Adam and Eve with the Garlic Plant 1955 signed and dated 'Perceval 55' lower left tempera and resin on composite board 72.5 x 91.0cm (28 9/16 x 35 13/16in).
PROVENANCE The artist Private collection Blue Boy Gallery, South Yarra, Melbourne Mr & Mrs L. Matheson Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 1986 Private collection, Melbourne
EXHIBITED Selected Australian Works of Art, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, June 1986, cat. no. 52 (illus.) Australian Modern: Arte Australiana Moderna e Contemporanea e Arte Aborigena, Fondazione Mudima, Milan, 23 April - 24 May, 2002 Heavenly Creatures, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 4 December 2004 - 30 January 2005
LITERATURE Margaret Plant, John Perceval, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1971, p. 52, 26 (illus.) Trudi Allen, John Perceval, Melbourne University Press, 1992, pp. 91, 112, 155, p. 114 (illus.) Australian Modern: Arte Australiana Moderna e Contemporanea e Arte Aborigena, exhibition catalogue, Malakoff Fine Art Press, Melbourne, 2002, p.12 (illus.) Heavenly Creatures, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2004, p.31
Adam and Eve with the Garlic Plant, 1955 reveals Perceval's early interest in naïve expression and can be seen as a "charming coda"1 to the biblical depictions of the 1940s, which were anchored in an Australian idiom. The work shows Perceval's shift to a more simplified format. "A high horizon line is the only concession to perspective, with details spread over the painting regardless of spatial consequences.
The painting bears some relation to early Renaissance composition but deviates from it in that perspective involves no rationale; flowers are oversized and Adam takes a smaller, second place to Eve. Size is equated to importance rather than distance."2 This is made especially clear by the large blond cherubic head appearing over the periphery of the painting, the shape of his wings echoed in the tendrils of the garlic plant whose function is perhaps to ward off evil in this heavenly garden, and inspired perhaps by Perceval's own garden.3
For Perceval, the angelic child suited his decision to work in a deliberately naïve style. He had ready models in his own fair-haired children.4 In 1952, the date of this painting, John and Mary Perceval's (nee Boyd) three children were Matthew (b. 1945), Tessa (b. 1947) and Celia (Winkie, b. 1949). They appear in Perceval's works around this time, all wide eyed innocence, as seen in Winkie and Tessa in Blackman's Chair 1952 and Matthew, Tessa and Winkie in a Field of Flowers 1954/5. Adam and Eve with the Garlic Plant is delightfully typical of the best of Perceval's whimsical, joy-inspiring paintings.
Perceval was part of the Angry Penguins movement, a group of Melbourne-based artists who defined Australian art in the 1940s, along with Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker. His is still recognised as one of Australia's most talented artists and in 1991 was awarded the Order of Australia for his service to the visual arts. His work is held in collections of all major Australian public galleries.
1 Margaret Plant, John Perceval, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1971, p.52 2 Trudi Allen, John Perceval, Melbourne University Press, 1992, p.91 3 Trudi Allen, John Perceval, Melbourne University Press, 1992, p.91 4 Margaret Plant, John Perceva, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1971, p.52