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This demonstration of parental discipline of the Merovingian period remains shocking more than a century after its completion. It says much for the grotes-query of nineteenth-century Salon painting, of which it is so spectacular an example, that 'The sons of Clovis II' is still a collection favourite. Alarmed by her sons' rebellion against their ab…
 
Though never officially a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this colleague of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris was, by inclination and practice, sympathetic to the realist ambitions of the movement. Born in Calais, Madox Brown studied in Belgium and was influenced by the German Nazarene painters in Rome before his first liaison wit…
 
The so-called Zulu War came at the moment of greatest British imperial presence in South Africa. Though understood differently today, in 1879 - the year of the event depicted in de Neuville's famous canvas - the violent exchange was seen in terms of Britain's rightful defence of its own colonial prestige. Rorke's Drift was a small outpost on the ba…
 
She feels that this is a mechanical age - a scientific one - highly civilised and unaesthetic. She knows that the time has come to express her surroundings in her work. All around her in the simple domestic life is machinery - patent ice-chests that need no ice, machinery does it; irons heated by invisible heat; washing up machines; electric sweepe…
 
Since the 1980s, Rosemary Laing has explored the power of photography to invoke and unravel assumptions about landscape and place. In her series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape, Laing responds to the desert as a place of belonging for traditional land owners and also a place of ‘unbelonging’ for the many non-Indigenous peo…
 
Richard Serra is a New York Minimalist who emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s. Typical of that movement he uses industrial materials in simple unmodified modules as does Carl Andre. Contrary to the commonly held view that Minimalism is without emotion or feeling it is the physical properties of the object that affect the viewer. The emotion expres…
 
Like many of his generation, Richard Deacon adopted Marcel Duchamp’s proposition that titles were an extra colour on the artist’s palette. In using language in this way the younger artists of the 1970s put distance between themselves and the abstract artists who came before them (who often labelled everything ‘Untitled’). ‘Listening to reason’ is a…
 
Encountering Ron Mueck’s sculptures is like suddenly being in a contemporary version of ‘Gulliver’s travels’: everything looks real and familiar but the scale is wrong. Giant boys and pregnant women tower over us, small men row boats and lie dead, a swaddled baby is shrunk to miniature size. In ‘Untitled (old woman in bed)’ a frail elderly woman li…
 
'Cash Crop' consists of a vitrine filled with little sculptures of fruit and vegetables carved from a variety of natural soaps. These pieces of 'fruit' are accompanied by labels and painted bank notes. The terms appearing on the labels are taken from the language of economic activity. The juxtapositions are both amusing and sharply critical: 'liqui…
 
When he arrived in New York in 1965, Joseph Kosuth was a 20-year-old recent graduate from art school, yet he quickly established himself as a founding member of the conceptual art movement in the United States. At this time Kosuth was inspired by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s investigations of language. Wittgenstein’s posthumously published boo…
 
During the 1980s Anish Kapoor, along with his British counterparts Richard Deacon, Tony Cragg, Antony Gormley and others, significantly challenged prevailing sculptural practices. Referred to as New British Sculpture, their respective work (although largely unrelated) shifted away from the purely conceptual or minimal art that had dominated the pre…
 
Rebecca Horn was born in Germany in the last years of World War II. Like Kiefer she was influenced by Joseph Beuys but it is Marcel Duchamp who seems to be most present in her machines and fabulous erotic installations, even in her strange and magical feature-length films. It was Duchamp who once said it is better to invent machines and do things t…
 
‘In the 1950s and 60s Frank Stella was a leading advocate for American artists who were attempting to break with the tradition of European painting that made reference to the world of visual effects beyond the canvas beyond art. Stella wanted to make an art form that was complete in itself, with as little internal division of its form as possible. …
 
Spanning a broad array of material practices and media, Ugo Rondinone’s works are often unsettling and deal with themes of isolation and disenchantment. At once distinct and interrelated, the works installed in this room cross-pollinate, shaping a single narrative. The looped conversation of the wall and sound installation ‘what do you want?’ sugge…
 
Carl Andre nearly always works in a grid, with the dimensions of his finished works determined by multiples of a basic module – such as a brick, metal plate or house beam. The shape of each work depends entirely on the number and configuration of modules. The works are often laid out on the floor like carpet and can in fact be walked on. Although n…
 
Like many minimalist artists Donald Judd worked in a modular way. ‘Untitled’, for example, is a series of horizontal rectangular units. The proportions of the module start with a ‘given’ – in this case, the size and thickness of the plywood that determines all other proportions in the work. Sometimes the boxes appear irregular, but this is an illus…
 
First drawn by: Kazuko MiyamotoFirst installation: Panza di Biumo residence, Varese, Italy, June 1980 Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings are executed by professional draughtspeople from sets of instructions generated by the artist. LeWitt emphasised the idea or concept of an artwork over its visual realisation, hence his assertion that his instructions are…
 
The son of artists Fred Klein and Marie Raymond, Yves Klein was baptised a Catholic and dedicated to Saint Rita, patron saint of lost causes, in the same year that Kasimir Malevich wrote ‘The painter is no longer bound to canvas, but can transfer his composition to space’.1 These coincidences seem to set the scene for Klein’s heroic and sometimes t…
 
Francis Alÿs’ idiosyncratic work resists classification. Encompassing lists, plans, and drawings, performances (including public parades and solitary walks) and collections of objects sourced from flea markets, his work is inclusive and plural and is often inspired by and located in the streets of Mexico City, where the artist lives and works.‘Slee…
 
James Angus’s sculptures usually find their subject in things that already exist in the world. His works can be divided into two main spheres, natural creatures and man-made, often architectural structures or manufactured forms. Living things are realised in versions that emphasise their sculptural nature, and inanimate objects are shifted through …
 
After returning to Australia following his ill-fated raft journey to Timor in 1952, Ian Fairweather moved to Bribie Island in Queensland. Here he began a series of large religious paintings, of which 'Last Supper' is considered the finest.Elements of his earlier travels through Asia, knowledge of calligraphy and exposure to contemporary European ar…
 
If we consider the several components manifested in a work of art ... foremost is man himself, the artist ... but equally important is the use of his intuitive faculties - the influence of the unconscious.Tony Tuckson 1964It is for his later paintings such as 'White lines (vertical) on ultramarine' that Tony Tuckson is admired as one of Australia's…
 
With a career spanning six decades, Robert Klippel was one of Australia’s leading sculptors. His work investigates the relationship between the organic and the mechanical; a duality that he saw as central to life and culture in the 20th century. ‘No 329’ stems from this concept. It was described by artist James Gleeson as a brilliant and seemingly …
 
This painting is from 'The book of power' series of multi-canvas appropriation works which Imants Tillers began in 1981 and still continues. Tillers cites the work of other artists to question authorial originality, how images circulate and to investigate ideas about location and place.The numerals 1, 2, 3 are taken from 'Koru, 1, 2, 3' 1965 by New…
 
Charles Meere was one of a group of Sydney artists whose work modernised classical artistic traditions as a means of depicting national life during the inter-war period. The epitome of his vision is Australian beach pattern, a tableau of beach goers whose athletic perfection takes on monumental, heroic proportions. Meere created a crowded and compl…
 
Five bells was my first commission to paint in situ to cover a wall … I didn’t hesitate. I brushed a line around the core theme, the seed-burst, the life-burst, the sea-harbour, the source of life. Inside and around this core, I painted images drawn from metaphors and similes in [Kenneth] Slessor’s poem of our harbour city, and from my own emotiona…
 
'First-class marksman' shows the isolated figure of Ned Kelly in the solid black armour that is Nolan's most inventive pictorial device, its flat abstracted shape incongruously placed against a landscape of lyrical delicacy. The title refers to an incident which took place in Victoria's Wombat Ranges, when Kelly and his gang were practising their m…
 
'The expulsion' completes Arthur Boyd’s cycle of biblical-themed paintings which he began in 1944. Based on the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve expelled by God from the Garden of Eden, the figures recall the work of 15th-century Florentine painter, Masaccio. Boyd transposes this early Renaissance pictorial idea into an Australian wilderness.The…
 
Bertram Mackennal was one of the most successful Australian artists working internationally in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His profile and performance in Britain, where he lived as an expatriate, substantially outshone that of his Australian peers such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton. ‘The dancer’, acquired by the Art Gallery of NSW …
 
'Summer time' magnificently demonstrates Rupert Bunny’s skill as a draughtsman and his masterful handling of large-scale composition. Exhibited at the New Salon in 1907, the painting epitomises the leisured spirit of the ‘Belle Époque’, elegantly capturing seven voluptuous women lounging inside a bathhouse, sipping iced tea and inhaling the intoxic…
 
During his lifetime Hans Heysen was one of the most accomplished and publicly acclaimed painters of the Australian landscape. He was equally a master of oil paint and watercolour, as well as a formidable draughtsman in pencil and charcoal. The landscape around Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills and especially its old gums were his preferred subject mat…
 
Otto Pareroultja and his brothers Reuben and Edwin worked and painted at the Lutheran Hermannsburg Mission west of Mparntwe (Alice Springs). Initially influenced by their countryman, Albert Namatjira, and by Rex Battarbee, the Melbourne watercolourist who worked closely with the Hermannsburg artists, the Pareroultja brothers developed their own dis…
 
Tom Roberts painted 'The Golden Fleece' while staying at Newstead Station in the New England tablelands of northern NSW. It is part of a series in which Roberts payed homage to rural life and pastoral industry, and captured vanishing traditions such as the use of manual shears.Originally called 'Shearing at Newstead', this painting was renamed to r…
 
With an evident empathy for rural labouring life, and a nationalist message, this much-admired painting by a principal member of the Heidelberg group was painted close to the artist's Melbourne home, using his family as models. Key influences for Frederick McCubbin at this time included the academic naturalism of Bastien-Lepage and the new focus on…
 
Awarded the Wynne Prize in 1919 and painted the same year as Roland Wakelin's and Roy de Maistre's experiments in colour harmony, 'Spring frost' is one of Elioth Gruner's most critically acclaimed achievements. With its impeccable sense of light and tone, and its vigorous foreground brushwork, 'Spring frost' is a tour de force, and perhaps the most…
 
Arthur Streeton's visions of the landscape have defined an image of Australia. 'Fire's on' in particular is considered his greatest evocation of the country's heat and sunlight. Painted a year after the artist left Melbourne for Sydney, it constitutes a radical new type of landscape in his oeuvre. Its vertical composition and the high horizon line …
 
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