certain artists saw success in France as the apogee - Rupert Bunny for example - and they were always hoping to get big commissions. In France they were big, public, decorative commissions and Australian artists really had very little chance of getting those sort of state-sponsored gigs, and also portraiture. But if you look at The British Australasian, which was a magazine devoted to what was it was like to be an Australian in Britain, you realise what an extraordinarily rich world the world of Australians in Britain was, so it was hardly surprising that artists saw that as being success.
But there were many paths. I mentioned in passing Theo Scharf who was painted by Violet Teague in that wonderful Boy with a palette picture. In 1914 he had a very successful exhibition at the age of 14 and went to Munich to study. When he went to Munich in 1914, his career just went in a completely different direction. He became a print maker in the 1920s and an official war artist in Germany in the Second World War. His career went in a completely different direction. Today he is remembered only for those prints in the 1920s, and as the subject of that wonderful picture.
QUESTION: Staying within that broad framework of the relationship between Australian art and the international art world, I understand there has been a lot of analysis of the impact of American painting on Australian painting, particularly in the frontier context, and I think you might have addressed that in the work you have done on landscapes previously. My question is: at this moment [in 1913] was there much interaction between the American art world and the Australian?
ANDREW SAYERS: Not a great deal. In art history, the Armory Show of 1913 has this extraordinary status because you had Marcel Duchamp, [Constantin] Brâncusi and all these great names of modernism there in 1913. I don’t think it had an impact at all in Australia, none that I can discern. If there is any sense of a connection, it’s more a parallelism. The exhibition you allude to, New worlds from old, that I was partly responsible for in 1996, was actually a look at two parallel streams of engagement with the landscape. But there wasn’t a great deal of interchange between them, apart from the fact that George Washington Lambert’s middle name was Washington.
QUESTION: You did say we could ask anything. I wondered if you could tell us what you are planning on doing in Melbourne.
ANDREW SAYERS: Pursuing my first love - art history.
QUESTION: I thought you were going to say ‘your wife’.
ANDREW SAYERS: There has been something written about that too.
QUESTION: Do you have anything in particular in mind?
ANDREW SAYERS: No, it’s a case of watch this space. I do have things in mind but who knows where they will go. In answer to your question, I don’t have another official job to go to but I have lots of projects - and most of them are do with this kind of stuff [gestures towards screen].
QUESTION: Good luck.
GUY HANSEN: Please thank Andrew again. [applause] The wonderful thing about this talk is you can actually go and see many of those art works in the exhibition which is on right now. So please take the opportunity to see what those art works look like beautifully hung in our gallery. Also you can take something home with you, which is the book about 1913 which includes Andrew’s essay on Australian art in 1913. It has quite a good one on sport as well.
Thanks very much. I will just remind you that the next lecture is by Tom Griffiths on Australia and Antarctica in 1913. So the fun continues. Thank you very much for coming. [applause]
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Date published: 9 May 2013