Nobby's Head and the Entrance to Newcastle 1991 signed, dated and inscribed 'brett whiteley nobby's Head and the entrance to newcastle 1991' lower left oil, charcoal, pencil with collage on canvas 87 x 93cm (34 1/4 x 36 5/8in).
PROVENANCE: The Nobby's Collection, Newcastle Australian and European Paintings, Drawings and Prints, Part I, Christies, Melbourne, 26 November 1996, lot 65 Private Collection Australian & International Paintings, Christies, Sydney, 17 August 1999, lot 65 Private Collection, Queensland Fine Art Auction, Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 1 May 2002, lot 45 Private Collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED: The Nobby's Collection, Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle, 23 September - 5 November 1995 Just Brett Whiteley, Richard Martin Art, Sydney, 9 - 27 April 2011
LITERATURE: K. Brown & M. Jurisich, The Nobby's Collection, Newcastle, 1993, pp. 46 - 47 & p. 64 (illus).
Brett Whiteley was a master of the erotic. The nude female figure readily gave herself to his sensuous line. Forms of the landscape swelled in pregnant delight under his brush or extended with expectant erectile pleasure as seen in the sweeping lines of Nobby's Beach, repeated in those other breakwaters at the mouth of the Hunter River and old guns of Fort Scratchley. The anthropomorphic is never far below the surface, the landscape pulsating with the same rhythmic beat of the human body, creating a relationship between subject and viewer that is binding. Each belongs passionately to the other, while the aerial view in company with the seagull, a metaphor of freedom and pun on the bird's eye view, adds a further, humorous dimension. It is a typically cheeky Whiteley touch, repeated in the android - like guns of the fort. If that were not enough, Whiteley adds the bonus of colour the mesmerizing blues of the waters and the fecund greens of the curvaceous land. The rhythmic curves are echoed in the viewer's visual embrace, a moment passionate and of untrammelled pleasure. The daily scene of cargo boats waiting on the horizon for entry to the coal port, of ocean swimming pool, and terraced houses provide incidental touches of verisimilitude. Even the curve of the globe is included. But in Whiteley's hands art is no mere mirror, rather a competitor with nature.
The small rocky island of Nobbys is a unique feature on the south side of the entrance to Newcastle Harbour at the mouth of the Hunter River in New South Wales. It has long played an interesting role in Australian history and art. For the Awakabal, the local Aboriginal tribe, it was the hiding place of an errant kangaroo. The first European to sight the rock was James Cook from the deck of the Endeavour, noting in his log for 10 May 1770, 'A small round rock or Island, laying close under the land...'.1 The discovery of coal in the area by Lieutenant John Shortland in 1797 led to it being named 'Coal Island', soon provided with a coal burning light as an important aid to navigation. In 1818, on Governor Macquarie's orders, work began to join the mainland to the island, taking thirty-eight years and much loss of convict life for completion. The eventual lighthouse on Nobbys was the third built in New South Wales. The individual appearance of the Nobbys also attracted the interest of artists, both freemen and convicts. A watercolour by John Lewin in 1808 and 1812 engravings after Richard Browne are in the collection of the Newcastle Region Art Gallery, as well as the fascinating oil painting Inner View of Newcastle c.1818 by Joseph Lycett. This interest continued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, well into the contemporary scene in works by A. H. Fullwood (c.1890s), Julian Ashton (1901), and David Middlebrook (1994), all of which are part of a special collection in the Newcastle gallery.2 Unlike Whiteley, they took a terrestrial view, showing the rock at various times and seasons, dramatic and in majestic profile, before and after it was truncated for better navigational reasons. In addition to its fascination for artists, collectors became intrigued by the rock as it was elevated to iconic status. In the late 1980s two Newcastle businessmen began collecting works featuring the headland. It became known as 'The Nobbys Collection'.3 They very much wanted a painting by Whiteley and troubled him for more than six months before prevailing. Whiteley's interest and knowledge of the place, however, was long standing, commenting, 'I used to surf at Nobbys Beach when I was a kid.'4 The pleasure of recollection can be felt in the painting, the curves and sweep of coastline recalling the waves of the surfing beach that so attracted the artist and still appeal to devotees today.
David Thomas 1 Cook, J., Captain Cook's Journal During the First Voyage Round the World, Elliot Stock, 62 Paternoster Row, London, 1893, p. 250 2 Henderson, R., 'The Nobbys' connections', Artemis, Newcastle Gallery Society, vol.42, no.1, February - July 2011, pp. 16 - 7 3 Brown, K. & Jurisich, M., The Nobbys Collection, Newcastle 1993 4 Whiteley, quoted in Brown, ibid, p. 46
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