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Can the Ballan ladies work out who painted these? 

Later- the Ballan ladies scored 7/12; very creditable.

Rene Magritte, 1898-1967, Belgian
The Human Condition, 1934, 100 x 81 cm
Oil on canvas,
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Magritte was a surrealist. His super-realistic, restrained compositions provoke interest, curiosity and perhaps anxiety; certainly much exercising of the mind. ‘The Human Condition’ is a portrait of imaginative time shifting.
We see a painting on an easel superimposed on the actual landscape seen through a window. Does the picture hide the landscape behind it? Certainly the parts of painting and landscape which adjoin are geographically consistent. However the painting must have been done before it was placed against the window and is a representation of reality, not reality itself, so picture and landscape can not be the ‘same’ thing even though there is no difference between them. They are also both part of the artists painting called, ‘The Human Condition’. Here is a window on to a significant human problem: what is real and what is not? And is time as fixed as we believe?

Grace Crossington-Smith, 1892-1984
Interior, 1958
Oil on composition board, 91 x 58 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
A Sydney modernist, Smith went to Europe 1912-14 returning with up-to-date knowledge of the Post Impressionist painters and Modernists of Europe, particularly Paris. She painted for most of her long working life in an intimate style using short deliberate brush strokes which had the effect of splitting light into prisms. Many of her works were set in the family home in Sydney and have us looking around rooms, into mirrors and in or out through windows or doors.
‘Interior’ is a typical ‘indoor still life’. Three vases and a jug stand on a table over which a cloth is casually draped. Walls, curtains and a set of cupboards fill out the background. The picture sparkles with light bringing life and harmony to the quiet domestic scene. At any moment someone is going to come along and place flowers in a vase or re-arrange the cloth. Here is a window into the dignity of daily life.

Lina Bryans, 1909-2001, Australian (born in Germany)
The Babe is Wise (Portrait of Jean Campbell), 1942
Oil on canvas, 94 x 73 cm
National gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
An important member of the Melbourne Modernist movement, Bryans painted in a bold expressionist style. She was something of a doyen of the Melbourne Art scene and her home at Darebin in Melbourne was a well known meeting-place.
‘The Babe is Wise’ is tantalisingly painted. Set diagonally right to left-not the safest compositional placement- Jean Campbell leans to her right and toward us. She is set against a sketchily-painted ground with enough tonal variation to attract us around the picture once we have finished with the figure. But it is the figure, and particularly the face, which catch our attention. The face is painted with great deliberation whereas the rest of the body and clothes are sketched in. The black-banded, red hat set at the jauntiest of angles encourages us to speculate on just what it is the babe might be wise about. Whatever it is, she may be about to tell us! Here is a window on to an intimate moment in life which we are about to share with the sitter.

Edward Hopper, 1882-1967, American
Chair Car, 1965
Oil on canvas, 102 x 127 cm
Berry Hill Gallery, New York
A realist painter Hopper opposed the painting of ‘mood’ in abstract art. He stated in 1930 that his aim was to portray the most accurate transcriptions of the intimateness of nature, which included human nature. His confronting pictures often contain people emotionally unconnected with each other though physically close, lone buildings, lighthouses on hillsides, empty rail lines and groups of people.
Chair Car is quintessential Hopper. Steep perspective has us almost falling into the train carriage. To make sure we traverse to the end of the car, the sun is reflected from four vibrant, diminishing, sun- lighted, patches on the floor. Having arrived at the end of the carriage we are confronted with an unhelpful pale blue door flecked with white as in a blue sky with white whispy cloud. Then we look at the four completely disconnected figures, firstly the woman on the right, then the woman further down on the same side, then the man and finally the woman on the left. All sit apparently oblivious of the others, one reads, one knits, the other two gaze disjointedly into space. Here is savage commentary on the human condition. If we can we avoid communion we do, and in so doing set up tense spaces like Chair Car. Here is another window on human existence.

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, French
The Star, 1876-78, 45 x 34 cm
Pastel, hand-coloured print on paper
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Degas, like Cezanne painted with the Impressionists and was their friend but was not an impressionist himself. This work is one of many concerned with the night life of Paris and particularly with the Paris Ballet. Like all Degas’ ballet pictures this one evokes the fantasy and dream-like escapism which is in large part the art of ballet. Once in the theatre patrons are transported to another world. The star twirls on one foot spread arms adding to her momentum and projecting her across the picture plane; our eye moves from her to a strange figure in the middle ground to a corps de ballet member further in. The picture vibrates with movement and soft, pulsating colour- we are invited to forget the troubles of this life and be transported to some imaginary space where all is beauty and elegance. Here is a window on to a less-troubled life.

Richard Diebenkorn, 1922-93, American
Man and Woman in a Large Room, 181 x 159 cm
Oil on Canvas
Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture garden, Washington D.C.
Diebenkorn began as an Abstract Expressionist painter but, opposed to the absence of subject matter in abstract expressionism, he turned to figurative work. 
In this picture which has overtones of Matisse we see two figures in a room lighted by windows and an open door. The surfaces are painted with the loose brushwork associated with the abstract expressionists. Dark walls and floor heighten lighter colours in the sky, the man’s jacket, woman’s skirt and the yellow border on the mat. We glimpse an attractive landscape through the door. The painting, at first glance, is in the style of Edward Hopper but here the figures are in communion. Longer appraisal shows a gentle harmony of shape and colour in the painting of the room, landscape and sky, complimenting the intimate conversation between man and woman.

Sidney Nolan, 1917-92, Australian, worked extensively in England
Soldiers, 122x x 153 cm
PVA paint on hardboard
Australian War memorial, Canberra, Australia
Nolan was Australia’s best known painter internationally if only that he spent a great deal of time overseas. He began painting in the 1940s in an expressionistic style and continued in that vein until the end of his life. He painted important series’: the Ned Kelly series of the 1940s and the Bourke and Wills series being amongst the best known examples. His general output was prodigious.  Hardly an aspect of Australian life was not touched by his art.
‘Soldiers’ is part of the Gallipoli series which Nolan began painting in 1955-6 whilst living on the Greek island of Hydra. He decided to visit the Peninsular then returned to Hydra before moving to London to finish the works. He touches on nearly every aspect of life on Gallipoli, as described by the Australian Official Historian; C.E.W. Bean, in the series The present picture is probably inspired by a photograph of Diggers in a trench except that Nolan has replaced the bright sunlight and shade with spectral blue. Three of the corpse-like men stare out at us asking the photographer (and us) to go away so they can get on with the business of staying alive. One looks to his right as though unwilling to make eye contact; perhaps he does not want to be reminded that the photographer, painter and viewers will go their own ways after this but he is fixed in a probable death pact. The right-hand figure has a quizzical, interrogative expression as though questioning his part in this history and ours as well. They all stand in a sepulchral-blue space ready to take part in the next mad episode of the Gallipoli campaign.

Paul Klee: 1879-1949, German/Swiss
Twittering Machine, 1922, 64 x 48 cm
Watercolour, pen and ink, paper mounted on cardboard
Museum of Modern Art: New York
An early practitioner of abstract painting and member of the Bauhaus much of Klee’s work follows the Surrealists’ precept of automatic writing. He was principally a Surrealist painter whose canvasses are often peopled with odd creatures. Klee’s work, not surprisingly, was considered ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi’s.
A handle turns a crazy machine which has twittering birds instead of the normal hurdy-gurdy paraphernalia, but is this a happy scene? The birds are about to sing, not actually singing, and they are chained to the perch. Dawn is about to break- the time when military attacks are launched. Is the function of this machine with its very make-believe birds to lure other creatures over the pit under the wire? Are the birds about to sing happily or is there an element of panic or hysteria in their demeanour and why does the right-hand side of the picture have that looming dark cloud? Like many of Klee’s pictures this work has an element of menace about it which overshadows humour. Here is a window into multiple meanings.

Piet Mondrian, 1872-1944, Dutch
Diagonal Composition, 1921, 60 x 60 cm
Oil on canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago
Mondrian spent much of his painting life completing spare geometric patterned pictures, usually in square or rectangular format. His aim was to reduce nature to its simplest elements by removing all distraction and leaving only the essential forces which Mondrian saw as balance, harmony and the unity of existence; i.e. everything connected to everything else, to paraphrase Lenin. Here a system of lines and spaces forms a delicate pattern even though strong colours are used. The delicacy comes from the arrangement being very easily disturbed. A single alteration would destroy the settled formality of the composition and probably destroy the picture altogether. Magritte believed he could paint universal truth. His picture spaces and lines tell of a higher unity rather than simply please. Clarity, certainty and order are the mainstays of human existence. 
This work has an interesting departure from the usual Mondrian composition in that the picture space is turned diagonally. The vertical and horizontal lines of the composition create a unifying dynamic tension with the actual picture shape. This is Mondrian’s window into the human condition.

Glyn Philpot, 1884-1937, English
Oedipus, 1932
Oil on canvas, 81 x 60 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Beginning his professional life as a society portrait painter, Philpot enjoyed much critical and commercial success especially in the 1920s. His later works were influenced by German Expressionism and having to confront sexuality problems and began to assume a Surrealist flavour.
Oedipus met the Sphinx on his travels to Egypt. The Sphinx would ask travellers a simple question which if they could not answer the Sphinx would eat them. Oedipus answers the question correctly, the only person ever to do so. The Sphinx was so upset at this that he threw himself into the sea and drowned. 
Scantily clad Oedipus (modelled on a male friend of Philpot) makes determined eye contact with the Sphinx, who returns the stare with equal determination. We might assume the Sphinx is about to ask his question and is confident of the outcome whereas Oedipus is equally confident he knows the answer. More to the point for us; here is a picture about confrontation. Philpot confronting the world with a profoundly new way of painting and Philpot confronting his own sexuality in a time when homosexuality was illegal. We can certainly see the departure from Philpot’s early formal, classical style of painting in the format of the composition. The main vanishing point is to the right, along Oedipus’ line of sight, probably portending the quiz winner. The great block of stone melts away in the foreground and Oedipus’ body is impossibly elongated. We see through a window made by the frame.

Vassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944, Russian
The Garden of Love (Improvisation Number 27), 1912, 120 x 140 cm,
Oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Kandinsky is credited with painting the first abstract picture; a picture which is a picture in its own right, not a picture of something. From then on feeling and emotion would inhabit the pictorial space just as might a tree or hill. 
Perhaps here we are in the Garden of Eden, there is a snake centre right and perhaps a woman floating top centre. Various animals could be dispersed around an orange sun complete with its rays. Black clouds, not all of them in the sky float through the space and there may be a building top centre. A fence attempts to keep us in, perhaps an allusion to the warnings given before the disastrous events to come later in the garden. Do the black clouds and snake portend these? Kandinsky’s superlative technique binds everything together, nothing is out of place and seen either as a window into the dreaming subconscious or merely a pleasing arrangement of shape and colour the picture satisfies.

Peter Blizzard, 1940-2010, Australian
Stone Cloud You Yangs, 2005, 76 cm high
Brass, stone and aluminium
Exhibited in a retrospective of Blizzard’s work at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Oct 2009- March 2010. Blizzard died before the exhibition finished.  Anyone knowing the location of this work now might like to get in touch via the panel on the Home Page of the website.  Thanks.
A mountain line runs through the circle of planet earth, moon, sun and soul. We are at one with creation. The mountains also intersect with a precious object, mounted in the circle. Perhaps the eternal circle denotes a monstrance. The square brass base enclosing an irregular stone might encourage us to accept that all in life is not necessarily cut and dried. Blizzard’s three-dimensioned window speaks softly in its three-dimensioned space.