Acquisitions of the Month: June 2020 – Apollo Magazine

A round-up of the best works of art to enter public collections recently

Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Clarice Beckett paintings

Clarice Beckett sought the hours of dawn and dusk to paint – in part because she spent her days caring for her ageing parents, but also because, like the other painters of the Australian tonalist movement, it was then that she found ‘the charm of light and shade’ most heightened. Her moody scenes of misty Melbourne streets, or deserted beaches near her family home at Beaumaris, earned some praise during her lifetime, but Beckett was largely forgotten after her death in 1935. This group of 21 paintings has been acquired by the Art Gallery of South Australia from the collection of Rosalind Hollinrake, an art historian who has been instrumental in re-establishing Beckett’s reputation since the late 1960s.

Wet Sand, Anglesea (1929), Clarice Beckett. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Ghost (2015), Hew Locke

When he was seven years old, Hew Locke’s family moved from Edinburgh to Guyana – a country whose name translates as ‘the land of many waters’. Since this time, ships and boats have held a particular fascination for the artist. They appear in his work variously as symbols of global interconnectivity and trade, and of the naval dominance of former colonial powers, or as versions of the votive ships historically hung in churches to give thanks for safe passage. Ghost (2015), first displayed at the Imperial War Museum in London, presents a model Second World War battleship suspended in a display case – a floating, spectral form.

Ghost (2015), Hew Locke Photo: Richard Ash/IWM; © Hew Locke

Mauritshuis, The Hague
Portrait of Jakob Omphalius (1500–1567) (1538­–39), Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder

Ahead of their wedding in 1539, the prominent lawyer Jakob Omphalius and his fiancée Elisabeth Bellinghausen commissioned a portrait diptych from Bartholomäus Bruyn, renowned in Cologne for his rendering of lively facial expressions, expressive hand gestures, and crisp fabrics. The diptych was separated at auction in 1896; while the portrait of Elisabeth has been on display at the Mauritshuis since 1951 (on long-term loan from the Rijksmuseum), her husband’s was lost until a ‘portrait of an unknown man’ appeared on the market last year. It has been acquired by the Mauritshuis thanks to funds from the BankGiro Lottery, the Vereniging Rembrandt, and a private donor.

Left: Portrait of Jakob Omphalius (1538–39), Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder. Mauritshuis, The Hague. Right: Portrait of Elisabeth Bellinghausen (1538–39), Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Musée d’Orsay, Paris
The Green Christ (1889), Maurice Denis

Though at the forefront of the Parisian avant-garde as part of the Nabis and then the Symbolist movement, Maurice Denis wanted above all to emulate the heightened religious emotion of Renaissance painters such as Fra Angelico. The Green Christ, acquired by the Musée d’Orsay, is one of his most daring expressions of this impulse through the modernist simplification of form. With its reduced pallet of primary colours and a sparse composition dominated by the figure of Christ, this small oil-on-cardboard emanates a mysterious religious force.

The Green Christ (1889), Maurice Denis. Photo: © DR

National Gallery, London
The Drunkard, Zarauz (1910), Joaquín Sorolla

The National Gallery’s exhibition last year dedicated to Joaquín Sorolla, once described as ‘the world’s greatest living painter’, did much to lift the Spanish artist out of relative obscurity in the UK. Now, the museum has acquired its first work by Sorolla. With a sombre palette reflecting its macabre mise en scène, the virtuoso oil sketch of a drunkard was completed quickly in the Basque tavern it depicts, at around the time the artist began to contemplate his Visions of Spain cycle (1912–19) – a series of monumental paintings depicting Spanish customs and costumes.

The Drunkard, Zarauz (1910), Joaquín Sorolla. Photo: © National Gallery, London

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
Five paintings from the series A Patriot for Me (1967), Leonard Rosoman

The British authorities banned A Patriot for Me – John Osborne’s play of 1965, which included the first gay kiss on the London stage – but performances continued anyway, and Leonard Rosoman attended every evening for two weeks to sketch the scenes by candlelight. From 1967–68, he completed a series of 40 paintings and gouaches, including two major canvases depicting the play’s celebrated ‘drag ball’ scene. Combining Rosoman’s interest in the 18th-century theatrical conversation piece with the countercultural spirit of the ’60s, these works represent a key moment in the social history of the UK – by 1968, homosexuality had been partly decriminalised and censorship of the theatre abolished. Five works from the series, including the drag ball paintings, have now been allocated to Pallant House from the estate of the artist’s widow, Roxanne Wruble Rosoman, through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

The Drag Ball, No. 2 (1967–68), Leonard Rosoman. Photo: Dawkins Colour/John Bodkin; © The Artist’s Estate

Pompidou Centre, Paris, and Philadelphia Museum of Art
More than 660 drawings by Giuseppe Penone

Like the large-scale sculptures for which he is best known, the drawings of Giuseppe Penone consider humanity’s relationship to the natural world. The Piedmontese pioneer of Arte Povera has now donated more than 660 works on paper, spanning his career of five decades, to two museums close to his heart – the Pompidou in Paris, which staged his major retrospective in 2004, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both institutions are planning to display the works, which include preparatory drawings for installations, documentation of interventions, artist’s books and stand-alone ‘sculptures’ on paper, in 2022.

2330 grammi (1994), Giuseppe Penone. Photo © Archivio Penone

Marina Strocchi: New York, New Work

The NT Arts Fellowships support artists to further their professional arts practice and careers within the Northern Territory, nationally and internationally. In 2019, Marina Strocchi was awarded the fellowship, allowing her to set up a studio at Trestle Art Space in Brooklyn, New York – a fruitful refuge.

Marina Strocchi, New York Taxi II, 2020, acrylic on paper, 35.5 x 28cm

‘The work that I did while I was in Brooklyn was an immediate response to the environment that I found myself in. This is my usual way of starting a new series and can be tracked in my previous work. The works respond to the built environment that is unique to New York. The sheer mass and density of the buildings, the repetition of shapes, the walls of windows, sometimes reflecting, sometimes receding and always towering over the mere mortals who inhabit them. It is the flipside of the natural environment where nature is the dominant factor,’ says Strocchi.

Marina Strocchi, The Horse, 2019, acrylic on paper, 23 x 30.5cm

‘The buildings seem to have their own characters, the stoops, the brownstones, the skyscrapers, the old apartment block butted up against tiny alleys and cobbled streets. New York’s buildings are an architectural guide to the history of the city,’ continues Strocchi who also spent time upstate in the contrasting natural environment of The Catskills, which included rural settings with barns, fences and animals. Her travels did not end there; ‘I also travelled to Washington, Baltimore, Charlottesville, Philadelphia and Kansas City in pursuit of seeing great collections of art.’

Jan Murphy Gallery
3 to 17 July 2020 (online)

Decentring whiteness: ‘Wansolwara’ and the need for critical diversity

When The Sydney Morning Herald announced the five emerging culture critics chosen to receive funding through a new initiative led by the Copyright Agency and the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas in early May, we were delighted to see Art Monthly Australasia regular Chloé Wolifson named as one of these recipients. With Melbourne-based writers Bec Kavanagh (The Australian, Meanjin) and Tiarney Miekus (Art Guide Australia), and fellow Sydneysiders Jack Callil (Australian Book Review, Meanjin) and Cassie Tongue (Time Out, The Guardian), Wolifson gained access to a AU$150,000 cultural fund for the publication of arts reviews and criticism in The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times and WA Today.

The stated aim of this fund is to introduce ‘important new voices to the landscape of arts criticism and review in Australia’ and to offer ‘new perspectives on contemporary Australian works that will spark interest, curiosity and debate in the wider community’. The five writers chosen as beneficiaries, however, while extremely talented and deserving recipients, are also notable for a certain uniformity of complexion and cultural background. Not long after their names were announced, writing for Overland, Shirley Le drew attention to this uniformity in an extended discussion of the need for greater diversity in Australian critical coverage of the arts. Other prominent public voices, including Osman Faruqi, Ruby Hamad and Michelle Law took to Twitter and Facebook to voice their surprise – the message seemed clear: ‘The monocultural face, voice and gaze of the Australian arts reviewership is here to stay.’

This erasure of difference, Le notes, ‘is one of the most persistent and ongoing conversations in the Australian arts industry’. In a report published in August 2019, Diversity Arts Australia revealed a shocking lack of culturally and linguistically diverse representation on the executive boards and award panels of our country’s arts institutions. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that these issues came to the fore in a conversation between early-career writers Mitiana Arbon, Winnie Dunn, Enoch Mailangi and Talia Smith after the opening of ‘Wansolwara: One Salt Water’ at UNSW Galleries and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, transcribed in our current issue. For Arbon and Dunn, this gathering of over 20 artists, writers, performers and filmmakers ‘connected by the Great Ocean’ foregrounded ‘the problem of negotiating our cultural identities in spaces where we’re not a majority’ and provided a valuable opportunity ‘to see Tonga spread out in a place like UNSW Galleries’. Smith, too, spoke of her ambition ‘to see myself in these places, and [for] exhibitions to start reflecting things that I know my family feel’.

The inclusion of artists without Pacific or First Nations heritage in an exhibition dedicated to the cultural networks of this region, however, prompted some critique. Echoing Le’s remarks, Dunn observed that, ‘if white artists took a step back and just let other voices in … it would change what we consider art today in this country’, while Smith explained her personal approach to issues of equity: ‘if I think I’m not the right person to tell a particular story, then I’ll pass it on … It’s about learning when you should give the mic to someone else and not just take every opportunity.’ Last week, Kavanagh and Callil demonstrated their shared commitment to this approach when they voluntarily resigned from their new roles, citing their realisation of this ‘missed opportunity to support non-white voices in arts criticism in Australia’ and asking for their share of the fund to be ‘redistributed to non-white writers’. A comparable aspiration animates ‘Wansolwara’, which Mailangi views as an opportunity to see ‘who Pasifika artists are when they’re not busy responding to whiteness or colonisation … to see Pasifika art when it’s not centring whiteness’.

As Creative Producer and General Manager, respectively, of Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement, Le and Dunn are united by their mission to accomplish this decentring of whiteness in the critical landscape of Australian arts and culture. Through projects like ‘StoryCasters’, Sweatshop has positioned itself alongside other organisations like Djed Press, Liminal, Mascara Literary Review and Peril Magazine, and as a much-needed advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse writers, musicians, podcasters and filmmakers. Yet the responsibility for ensuring diverse conversations about the arts in this country cannot be delegated entirely to organisations like these – mainstream validation is also essential, and it is here that larger organisations like the Copyright Agency and the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas can show their support. Without belittling the achievements of Callil, Kavanagh, Miekus, Tongue, Wolifson and the many other white critics across Australia, true change, writes Le ‘cannot happen unless artists of colour are supported by the rest of this industry’.

Dr Alex Burchmore, Publication Manager

Made/Worn: Australian Contemporary Jewellery exhibition headlines Glasshouse Port Macquarie – Camden Haven Courier

The Glasshouse Port Macquarie is returning to business with a shining showcase of contemporary jewellery, after recent COVID-19 restrictions were eased.

The national touring exhibition will feature works from 22 contemporary jewellers on show from June 30 to August 16 in Port Macquarie.

The show will explore how jewellery is made and how it is worn, the intersections between contemporary art and jewellery, and what happens when jewellery goes beyond the wearable.

Visitors will also be able to explore materials, concepts behind pieces and making processes.

An item of jewellery can be inspired by places, cities, gender identity, culture, belonging and major topics from the community such as climate change or technology.

The national tour officially began on March 26 at the Australian Design Centre in NSW before travelling to the Glasshouse.

It will then head to Artisan and Cairns Art Gallery in Queensland, Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, JamFactory in South Australia, Bundoora Homestead Art Centre in Victoria and finish at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in July 2022.

JamFactory Adelaide senior curator Margaret Hancock Davis said contemporary jewellery is never about how much a piece cost.

“A design can be emotive, intellectual or simply make a powerful statement. It’s also about self-awareness and how a certain piece makes you feel about yourself and how you want the world to see you,” she said.

“Jewellery is a signifier. When it is worn it provides clues to the wearer’s identity, membership of a cultural group, interests, a rite of passage, social status or even age.

“Individual body adornment can go as far as enabling society to structure and control the behaviour of its members or allow society to celebrate with pride, in its differences.”

JEWEL EXHIBIT: Contemporary jeweller, artist, glass maker, object maker Jess Dare will be one of the artists exhibiting at the Glasshouse. Photo: Supplied/Australian Design Centre.

Jewellers include Liam Benson, Helena Bogucki, Julie Blyfield, Zoe Brand, Maree Clarke, Jess Dare, Anna Davern, Bin Dixon-Ward, Sian Edwards, Emma Fielden, Lola Greeno, Pennie Jagiello and Bridget Kennedy.

Works are also showcased from Inari Kiuru, Grace Lillian Lee, Vicki Mason, Claire McArdle, Tiffany Parbs, Blanche Tilden, Catherine Truman, Manon van Kouswijk and Zoe Veness.

What else is making news, sport?

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Floating, absorbent, expansive and free: Lynette Wallworth’s ‘Awavena’

After experiencing the work Awavena (2018) by Lynette Wallworth at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in February, I reread a pamphlet by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess published to record a lecture given at Perth’s Murdoch University several decades earlier. Naess writes of the moment when he realised the correspondence, the equivalence, of human and animal pain. He had watched the accidental death of a flea that had fallen into a drop of acid he was observing under his microscope, and witnessed the enormous silent horror of its suffering.

I wanted to return to this text after an interval of 25 years, not because Wallworth’s Awavena conveys the suffering of the natural world, or even because of the Yawanawa, who are the film’s subject, but rather because I wanted to verify – in relation to it – my recollection that Naess had indeed felt that accident to be a moment of deep insight. I was also interested to recall that period of my life in Perth when I read, all those years ago, what is now called ecophilosophy.

The week before this viewing of Awavena, the gallery hosted a ‘long-table’ event to which a range of intellectuals engaged with eco- and First Nations activism had been invited for a discussion of the issues raised by Awavena within the local context. There was, at one point, that moment, typical of conservative Perth, when the intersection of its politics and the issues of Awavena came to the fore. Sampson McCracken, the Perth spokesperson for School Strike for Climate, proposed that more determined action should be taken against a number of oil and gas companies that have their headquarters in the city. There was then that silence that I recognised so well from decades past.

Awavena is, in a sense, two films. The first is in a more straightforward documentary mode, describing the relationship of Tata and Hushahu, the older shaman and the younger shamaness-to-be, with a feminist twist. The second shorter film principally aims to convey the literally hallucinatory experience of drinking a sacred tea and witnessing the Amazon forest while entranced by the tea’s effects.

This is what most impressed me: the sensation of being in space, floating among the atomised universe of the rainforest trees, while having the sense of being disembodied, of being part of those other living beings who, whether trees, animals or other people, are just as embodied as I. As with Naess’s killing of the flea, there was a definite trans-species identification, a kind of empathy.

This sensation of being particulate, floating, absorbent, expansive and free remained with me for subsequent days, even when I would drift off to sleep. This is what they mean, I suppose, by the cliché ‘feeling part of nature’. Yet I was haunted, too, by that familiar, local, pragmatic silence.

If Wallworth would like those who have experienced the virtual and real insights ‘gifted’ to us as viewers by Tata and Hushahu to act on the experience of this art, surely we need to be able to somehow articulate and confidently confront those aspects of our present reality – mining companies, local, national and global politics, and so on – that are now obviously incommensurate with life. We need to realise that First Nations are not that flea under the microscope’s lens.

Now we are all that silent screaming flea.

John Mateer, Perth

Lynette Wallworth’s Awavena was screened as part of the Perth Festival at the Art Gallery of Western Australia from 7 February until 2 March 2020. London’s Barbican is hoping to present Awavena in early 2021.

Art Gallery re-opening this week with new exhibition – Mirage News

Central Goldfields Art Gallery is set to reopen this week with a new exhibition by renowned Australian illustrator Terry Denton.

The Many Story Treehouse Exhibition: Celebrating Terry Denton’s illustrations for the phenomenal Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is opening to the public this Saturday 4 July.

The exhibition showcases Terry Denton’s original illustrations, sketches and layouts showing the development of crazy ideas, characters and stories for the phenomenally successful Treehouse series developed with author, Andy Griffiths.

The exhibition, from Books Illustrated, comprises original framed works along with books and story boards showing the design process. The exhibition also includes all the original illustrations for all nine titles of The Treehouse books.

Central Goldfields Shire Chief Administrator Noel Harvey said The Many Story Treehouse Exhibition is the perfect way to re-open the Gallery following its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What better way to kick off the reopening of the Gallery than by hosting an exhibition by a famed Australian illustrator.”

“The Treehouse series is an incredibly popular book series with children and young people today. I have no doubt we have a few fans of Terry Denton and Andy Griffiths here in the Central Goldfields Shire who would love to see this exhibition.”

Children visiting the Gallery are encouraged to draw their own ideas on a giant treehouse mural created by Terry Denton especially for Central Goldfields Shire which also forms part of the exhibition experience and will remain in the community.

There are free takeaway school holiday activities for kids with signed copies by Terry Denton of the Treehouse books to be won. Maryborough Regional Library and Central Goldfields Art Gallery are providing showbags to help entertain the kids these school holidays. These are available from the Library and Art Gallery.

The Many Story Treehouse Exhibition will be on display at Central Goldfields Art Gallery until 16 August 2020.

The Gallery will initially be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm with some changes in place to protect the health and wellbeing of visitors and staff.

There will be a maximum of 18 visitors at any one time at the Gallery. The Gallery is free to enter but we ask that where possible visitors book their visit online through

Visitors to the Gallery must adhere to the following guidelines to keep our visitors and staff safe:

Stay home if unwell.

Hygiene –hand sanitiser will be provided at our entry/exit and throughout the Gallery. We have also increased the cleaning of the Gallery to keep everyone safe.

/Public Release. View in full here.

Fabrizio Biviano: Positive Aspects of Negative Thinking

Melbourne-based artist Fabrizio Biviano’s new body of work, ‘Positive Aspects of Negative Thinking’, harnesses the immediacy of the present to celebrate the act and action of living.

Biviano’s latest series continues his self-referential approach to the still life genre as the artist reworks the conventions of Dutch still life painting to explore the contemporary currency of objects as embodiments of memory and identity. Each arrangement is amplified against tonally vacant backgrounds, soldering the viewer’s focus to the foreground; to the vibrancy of the here and now. Moments of abstraction break the surface – flicks and scrapes of paint that serve as painterly tallies of time.

Fabrizio Biviano, My teeth are sharp and my mouth is full, oil on Belgian linen, 122 x 152cm. Courtesy the artist and Arthouse Gallery, Sydney

Arthouse Gallery
30 June to 25 July 2020

Watch a video walkthrough of the exhibition here

Made/Worn: Australian Contemporary Jewellery exhibition headlines Glasshouse Port Macquarie – Port Macquarie News

Coronavirus puts damper on saliva cleaning method in art galleries and museums – ABC News

Like a parent wiping away dirt on a child’s face or a soldier polishing their boots, museum and art gallery conservators often turn to a cleaning solution that’s readily available: human saliva.

When Margot Jolly was handed a historic wood-carved model that required some tender, loving care, the first cleaning solution she considered was her own saliva.

Enzymatic cleaning with saliva can help bring museum artefacts back to their former glory.(Supplied: Margot Jolly)

The regional museum consultant said she often favoured the method — also known as enzymatic or natural enzyme cleaning — rather than use a brush or commercial cleaning products.

“It actually gives you a bit more dexterity because you’re paying attention and you’re being careful,” she said.

While cleaning historic objects with a bodily fluid may seem strange to some, Ms Jolly is not alone in its practice.


‘Effective’ conservation tool

Canberra-based conservation business operator Kim Morris said enzymatic cleaning was an age-old, well-documented method he learnt at university many years ago.

“It’s something that has been passed on from mentors to students and cadets and other people who are moving up in the conservation field,” Mr Morris said.

Saliva was used to clean nicotine and surface grime from this 1917 painting, The Estancia, by Fred Leist.(Supplied: Australian War Memorial)

Sydney-based painting conservator Adam Godijn said “natural enzyme cleaning” was often preferred over other methods because it was non-toxic and readily available with an unlimited supply.

“It’s pretty much second to water in our cleaning choices,” Mr Godijn said.

“The natural enzymes in the spit actually assist in breaking down grease that might be in the surface dirt and actually breaking surface tension.”

However, Mr Godijn said some clients showed surprise when he explained the technique.

“But actually we do clear the surface after cleaning with water and make sure the surface is dry.”

Hundreds of paintings in the National Gallery have been cleaned using ‘natural enzymes’, including John Brack’s Latin American Grand Final 1969.(Supplied: National Gallery of Australia)

Mr Godijn said, historically, conservators had been known to use bread to clean paintings.

While that method is long gone, he said saliva would endure.

“As such a gentle, cleaning method, I think that it’s going to be hard to beat for a long time,” he said.

Australian War Memorial senior paintings conservator Alana Treasure also stands by the technique.

“Sometimes it’s just the most effective thing and we would always prefer to use the most effective and safe method,” Ms Treasure said.

She said hygiene control methods were in place and items treated with saliva were then thoroughly cleaned and often displayed behind glass.

Caution over cleaning method

Professor Saso Ivanovski says practitioners using saliva cleaning may have to rethink their methods in light of the pandemic.(Supplied: University of Queensland)

The director of research and professor of periodontology at the University of Queensland School of Dentistry, Saso Ivanovski, has studied how saliva can spread diseases, including COVID-19

While Mr Ivanovski said he was unacquainted with natural enzyme cleaning and such practices might need rethinking.

He said, as a substitute, practitioners could explore the use of “artificial saliva” products designed for patients with dry mouths.

“These sorts of products could be used for cleaning to take advantage of the enzymes that would be in saliva without the downside of the bacterial or viral transmission,” he said.

Mr Ivanovski said items cleaned with saliva might have to be “quarantined” for several days to minimise the risk of transmitting diseases.

“Once saliva is taken out of the body, certainly the viruses and bacteria will not be viable and die off,” he said.

“That’s likely to be, at the very least, hours and certainly, potentially, several days.”

Venues halt technique

The National Gallery of Australia will not use ‘natural enzyme’ cleaning during current conservation work of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles.(Supplied: ARS/Copyright Agency)

Several major venues have already taken precautionary measures since the emergence of the coronavirus.

The National Museum of Australia told the ABC it “would not permit the use of saliva during the current COVID conditions”.

Meanwhile, the National Gallery of Australia’s head of conservation, Debbie Ward, said the pandemic prompted a decision to not continue enzymatic cleaning for health safety reasons.

Ms Ward said records showed “well over 100 works from the collection” had been treated with this method.

But visitors should not be concerned because the period between the cleaning, drying and hanging of an artwork was often long, she said.

And besides, viewers shouldn’t be touching the artworks on display.

Light in the dark: Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950 – Christie’s

In the early hours of Christmas Day 1952, the cargo ship MV Merino  ran aground off the east coast of Tasmania in dense fog. Bound for Hobart, it had 18 men on board, as well as a particularly precious cargo: 119 paintings sent to Australia from the other side of the world.

A landmark exhibition, French Painting Today  was to showcase work by an array of artists based in France, from the long-standing (Matisse, Picasso, Chagall) to the newly established (Hans Hartung, Zao Wou-ki, Pierre Soulages).

Four years in the planning, the show had been jointly organised by the Australian and French governments, with Hobart set to be the first stop on a multi-city tour that would also take in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

For a few days at the end of 1952, however, it was unclear whether the MV Merino — or any of the masterpieces on it — would survive intact. The 550-ton vessel remained stranded on a sandbank. It was only refloated when tugboats arrived from Hobart, shortly before the New Year.

French Painting Today  would go ahead, albeit slightly belatedly, at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and the other five venues. Thanks to the media coverage surrounding the MV Merino — and the fact that this was the first major showing of modern French art in Australia — it proved a huge success.

According to Adelaide tabloid The News, ‘these French paintings are creating the greatest furore for years’. The Canberra Times, meanwhile, spoke of a ‘provocative event’, warning readers that a ‘masculine Antipodean palate, accustomed to a diet of realism, may find some of the paintings sophisticated to a point of being effete’.

Numerous attendance records were broken, with a combined total of 200,000 people seeing the show in Sydney and Melbourne alone.

Among the star exhibits was Soulages’s Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950. As ever with this abstract artist, who turned 100 last year, black was the predominant colour.

Black, architectonic bars are layered on top of each other against a pale ground. They come in the form of either vertical or diagonal brushstrokes, which provide a contrapuntal structure.

Soulages’s imagery is frequently likened to that of the Abstract Expressionists in the US, who emerged, as he did, shortly after the Second World War. In contrast to their largely gestural approach, though, the Frenchman cared greatly about the construction of his compositions, in a bid for formal balance.

Among the influences on his artistic vocabulary, Soulages often cites the Romanesque architecture of the abbey church of Sainte-Foy in Conques, a village near his hometown of Rodez in southern France.

‘His paintings throw off strange, smoky reflections that suggest the hallucinating light of Rembrandt’ — art historian Sam Hunter

He says that standing beneath its huge barrel vault as a youth was his ‘first artistic experience’ — and that it inspired him to become a painter. With its play of vaulted shadow and tranquil light, Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950  is surely an homage to the abbey.

Brushstrokes range from broad slabs to narrow masts, with Soulages’s tarry black offset by occasional passages of mahogany and Prussian-blue. A sepia background glows softly from the centre, like daylight breaking through a window — which seems apt, given that Soulages was commissioned to design new stained-glass windows for Sainte-Foy in 1986.

Soulages, incidentally, tends to dislike giving his works conventional names, lest this unduly influence a viewer’s experience of them. He prefers titles that simply state a picture’s dimensions and date of execution.

Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950  was thus painted in 1950. Even at this relatively early stage of his career, Soulages revealed one of his longest-lasting preoccupations: the dynamic interaction of light on black paint.

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The American art historian, Sam Hunter, wrote around this time that ‘his paintings throw off strange, smoky reflections that suggest the hallucinating light of Rembrandt’.

French Painting Today  ran until September 1953, the date of its final stop at the Public Library of the Museum & Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth. Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950  was purchased by an Australian collector almost immediately afterwards, and hasn’t been seen in public since.

Until now.

Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950 by Pierre Soulages is offered as part of the ONE sale at Christie’s on 10 July