Tag Archives: Queensland Art Gallery

California Design: A Brave New World

It was purely coincidental that I visited the latest Queensland Art Gallery exhibition, California Design, on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, but they fitted together brilliantly.

California Design looks at the sleek, modernist, optimistic designs that came out of California between 1930 and the 1960s, and JFK’s Camelot image was polished – and tarnished – by the same broad-brush strokes. The Kennedys were always attracted by the lure of Hollywood.  In lusting after Marilyn Monroe, the brothers were only following in the footsteps of old Joe, who made Gloria Swanson his mistress during the 1930s.

The exhibition begins with a pair of aerial shots of Los Angeles.  In 1923, LA is little more than a triangle of country roads and an airstrip.  By 1930, the triangle has been filled with houses, and outlying farms are already turning into suburbia. The pace of change must have been shocking or exhilarating to live through, and the boom in housing gave architects and designers an opportunity to concentrate on building – and filling – the private houses of a new wealthy elite. Continue reading

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Treasures of Afghanistan at the Queensland Museum

A special exhibition at the Queensland Museum makes me realise, not for the first time, how much better the Queensland Art Gallery does these things. QAG has just closed Quilts 1700-1945.  I went at the end of June, and wrote about it here.

The Queensland Museum has just opened Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum Kabul.  A few of these items were on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City when I was there in 2010.  Although they belong in Afghanistan, and will eventually return to its National Museum, at present they are touring the world.  They have already been to Melbourne and will go on from Brisbane (until 27 January) to Sydney and Perth during 2014.

Treasures of Afghanistan

Hair pendant in gold and turquoise from Tillya Tepe

The treasures themselves are wonderful.  Continue reading

Quilts and their stories

The Queensland Art Gallery has a new exhibition, Quilts 1700-1945, which runs from 15 June to 22 September 2013. Most of the quilts come from the Victoria and Albert Museum, with a few from the Imperial War Museum, and the exhibition is billed as ‘200 years of British quiltmaking’, but there is also one important Australian quilt, the Rajah Quilt from the National Gallery of Australia.

The quilts show a mixture of decorative patchwork, embroidery, and collage.  The earliest quilt dates from the 1690s; the last from the Second World War.  I’d recommend the exhibition to anyone interested in textile history or women’s work or domestic decoration – though I confess that I’m always at a bit of a loss when it comes to deciding just where to draw the boundary between Art and Craft.  For me, these pieces, lovely as they are, definitely fall on the ‘Craft’ side of that line.

My overwhelming feeling, coming out after a couple of hours, was sheer relief that I have never had to spend my time doing all that work! By hand! By candlelight!  Yet I know people who love quilting, will happily spend time hand sewing patches, and take delight in the finished product.  I’m afraid I’m just not one of those people.

For me, the pleasure of the show lay rather in the stories that lie behind many of these quilts.  Continue reading

Portrait of Spain at the Queensland Art Gallery

It wasn’t a good look for the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, to compare the State’s economy with that of Spain this week.  First because it’s simply not true: Queensland’s economy is extremely healthy compared with that of Spain.  But also because it’s an insulting reference to make in this of all weeks, when we Queenslanders are benefitting from Spanish generosity with the opening of the new exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery, Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado.

Continue reading

Sunlit Plains Extended

I’ve now been 3 times to the Eugene von Guérard exhibition, Nature Revealed, at the Queensland Art Gallery, partly because it’s free, I admit, but mostly because it’s so compelling.  It finishes on 5 March, so if you live in Brisbane, hurry.  And, if you’re my age, bring your reading glasses.

Everyone brought up in Australia knows a few von Guérard paintings, even if they don’t know that they know them.  He is widely represented in the National Gallery of Victoria, where he was curator from 1870, and the National Gallery of Australia, and in other galleries, particularly in Victoria where he did most of his work.

He painted landscapes: flat plains, the strange mountain formations of the volcanic Western District, or the dark and claustrophobic forests of the Dandenong Ranges.  The action often takes place in a shadowy foreground, while the background glows in the sunshine.

Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges

Ferntree Gully in the Dandenong Ranges 

I already knew many of his paintings from books, but I have seldom experienced before so sharply the need to see the original rather than rely on reproductions, because no matter how large the canvas, or the subject matter, von Guérard seems to have approached his painting with the eye – and the brush – of a miniaturist.  Continue reading

Pictures from Two Exhibitions

I visited the Queensland Art Gallery yesterday to see the latest exhibitions.  One, Art, Love and Life: Ethel Carrick and E Phillips Fox, covers the work of a husband and wife team, Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865-1915) and Ethel Carrick (1872-1952).  The other, Lloyd Rees: Life and Light, contains a selection from the pencil and pen drawings of the Brisbane-born artist, Lloyd Rees (1895-1988).  Both exhibitions are worth a visit; they make an interesting comparison to see them together.

The Carrick/Fox exhibition shows two artists who travelled widely and painted in many places.  There are very few gum trees!  Emanuel Fox was born in Melbourne to Jewish parents.  He trained briefly in Victoria, along with contemporaries who became painters of the Australian legend – Fred McCubbin, John Longstaff, Rupert Bunny and others – but in 1887, he headed for France.  Like other Australian artists, he visited the iconic spots – John Peter Russell‘s home at Belle Ile in Brittany, Monet’s home at Giverny – and some of the methods of the Impressionists rubbed off on him.  He also went to England and Spain, and there are bits of Whistler in his work, too.

He came back to Melbourne in 1892 and started the Melbourne School of Art.  The exhibition includes a wonderful painting he did of his women students working at their easels, but perhaps wisely, it doesn’t include the most familiar image he ever produced, ‘The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay’, commissioned in 1900 by the National Gallery of Victoria, which decorates a dozen school textbooks.  Even artists need to eat.

Ethel Carrick was English.  They married in 1905, and Emanuel died in 1915, so they only had a few years together.  They had no children, but spent their time painting together – the same scenes, the same models, the same props – living in Paris or travelling.  There are paintings from France, North Africa, Venice, India and Australia – and I suspect A beach scene at Manly was just as exotic when it was hung in Bordeaux, as their paintings from North Africa are to us.  It’s a good marketing strategy, to paint the exotic, and a canny way to fund your travel, but as a result, most of their work is world art, not Australian art – and none the worse for that.

While Carrick and Fox chose exotic locations for their paintings, Lloyd Rees did the opposite – at least on the evidence of this current exhibition of his drawings.  These are local, intimate images of the people and places around him, mostly in Brisbane.  Rees lived into his 90s, sketching almost to the end of his life, so his life and work spans nearly a century of Brisbane’s growth from country town to capital city.

He knew everyone in the local art scene: he was engaged to Daphne Mayo; he taught Vida Lahey; he was a member of the Half Dozen Group of artists, founded in Brisbane in 1940 and still going strong.

I had a memorable a-hah moment yesterday when I came across Lloyd Rees’s sketch of ‘George Eaton singing, c. 1922’.  George was my grandmother’s older brother.  I never knew him, but he was part of the Brisbane theatrical scene in the 1920s – so of course, Lloyd Rees would have known him, too.

Rees travelled to Europe too, just like Ethel Carrick and E Phillips Fox.  He first visited Europe in the 1920s, and went again during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but he seems to have lacked the restlessness of the earlier couple.  Perhaps by the 1950s, an artist could feel comfortable in his own skin in Australia, even one from such a regional backwater as Brisbane.

If you are reading this in Brisbane, Lloyd Rees: Life and Light, is on until 13 June 2011, free entry.

Art, Love and Life: Ethel Carrick and E Phillips Fox is on until 7 August 2011, $12.

I’m giving a talk at the gallery in conjunction with the Carrick/Fox exhibition on 26 June, 2.30pm.  The blurb says: ‘Historian Marion Diamond journeys through time to look at Australian colonial history in an international context, exploring some of the networks established across the world at the turn of the nineteenth century.’  As of this moment, I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m going to say – but no doubt I’ll think of something.

Michael Hawker, Lloyd Rees: Early Brisbane Drawings, (2011)

Vida Lahey: Colour and Modernism