National Gallery of Victoria – Australian Collections (Part IV)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

… continued from the previous entry …

National Gallery of Victoria – Australian Collections (Part IV) 

The Edwardian Rooms feature a number of flamboyant and large-scale creations by Rupert Bunny, Emanuel Phillips Fox, and George Lambert that celebrate the elegant and indolent lifestyle of the of the bourgeoisie, forever lounging by a seashore and taking endless cups of tea in the shade of their stately gardens. Noticeably absent from this vision of Arcadia is Norman Lindsay’s Spring Innocence, for which the National Gallery shelled out nearly half a million dollars about five or so years ago.

The art of Hugh Ramsey, that most promising Australian painter whose untimely death at the age of 29 is regretted by art historians to this day, is explored in some depth within the gallery, including his portrait of a student of the Latin Quarter. I always found it to be a covertly sexy picture, as even the thick woollen sweater and baggy pants cannot disguise the muscular armature underneath. The youthful determination is reflected in the strikingly handsome and masculine face with the prominent nose and square jaw; and yet there is also something elegantly romantic about his outstretched sinuous arm and a languorously limp long-fingered hand.

In a totally different spirit is George Lambert’s Hera. As most of Lambert’s female protagonists, she is posed coquettishly, twisting her body, with a hand on her hip, and a come hither tilt of her head. She is wearing a diaphanous bright pink dress; a blue shawl edged with golden fringe is thrown over her shoulders, and its rich patterning shimmers in the rays of light. Multi-coloured flowers, that favourite device of the artists who wish to further emphasise and emblematise the exuberance of youthful femininity, burst forth from a glass vase on the left hand side. There are no hints of struggle or privation as one can detect in the humble still life in the right foreground of the Ramsay portrait with its crumpled napkin, hunk of bread, and dusty pewter and glass ware: everything in Lambert’s portrait is about youth, exuberance, and joy.

The collection of the early 20th-Century Australian art is remarkably rich in sculpture. Bertram Mackennal’s life-size study for the Eton College’s War Memorial in the middle of the gallery bears shades of Leighton’s Sluggard, while Web Gilbert’s marble The Sun and the Earth is as close as one could possibly get to the spirit of Auguste Rodin. The sculpture encapsulates the essence of Art Nouveau with its flowing and sinuous lines; the embracing figures slowly emerge from the roughly hewn lump of marble; the tactile plasticity of their naked bodies visually defies the cold and firm sensation of the lifeless stone.

… to be continued… 

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012. Where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

January 2012


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