Posts Tagged ‘Castlemaine Art Gallery


James Quinn: Portrait of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

James Quinn - Queen Elizabeth the Queen MotherMonday, 17 January 2011

James Quinn: Portrait of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

Whenever I happen to be at the Castlemaine Art Gallery, I always make a bee-line for one of my favourite works in their collection, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1900-2002) by James Quinn (1869-1951). Fortunately for me, it is most frequently on display.

James Quinn was a Melbourne-born and -educated painter, who travelled to Europe on a National Gallery Travelling Scholarship in 1894. From the early 1900s, Quinn settled in London, establishing a successful portrait practice. During the First World War, he executed a number of government commissions which are now at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The death of his son caused his return to Melbourne in 1935, where he lived until 1951, quietly passing away in a relative obscurity at the age of 81.

James Quinn - Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - Detail 1While the particulars of this portrait commission are unknown to me, the fact that Quinn painted it in 1931, when the Queen Mother was still Duchess of York, still some five years away from the Abdication Crisis and her husband’s (George VI) unexpected succession to the Throne, shows that the artist’s reputation as a professional portrait painter was established enough to attract the notice of royalty.

Quinn portrayed the Duchess of York seated and facing directly the viewer. Her likeness is captured most successfully: her identity is instantly recognisable not only from contemporary photographs but also from portraits by contemporary artists such as Philip de Laszlo (1869-1957) (as well as her most recent portrayal by Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech).

James Quinn - Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - Detail 3The ‘celebrity’ status of the Duchess of York allowed the artist to eschew encumbering this portrait with visible signifiers of royalty, such as heirloom regalia and crown jewellery; or placing the sitter within a sumptuous palatial interior. Instead, he depicted her in a fashionably understated pink gown and gauze wrap against a neutral background; her only jewellery comprises of three cascading strings of pearls and an emerald ring.

The treatment of the portrait is thoroughly modern, showing the influence of such contemporary portrait painters as de Laszlo (and perhaps Jean-Gabriel Domergue). Quinn’s flowing lines and long, fluid brushstrokes emphasise the lightness and diaphanousness of the loose-fitting gown that came to define the new generation of women as opposed to their tightly-corseted forbears of the Edwardian era. The painting is carried out in a harmonious palette of greys and pinks; the black of the Duchess’s hair and fan, as well as the vivid green of the emerald ring providing important counterpoints for the painting’s overall pastel gamut.

James Quinn - Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - Detail 2I am attracted to the portrait’s easy grace, natural elegance, and the sitter’s demeanour of knowing nobility; as well as, I guess, its certain rarity and uniqueness in the annals of Australian 20th Century portrait painting – or, at the very least, the presence of a painting like this on display in an Australian public collection.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Castlemaine Art Gallery

Castlemaine Art Gallery Facade by Julie MillowickSunday, 16 January 2011

Castlemaine Art Gallery

This weekend found me in Castlemaine, with the Castlemaine Historical Museum and Art Gallery being my regular port of call and place of pilgrimage. The Gallery is located in an elegant original 1930s Art Deco building (and I was fortunate to find a beautiful photograph by Julie Millowick to illustrate the gallery’s historical façade). It proudly displays its permanent collection in two spacious and airy galleries, tracing the history of Australian art from the 19th Century to the present day with clarity and coherence that is rare for a regional collection. The gallery has benefited from a number of valuable donations and endowments, including that of Dame Nellie Melba, who contributed a number of important works. Although displays of the permanent collection vary subtly from time to time, some of the most important artworks remain on view to greet the visitors.

Castlemaine Art Gallery - Installation View

The gallery’s 19th and early 20th Century display feature poetical landscapes by Louis Buvelot; a beautiful early idyllic Reconciliation by Tom Roberts; a striking Spring Fantasy by Penleigh Boyd, bursting forth with splashes of yellows; a delicate study of a nude boy by A.M.E. Bale (who endowed a travelling scholarship reviewed earlier within these pages); shimmering Fred McCubbin’s Golden Sunlight of 1914, all the more scintillating for his attempts to bring a touch of Arcadia to the banks of the Yarra; a significant 1930s Rupert Bunny, Stepping Stones; an iconic garden piece by Dora Meeson, which some years ago made the cover of an important exhibition catalogue; as well as a selection of works by E. Phillips Fox, John Russell, Hugh Ramsey, John Longstaff, Clarice Beckett, and numerous other important artists of the period.

Castlemaine Art Gallery - Installation View

The 20th-21st century gallery is well represented with works by modern and contemporary Australian artists, including Margaret Preston, Russell Drysdale, Fred Williams, John Brack, Albert Tucker, Ian Fairweather, and Frank Hinder; a striking 1960s Jeffrey Smart, Hide and Seek III; delicately sweeping view of Bathurst by Lloyd Rees; angular female nude by Clifton Pugh, The Crab Catcher; a richly-textured garden piece by John Perceval from 1961; a recent nocturnal landscape by Philip Wolfhagen; and a surprising number of paintings by Rick Amor. (Sadly, an awe-inspiring minimalist piece by Don Laycock from the gallery’s collection was absent from display at the time of my visit, but I do hope to see it re-emerge again.) A rich and varied selection of Australian sculpture and ceramics supplements the display of paintings.

Castlemaine Art Gallery - Installation View

A contemporary extension that complements the gallery’s existing spaces was added around 2000, and it serves as the Castlemaine Art Gallery’s temporary exhibition space. It currently features works by local artists from the gallery’s collection, which serves to remind us just how many talented artists live in the surrounding areas. The exhibition includes works by Craig Gough, including his striking views of Melbourne from the 1980s; landscapes by Robert McLaurin; a Brancusi-inspired sculpture and works on paper by Robert Jacks; a representative cross-section of works by Wendy Stavrianos from the 1980s to the present day; etchings and lithographs by Jeffrey Makin; portrait photographs by Julie Millowick, as well as a selection of works by local sculptors and ceramicists.

Castlemaine Art Gallery - McCubbin Detail

Two more spaces ought to be mentioned: a small gallery to the right of the entrance is dedicated to works on paper; due to their fragility and sensitivity to light, the display changes frequently and profiles the depth of gallery’s holdings in this medium, including significant works by Albert Tucker and Fred Williams. A small Benefactors’ Gallery is dedicated to the gallery’s growing collection of portraits and self-portraits of Australian artists, and currently features works by Deborah Klein, Rick Amor, and a most striking photo-realistic portrait by Paul Boromeo.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

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