Paul Cezanne, French, 1839-1906
The Kitchen Table, 1888-90
Oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm
Louvre, Paris
 
Cezanne was the son of a wealthy banker and, although having a troubled relationship with his father was made financially independent by him after father had accepted that his son would not be joining him in the banking industry. He painted with the Impressionists but was never one of them although always said he owed a great deal to Pissarro. He was interested in the structure of nature and investigated this principally in landscape and still life. Exhibiting with the Impressionists in the early part of his career, Cezanne’s painting life was a lonely pilgrimage as he was even more ostracised than the Impressionists because of his departures from the realistic salon painting style of the mid to late 19th century. Using carefully placed brushstrokes and subtle colour modulation, Cezanne investigated the geometry of his subjects. The still life pictures, particularly, illustrate this. The first painter to include varying viewpoints in his pictures and distorted shapes, Cezanne presaged Cubism.
 
The Kitchen table is effectively two still life pictures on one canvas. A basket of fruit and vegetables is placed perilously behind the back edge of a table which already displays carefully arranged vessels and fruit.   Both basket and large pot in the middle ground are tilted forward to show a partial plan view and the foreground table has non-parallel edges which warn of changing viewpoint. Fruit on the table and in the basket balances precariously ready to roll out of the picture. The jug on the table is tipped to our left to help with picture perspective. Fruit shape is shown by changing brushstrokes and subtle changes in colour and tone. The floor tilts upward at an alarming angle to take us to the back of the picture and the colours of the still life are repeated in the back wall though with a more limited range. Pictures like this were a mystery to those who saw the tonal-realist style of the previous three centuries as the only way to paint. Not only was the geometric arrangement ambiguous but colour and shape were used in ways not seen previously. Cezanne has been called the father of modern painting.







 

Henri Matisse, French, 1869-1954
Still Life with Oranges, c1899
Oil on canvas, 47 x 55 cm
Washington University Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
 
Matisse was profoundly influenced by Cezanne, the Impressionists and the Pointillists. He moved from Post-impressionism to be a co-inventor of Fauvism with Andre Derain and others. Matisse was at the forefront of style change in painting all his life and with Picasso was considered the foremost painter of his time. As his painting life progressed he began to simplify subjects and complete finished pictures quickly. Colours are usually bright and composition racy often bordering on the abstract. He had a prodigious output and towards the end of his life, unable to paint, completed large-scale collage with paper cut-out. Matisse was also a fine sculptor, print maker and designer, completing stage design work for the Russian Ballet.
 
This still life picture completed about the same time as the earlier Cezanne canvas shows obvious reference to Cezanne. Fruit, hazily sketched balances on the misshapen table top whose back edge is angled and truncated to push our eye to the right. The fruit bowl is tipped forward to allow us to see its contents more clearly. Matisse touches include the massed colour to give a bright ‘feel’ for the space, the apparently simplified composition and the simplification of the surrounds to leave emphasis with the fruit. The colour-scheme of the table cloth is designed to help move us around the picture rather than be realistic. This picture is very ‘modern’ for 1899.





Brett Whiteley, 1939-92, Australian
Still Life with Up Front Outback and Cherries, 1976
Oil on board, 122 x 198 cm,
Private collection Melbourne
 
Whiteley was a success from the start of his career. In 1960 he won an Italian scholarship which paid for him to study and work in London. He exhibited at the prestigious Whitechapel and Marlborough galleries in 1961. In 1961 he was also selected as the Australian representative at the UNESCO young painters’ convention in Paris and in the same year won the International Prize for young artists at the Biennale de Paris. This secured his international reputation as a 21 year old. His mentors included the poet Rimbaud and the British painter Francis Bacon. Whiteley’s personal life though was marred by addictions to alcohol and drugs. Nevertheless he was a considerable success, both artistically and commercially. Whiteley’s style could best be expressed as ‘freedom of expression’.   A superb draftsman and technician generally his pictures of voluptuous nudes, highly expressionistic landscapes and interiors reflected his ecstatic approach to life. His prolific output included some fine sculpture and prints.   Whiteley’s turbulent personal life ended in 1992 when he overdosed on heroin. The turbulence continued after his death when a much-publicised battle over possession of pictures erupted between a lover, Whiteley’s daughter and allied, divorced wife.
 
Still Life etc is a masterpiece of spatial representation and whimsical arrangement of unrelated objects. The landscape booms toward us, especially at the front right, then recedes and climbs away to both right and left. Undulations are shown by subtle changes of tone in the browny, clay soil. Way over to the left is a low horizon or sea shore and a fenced paddock occupies the top centre. Scattered throughout the landscape are outsize cherries, flowers, still life objects and vases of flowers. The whole scene is set on a table top! Here is Whiteley dabbling in Surrealism. Steep perspective is introduced by the line of cherries starting centre middle of the picture. A discarded book with botanical pictures reinforces the presence of cherries in the landscape. 





Edward Hopper, 1882-1967, American
Room in Brooklyn, 1932
Oil on canvas, 74 x 68 cm
Museum of Fine Arts Boston, USA
 
Success came relatively late to Hopper; he began to sell pictures in 1920 but during the 1930s he became America’s leading practitioner of Realist art. His stated aim was to paint the “most exact transcription of my most intimate impressions of nature” (Oxford Companion). His pictures can have a haunting, spooky, silent quality and we are usually left to form our own impressions as to what they might be about. He claimed his pictures had no social commentary attached to them whatever however social commentary can be in the eye of the beholder. If for no other reason we can admire his pictures for their technical proficiency however it is rare that a Hopper picture does not set off an emotional response amongst its viewers.
 
 A silent woman sits in a country-veranda style rocking chair overlooking Brooklyn to the harbour and sky beyond. The upper picture space is framed by blinds at the top irregularly drawn in contrast to the highly ordered space they shade. Strong yellow, long light streams in from the right but makes no shadows of the table or vase of flowers on its way. The picture has a vanishing point to the left which draws our eye out to sea from where it returns along the horizon to the flowers and window frame. We take in the rest of the scene at our leisure. The table cloth seems to reach out towards the light, following a line set up by the projection of the flowers. This is a very mysterious picture. Does the unadorned table at the left represent a draped coffin? Does the building line just visible over the balcony suggest a plot of gravestones? Is the woman in mourning? Does the absence of shadow imply lifelessness? This is a very still life. Does the illumination of the woman give us some hope that she will not be sad for too much longer? Hopper gives us no answers, only questions. 
 
 





Andy Warhol, 1928-87, American
Marilyn Monroe’s Lips, 1962
Acrylic, enamel and pencil on canvas, two panels; 211 x 205 cm and 211 x 210 cm
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
 
Probably the best known Pop artist, Warhol combined superb painting and printmaking technique with droll imagination and a wicked eye for the shallowness of mid 20th century American society. He set up his own life to mimic his art, producing much of his work in a converted factory to reinforce the production line nature of life as he saw it. Troubled by drug and alcohol addiction, Warhol was also shot by a drug-crazed gunman and seriously wounded. His life ended prematurely in his 59th year. 
 
Marilyn Monroe was the quintessential 1950s sex symbol. She tested American sensibilities with her projection of sexual availability strongly tempered by obvious vulnerability. It came as no surprise to most that after a turbulent social life, multiple marriages to prominent men including baseballer Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller, Monroe took her own life by overdosing on the high-roller drug of choice: prescription-provided barbiturates. Even in death she has had no rest as controversy has bubbled along as to whether or not she might have been murdered. In this picture Warhol has reproduced Monroe’s lips on two different-coloured panels 168 times, forming two patterns. The only variation is a slight darkening of the image towards the bottom right. The picture emphasises Monroe’s repetitive sexual appeal and the hazards associated with identifying too closely with her image. She is shown as a supermarket-shelf idol: we take one and keep going.





Jackson Pollock, 1912-56, American
Number 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949
Oil enamel, metallic enamel, string and cigarette, 158 x 95 cm
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
 
Pollock was an early practitioner of Abstract Expressionism. Having spent much of the Second World War painting under a government sponsored scheme, Pollock moved to New York City then upstate New York. In New York City he met other Abstract Expressionist painters and became one of the leaders of the movement also marrying Lee Krasner, another Abstract Expressionist painter and his greatest supporter. Pollock invented the drip and pour painting technique for which he is most well known today. Laying the canvas on the floor he would move around it pouring and dripping paint from a succession of brushes and sticks. Whilst it might seem that any resulting art work would be serendipitous, Pollock always kept tight control over what he was doing maintaining that the action of painting was the important thing (hence the appellation ‘Action Painting’) and not worrying too much if he produced images with poor prospects of lasting. Pollock was an alcoholic, dope smoker and womanising depressive. His marriage to Krasner survived because of her tenacity. He was killed in a car accident whilst drink driving with two women in the car; neither his wife.
 
Tiger is a classic drip and pour ‘action painting’. All parts of the image are equally important, there is no perspective but there is depth, achieved by colour variation and placing stronger colours over less strong. The canvas writhes and swirls; Pollock is painting a mood, a feeling but all is under control and the finished canvas shows both its origins and its growth. The apparently accidental drops, drips and splashes finish as an image that is obviously complete and which has movement, balance, depth and a device for taking our eye around it- the curling black line. One might imagine that the title ‘Tiger’ was added after the completion of the work though perhaps a tiger does prowl around the picture space in the yellow pattern.




Godfrey Miller, 1893-1964, New Zealand then Australia
Still Life with Lute, Oil on canvas, 1954-6, 65 x 83 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales; Australia
 
Miller studied architecture in Wellington New Zealand and also at the Slade School London. His architectural studies were interrupted by army service in the First World War. During training in Egypt he took note of the art and architecture of ancient Egypt. Badly wounded, he returned to New Zealand and completed his studies in architecture. During 1919-20 he travelled around Asia and the pacific before settling in Warrandyte, Victoria, Australia where he began painting. During the years until the outbreak of WW2 he lived in Warrandyte also travelling and studying in London, Europe, Greece and the Middle East. He then settled in Paddington Sydney. Miller’s unique style relies on his early studies as an architect and his curiosity about the inner structure of the world around him. His pictures are based on ruled grids and cross-hatched frameworks forming tiny squares, rectangles and triangles which he fills with different colours. The effect replicates the effects of light and hints at the ‘molecular’ structure of his subjects.
 
Still Life with Lute is a wonderful example of Miller’s later work. A lute and assorted pieces of fruit lie on a surface which may be a table. Several grid-like patterns of lines intersect and are filled with dashes of colour suggesting the ‘feel’ of music, fruit floats around the canvas on or off the vaguely defined table top and floor. There is a rhythm to the picture and a wholeness, which to quote Miller…”is not something in front of us. It is behind us, to the left of us, to the right, above, under and in us…it is then, it was, it will be”. Miller’s formalised metaphysical interpretation of the world is unique in Australian painting. 

Copyright the John Henshaw Trust.  With thanks to the trust.
 




Paul Klee, 1879- 1940, Swiss settled in Germany after 1906
Highways and Byways, 1929, Oil on linen, 84 x 40 cm
Private collection, Switzerland
 
Klee was an accomplished musician and writer as well as painter and was one of the 20th century’s most influential artistic innovators and teachers. He studied in Munich, became an early member of the Blue Rider group (early practitioners of expressionism) and taught at the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus led European teaching on design, architecture and painting in the 1920s and 30s. His work evokes imagination and fantasy containing elements of both abstraction and realism often in the same picture, as in the present work. It lauds the intellectual approach to making and viewing pictures. He was a considerable influence on later American abstract painters. Klee’s pictures take us into a world of pictorial fiction and magic.
 
Klee visited Egypt in 1928 and the influence of that visit can be seen in Highways and Byways. We are presented with a main route to a series of distant fertile plains and various alternative paths to the same place. The structure of the pyramids is laid out in horizontals. Our main route heads directly and flatly outwards. If we choose to travel via the series of smaller wave-like terraces, we will descend. So, disconcertingly, the terraces appear to conflict geometrically with the flatter central route. Those to the right and left in the bottom half of the picture, certainly appear to undulate: height changes not recorded in the main path. Klee is using a cubist device to explain the landscape to us. Patterns of coloured quadrilaterals of varying sizes are all that compose this masterpiece of spatial investigation.





Salvador Dali, 1904-1989, Spanish
Decalcomania, 1936, gouache on black paper, 24 x 18 cm
The Salvador Dali Museum, St Petersburg Museum, Florida
 
Dali came to Surrealism in 1929 via Cubism, Futurism and Metaphysical Painting. He was to become the leading exponent of the movement and its best known practitioner. Painting with flawless technique, Dali spontaneously pictured the imagination. Figures, shapes, landscape and odd juxtapositions characterise his work. Never afraid of publicity, his life became a surrealist statement in itself. He moved to America in 1940 after being rejected by other members of the Surrealists for painting in too classical a manner – surely a surrealist gesture on their part! He lived a long life and was famous for most of it.
 
Decalcomania refers to a technique where paper is pressed on to blobs of ink or paint. The aim was to produce images which could not be said to be the product of rational planning and reinforced the surrealist agenda of art work happening by imagination-inspired chance. Here the technique has produced an image of a woman: skeleton in white, head of patterned flowers. The picture is a powerful statement. Planted strongly against a velvety-black background the head projects fiercely and frighteningly forward, the skeleton reinforcing the horror-film feel of the picture. Arms, breast-bone and shoulders are shown as, illogically, are the boneless breasts. The violent head tracks our movements. This small picture is capable of producing nightmares and is not a depiction of femininity but rather explores a more vicious aspect of womanhood similar to de Kooning’s woman pictures.







Sam Fullbrook, 1922-2004, Australian
Mt Cooroy with Bunya Pines, Oil on canvas, 87 x 107 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Australia
 
Fullbrook began his working life as a timber cutter and stockman in outback New South Wales. He spent the war years in the army serving in the Middle east and New Guinea. After war service he joined the gallery school in Melbourne after which he lived and painted in Queensland and New South Wales. Much of his work was lost in a disastrous studio fire in the 1970s. His pictures are soft-edge, hazy and spacious. Light appears to come to us through the picture rather than reflect from it. 

Mt Cooroy shows the best of Fullbrook. A landscape which could be at first look a seascape reveals itself to show iconic and rare Bunya pines lancing through foreground and middle ground. They spread across the canvas with suppressed vibrancy, leading us to the mountains beyond. The sky is a surf of clouds. Using a limited palette Fullbrook describes the pattern of light and shape produced in a single moment. We understand that nature will soon move on.