Posts Tagged ‘Ruppert Bunny


Portraits @ Leonard Joel May 2011 Sunday Art Auction

LJ 132 Archibald ColquhounWednesday, 11 May 2011

Portraits @ Leonard Joel May 2011 Sunday Art Auction

As always, a quick overview of portraits that were offered at recent art sales. Because of the all-inclusive nature of Leonard Joel’s auctions (as discussed in the previous post), their sales are perhaps the best places to view and find a wide variety of portraits by local and international artists offered on the Australian art market.

LJ 010 Ernst BuckmasterWhile the cross-section of portraits was more exciting in some of their previous offers, the May 2011 Sunday Art Auction also unearthed some interesting, unusual and unexpected items, perhaps none more so than Ernst Buckmaster’s self-portrait from 1926, painted when the artist was in his late 20s. Buckmaster shows himself in a flattering three-quarter turn against an abstracted background; his face boldly lit from the left-hand side, emphasising the shock of bushy black hair, deep-set eyes, prominent nose and chin, and a slightly haughty expression about his mouth and brow. There is something indelibly Edwardian about this self-representation, clearly emulating the bravura style of John Singer Sargent. One has to love the artifice of the portrait, where the artist chose to represent himself standing in a simple painter’s smock, which covers a formal black-tie dress complete with a bowtie and starched collar, as if the artist presages the popular success he would achieve later in life as a fashionable landscape and still-life painter. Estimated at $2,000-$4,000, the portrait sold for $6,600 (IBP).

LJ 347 Jean SutherlandIt is interesting to compare this work to a portrait of the same sitter by Jean Sutherland, obviously painted much later, but displaying the same slightly arrogant and self-assured arching of the brow (sold here en suite with Sutherland’s self-portrait, est. $800-$1,200); or indeed against another self-portrait in the auction, that of Douglas Watson of 1945, who also dashingly portrayed himself with a cigarette in his hand and sporting Hollywood mustachios (est $1,000-$1,500; unsold).

LJ 092 Rupert BunnyPerhaps my favourite portrait in the auction has to be a charming and lively study by Rupert Bunny of his wife and muse, Jeanne Morel. Painted c. 1895, the portrait predates some of Bunny’s better known, lavish full-length representations of his wife, many of which appeared at the last year’s retrospective of the artist (and discussed within these pages in a number of earlier posts). The portrait depicts Jeanne boldly in clear and sharp profile, lost in an intent conversation with an invisible interlocutor. The liveliness and immediacy of the image has something of an amazing snap-shot quality to it one would normally associate with a photograph rather than a drawing. Her face is executed in beautiful detail, while her dress is but a hint, a suggestion of folds and outlines of puffed sleeves and a late-Victorian bodice. There are echoes of Sargent’s celebrated portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, painted a few years previously in 1892-93, especially in the way Jeanne Morel holds on to the side of the chair with her hand. It is undoubtedly one of the loveliest and surprisingly fresh watercolour portraits I’ve seen by the artist in a long time, and the public must have thought as highly of it as I did: estimated at $3,000-$4,000, the portrait drawing sold for $13,200 IBP, more than four times its lower estimate.

LJ 038 Tony TucksonOther portraits on offer included Tony Tuckson’s Matisse-esque interpretation of his wife, Margaret, from the early to mid 1950s (est. $16,000-$20,000, sold $28,800 IBP); David Rankin’s ghostly evocation of his wife, writer Lily Brett, of 1986 (est $1,000-$2,000, sold $2,400 IBP); a rather dashing representation of Violet Teague’s husband (?), Roger Teague, in full riding habit (est $3,000-$5,000, unsold); and a fresh and vibrantly painted portrait of an unknown lady by Archibald Douglas Colquhoun (est. $700-$900, unsold).

LJ 286 Peter ChurcherNorman Lindsay’s oil Rita of c. 1940s made yet another appearance on the auction block (est. $20,000-$30,000; sold $24,000 IBP); and there was also a lively profile portrait drawing of the same model (est. $1,000-$2,000, sold $3,360 IBP). And since we’re admitting identifiable models into the sphere of portraiture, we can’t go past Peter Churcher’s generously proportioned male nude, Simon Seated, which is unfortunately not the most felicitous creation by this otherwise talented artist (est. $7,000-$9,000, unsold).

LJ 212 Francois FerriereAs always, there was also a selection of what one of the former auctioneers of this house inspiringly termed ‘instant ancestors’ – portraits of unknown, soberly dressed ladies and gentlemen gazing at the viewer from the 18th and 19th Century canvasses, such as an unknown gentleman by an early 19th-C. British school (est. $1,000-$2,000, unsold); or a copy after George Romney’s portrait of John Askew of Whitehaven, c. 1800 (est. $2,000-$3,000, unsold). Perhaps the most attractive and romantic of the lot is an 18th-C. Portrait of a Lady by the Swiss François Ferriere, dating from 1786, in full powdered wig and beautifully executed gauze wrap around her shoulders; the lightness of the face, hair, and bodice effectively silhouetted against the overall darkness of the background (est $800-$1,200; sold $1,140 IBP).

This selection shows that portraiture, both as a genre and an area of collecting, continues to fare alive and well in Australia; and it is thanks to the auctions like these that we see gems, rarities, and surprises like those by Bunny, Buckmaster, or Ferriere emerging from the confines of private Australian collections to find new homes, sometimes with surprising (and profitable!) results for their former owners.

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


The Ewing Collection

Rupert Bunny New Step 1908Friday, 4 March 2011

The Ewing Collection, University of Melbourne

One of the pleasures of visiting the University of Melbourne’s Ian Potter Museum of Art is the high likelihood of seeing highlights from their permanent collection, which includes works of Australian art from the late 18th Century to the present day (this, of course, not taking into account their International collection, that has artefacts dating back to the Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome). The Museum currently has on display works from the Collection of Dr Samuel Arthur Ewing, which includes paintings, watercolours and drawings by Australian artists from the 1860s to the 1940s.

E Philips Fox - Rocks and SeaThe first room focuses on paintings from the collection, and includes a romantic landscape of Mount Buffalo by Nicholas Chevalier (1862); an iridescent twilight scene by J.F. Paterson, Evening at Croydon (c.1890); clear and fresh Sir Hans Heysen of River Flats (1930); a panoramic Sir Arthur Streeton of Cremorne (1907) and the iconic St Mark’s of Venice (1908), remarkable for its dappled sunlight effects. There is a beautifully intimate Rupert Bunny, The New Step (1908), of two ladies in diaphanous white dressing gowns within a pinkish interior; most “impressionistic” E. Phillips Fox of Rocks and Sea (1911), almost Monet-like in its appearance; and a shimmering Fred McCubbin’s Frosty Morning of the Como House environs (1910), which I am certain was exhibited in the artist’s recent retrospective at the Bendigo Fine Art Gallery.

Norman Lindsay Dr DeathThe second room features an abundance of drawings and watercolours, including most unique fan designs by Sir Arthur Streeton, very much in the Art Nouveau taste; numerous classic red and brown gum tree landscapes by Sir Hans Heysen; a beautiful selection of predominantly nocturnal works by Blamire Young; a selection of works by the talented J.J. Hilder, who died at the age of 35, with so much regrettably unfulfilled promise; a few excellent sketches by Charles Conder; a delicate landscape by Penleigh Boyd; and a number of watercolours by Norman Lindsay, including a most unusual black and white illustration, Dr. Death, refreshingly devoid of his signature voluptuous ladies.

John Longstaff Dr Samuel EwingA portrait of Dr Ewing by John Longstaff greets the visitor to this exhibition, a sober composition in a sparse and sombre colour palette, enlivened only by the gleaming white scarf of the sitter. The wall text explains that Dr Ewing was a University of Melbourne graduate, who donated his collection to the University in 1938, with a touching sentiment that ‘our youth may be inspired with the beauty as well as a deeper love of their country by the works of our artists’. One may only wonder what the future generations would make of Australia based on the museum’s contemporary art collections in a fifty or a hundred years’ time…

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


Rupert Bunny @ National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Rupert Bunny - Artist In ParisSaturday, 1 May 2010

Dear Diary,

I thoroughly enjoyed the retrospective exhibition of Rupert Bunny’s paintings and works on paper at the National Gallery of Victoria. It gave a good overview of Bunny’s artistic and aesthetic development, and explored in great depth major stylistic evolutions and influences within his career. It has gathered in one place most of his well-known and celebrated pieces from major public institutions across Australia, as well as certain high-profile international collections. However, the exhibition has presented very few surprises. The curators have brought to light very few rarely seen (or previously unseen) works from private collections (though some of them have been tantalisingly illustrated in the exhibition catalogue). Their physical absence from the exhibition leaves one with a certain feeling of déjà vu.

The exhibition is accompanied by a well researched and richly illustrated catalogue, and I have succumbed to the temptation of parting with $50 to secure a copy. It has been devised after an international model, and comprises of four essays by a variety of curators and academics, who concentrate on various aspects of Bunny’s oeuvre. As such, it has been a pleasure to read. The original research and use of published and manuscript materials, which have recently come to light, is excellent, and shows the awareness of Australian curators and art writers of the current trends and progresses in the international art historical research. This exhibition publication is clearly not an afterthought, and is a valuable addition to the scholarship on Rupert Bunny and Australian art. Once again, if a tiny criticism is to be levelled against this publication, then it would be the absence of a proper catalogue of works in the exhibition. While most of the paintings and works on paper are well explored in the essays, the absence of a proper check-list with the provenance, exhibition history, and – most importantly – bibliography is a sad omission for any scholar wishing to pursue further research on any of the works in the exhibition.

Rupert Bunny - Self PortraitMy interest in Rupert Bunny is primarily bound with my general interest in portraiture. According to David Thomas’s monograph on the artist, as well as various artworks that have appeared on the art market, Bunny sustained quite a lively portrait practice. The reflection of this side of the artist’s oeuvre is rather limited in the exhibition, although what they have chosen to show of his portraiture is rather exceptional.

The visitor to the exhibition is greeted by Rupert Bunny’s self-portrait of c. 1895 (AGNSW). In a few quick dashes of sanguine Bunny had delineated his three-quarter profile, inquiring eyes, fashionably-arranged curls and moustache. The simplicity and clarity of the drawing, which shows the artist as a trendy yet Bohemian man-about-town, says a lot for his Academic training, which is largely absent from the works by the present practitioners of the genre.

Similar qualities can be observed in his portrait of Comte Melchior de Polignac (1888, NGV). It is a delightfully informal sketch, which shows Bunny’s ability to catch a good likeness, pose, and even the attitude of the sitter with such modest means as pen and ink, within a limited amount of time.

In fact, Bunny can be quite informal when painting portraits of family and friends. The portrait of C.F. Keary (c.1891, Denis Savill) is a proto-Whistlerian profile study in muted tones of a sitter lost in an introspective pensiveness. The portrait of the artist’s sister, Annette (1891, Private Collection, UK) is sharper and fresher by comparison. Bunny still retains his interest in a limited colour palette, but his sister’s features are defined more articulately that those of Keary.

Rupert Bunny - Jeanne MorelBunny was fortunate to have found the muse in his model and future wife, Jeanne Morel. Her portraits in the exhibition constitute some of the most spectacular and exciting works of the genre, for the artist was able to capture the likeness of the sitter as well as create a work of art of universal appeal and transcendent quality. Witness his portrait of Jeanne with a terrier (1902, NGV), the charm of which reminds one of Reynolds. The colours are fresh and vibrant; the careful brushwork on the face gives way to vigorous strokes on the fabrics; and there is an even looser work in the background. The whole composition is simple yet sophisticated, paying homage to the canons of intimate portraiture of the Georgian era.

Jeanne remained his perfect model, and she appears in numerous narrative paintings throughout the exhibition, from such grandiose works as Nocturne (1908, NGA), to more intimate scenes of Siesta (1906-7, Private Collection) and Waiting (1907, Wesfarmers). Among the last works in the exhibition is Jeanne’s portrait of c. 1917 (Newcastle Region Art Gallery). Stripped of her Edwardian frippery, Jeanne is posed leaning on the windowsill in a Dutch manner, presenting us with her more ‘matronly’ side.

Rupert Bunny - Madame Saddo Yakko KesaThe exhibition features two portraits of Mme Sada Yacco. Kesa (1900, Philip Bacon) is an interesting and surprising study of the Japanese actress, who is shown standing with her back to the viewer. Bunny is more interested in capturing her exoticism and Oriental allure, rather than in showing us her face. The artist is creating an image of an archetypal Japanese actress rather than an individual behind the costume. The brushwork in this portrait is barely perceptible, and bears the evidence of Whistler’s influence on Bunny’s art of the period.

Bunny has returned to the same model several years later. Stylistically and compositionally, Sada Yacco’s portrait in Shogun (1907, University of Queensland) is a departure from the 1900 ‘Whistlerian’ portrait of the same sitter. The painting is alive with colour. It is also filled with energy, as the actress spins around and twists her body, moving the layered Kimono and heavy tresses of her hair. Once again, Bunny is less interested in portraying Sada Yacco as an individual, then in creating an archetypal portrait of the Japanese actress, adapting the sitter to his own changing aesthetic sensibilities.

Rupert Bunny - Dame Nellie MelbaThe grandest concoction in this exhibition is Bunny’s celebrated portrait of Dame Nellie Melba (1902, NGV). Perhaps the first striking feature of the painting is how different it is to the two portraits discussed above. Whereas the semiotic qualities of the former represent the sitter as an archetypal Oriental performer, Melba’s portrait gives the spectator no clues as to the sitter’s occupation. Melba is portrayed as a grand dame, a British aristocrat strolling through the parklands of her estate. She is standing erect and column-like in her tightly-corseted Edwardian finery; the white lace and chiffon of her gown envelopes the figure and carelessly trails behind her on the ground. The pink wrap swirls around Melba, enlivening the near-monochromatic composition, while the imagined gust of wind grabs its edge and brings into the portrait the feeling of movement and energy. A close compositional relationship between this painting and Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of the Countess of Derby (1791, Metropolitan Museum), a famous actress turned aristocrat, is perhaps Bunny’s veiled attempt to hint at the sitter’s profession.

Melba’s portrait in the exhibition is flanked by a seated three-quarter-length of Percy Grainger (1902, Grainger Museum), which is once again quite remarkable by juxtaposition to other portraits in the show. It is full of spontaneity and a sense of restless energy. His features are not sharply defined; there is a nervous energy to the way his fingers play with the trouser leg, and the way he shifts his weight onto the left arm, which is resting on the back of the couch. The spontaneity of this portrait, the vigorous brushwork, and muted greys of the suit form a strong contrast to Melba’s portrait, making it difficult to believe that such a different work – in the stylistic as well as psychological sense – had been painted by Bunny within the space of a single year.

Rupert Bunny - Madge CurrieOn the right side of Melba hangs a portrait of Madge Currie, which was painted by Bunny nearly a decade later (1911, Private Collection). Currie’s portrait is fresher in terms of colour, and presents a sophisticated composition in terms of naturalness, simplicity, and the lack of affectation. At the same time, the portrait contains multiple semantic layers. While on the surface of it, we are looking at a realistic portrait of a girl seated on the sea-shore, the painting can be seen simultaneously as a composite and idealised image of an upper-middle-class Edwardian teenager, who came to the shore for a drawing lesson (notice the pencil and the drawing album) – a becoming activity for a well brought-up girl of her age and class. The vibrancy of pinks and whites underscores the innocence of the youth; the palette and brushwork show the artist moving away from the Whislerian aesthetics towards the painterly bravura of Sargent and Helleu.

The influence of Sargent on Bunny’s portraiture is especially evident in the group portrait of the artist’s sister Annette with her daughters (1903, Rothschild Collection), as the sitters repose on the couch in a manner not dissimilar to Sargent’s Wyndham Sisters (1899, Metropolitan Museum). The composition, however, appears a bit stilted as Bunny grapples to reconcile the formality of a studio portrait with the naturalness of a snap-shot like appearance, at which Sargent excelled. Nevertheless, there are a number of beautiful passages in this work, such as the execution of Hilda’s puffed-sleeve Edwardian dress, and the artist’s ability to contrast the greying maturity of Annette with the pink and cream complexion of her daughters.

Rupert Bunny - Annette with her daughtersThe presence and variety of portraits in this exhibition – as well as their regular appearance on the art market – confirms that Bunny’s portrait oeuvre deserves a closer examination, and perhaps an exhibition in its own right.

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]


Review of Portraits @ Menzies March 2010 Auction

Lot 26 - Brett Whiteley - John SingletonSunday, 21 March 2010

Dear Diary,

Given my interest in portraiture, I became more aware of portraits that appear in Australian auction rooms. Internationally, portraits by Old, Modern, and Contemporary masters at auctions form a very distinct group, and those by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Reynolds, Lawrence, Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, van Gogh, Klimt (and my very own Winterhalter) have broken auction records and / or brought significant results.

The situation is dramatically different in Australia, where portraits at auctions are few and far between. This can be attributed in part to the fact, that the majority of portraits that appear in Australian auction rooms (but not all!!!) fail to progress from being a mere likeness of a person to that of a transcendent and sophisticated work of art of universal appeal. The former rarely make it to the market and largely continue lingering in artists’ studios or the homes of their sitters unless they are donated to public institutions or appear at lower-end art clearance sales. The latter however make their distinguished appearance at the upper end of the auction market, bringing good sales results, with some inspired bidding from both institutional and private collectors.

Lot 34 - Rupert Bunny - Portrait of Jeanne(Deutscher-)Menzies auction in December 2009 featured a number of interesting portraits. They had, for example, a striking in its originality portrait of John Singleton by Brett Whiteley (sold $55,000 hammer); a beautifully intimate portrait by Rupert Bunny of his wife, Jeanne (sold $396,000 hammer); a mask-like portrait of an African prince, Kininga Wunca, by Donald Friend (unsold); and William Dobell’s preparatory drawing for his celebrated portrait of Helena Rubenstein (sold $1,600 hammer).

The auction also had two remarkable self-portraits – a dark and brooding “Self-Portrait in a Country Town” by Rick Amor (unsold), and a rather irreverent in its larrikinism “Self Portrait (The Afternoon Walk, Dunmoochin)” by John Olsen (sold $70,000 hammer).

The portraits by Whiteley and Bunny, and the self-portrait by Olsen illustrate the point. All three are big-name artists; all three have produced portraits, which are very much in the style and manner these artists are famous and admired for; these works have brought accordingly good results. Admittedly, the paintings of female nudes by Whiteley and Bunny on a similar scale (or of frogs and giraffes by Olsen) would have brought more significant sums, but the universal appeal of these works speaks for itself and is reflected in their art market prices.

Lot 43 - Rick Amor - Self-PortraitHelena Rubenstein by William Dobell is a celebrated portrait in the annals of Australian art, so it is not surprising that it has found a buyer (not to mention at a very modest price). On the other hand, Donald Friend is perhaps more known for his watercolours of nude South-East Asian youths (and later still lifes which are also popular on the market). Hence a rather heavy, mask-like portrait failed to find a buyer.

Sadly, the same can be said of Rick Amor’s work. I deeply admire his self-portraits, which encapsulate the inner, psychological darkness that is so prevalent in his landscapes. However, it appears that the art buying public is able to take more easily to his landscapes, the physiological loading of which can be read ambiguously (or perhaps completely ignored by a certain cross-section of buyers). Not so with the self-portraits, which are more often than not direct, confronting, and uncompromising. It is sad – though not surprising – that this portrait did not find a buyer on the auction night.

Lot 142 - Artist Unknown - Portrait of a GirlI do acknowledge that the line-up of artworks is largely dependent on what an auction house is able to consign from its vendors, so chasing an impressive selection of portraits (or indeed any such “curatorial” agenda) would be far from the auctioneers’ mind – unless they strike a golden vein and develop the market and / or collectors’ following in this genre.

Therefore, I am saying the following as an observation rather than a recrimination or criticism – the representation of portraits in Menzies’ forthcoming auction is much thinner on the ground as compared to the previous auction of December 2009. In fact, it is limited to a charmingly naïve watercolour portrait of a girl by an unknown 19th-Century Australian artist (lot 142; est. $900-1,200). While the childish cherubic face is wonderfully, even sweetly resolved, the head is bizarrely out the proportion with the rest of the body. There is a beautiful lively glint in the girl’s eyes, but it does little to compensate for the inadequacy in the drawing of the rest of the figure.

Lot 35 - Norman Lindsay - Portrait of Rita(An argument can be raised that Norman Lindsay’s portrait of Rita (lot 35, est. $40,000-50,000), and Richard Larter’s innumerable depictions of his wife (for example, lot 110, est. $10,000-15,000) can be also treated and examined as portraits. However, the relationship between the artist and the model is quite different to that of the artist and the sitter. While the artists capture the general appearance, pose, and attitude of the models, their personalities and identities are more often than not sublimated (or even indeed sacrificed) in favour of the artists’ aesthetic approach and visual codification.)

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

April 2019
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