Nocturne with Marloo and Sturt Pea signed with initials 'S F.' lower right oil on canvas 137.0 x 122.0cm (53 15/16 x 48 1/16in).
PROVENANCE The collection of the artist The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1988
EXHIBITED Possibly Sam Fullbrook: Exhibition of Paintings, Pastels & Drawings, Cooks Hill Galleries, Newcastle, 13 July 4 August 1986, cat. no.5, titled Nocturnal with Kangaroo Sam Fullbrook, Gallery 52, Perth, 4 October 1987 (illus. invitation) Sam Fullbrook: Racing Colours, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 7 June 24 July 1995, cat. no. 59
LITERATURE Felicity St John Moore, Sam Fullbrook: Racing Colours, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, p. 67 (illus.) Herald Sun, Melbourne, 7 June 1995, p. 5 (illus.) (visible in photograph of the artist visiting the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)
Sam Fullbrook was the painters' painter, a brilliant craftsman with a sharp and teasing eye who brought an original twist to a popular Australian icon.
Perhaps the nearest comparison is with Sidney Nolan, especially the kind of naïve lyricism one finds in Nolan's early Wimmera landscapes. One senses a genuine affinity in their sensuous lightness of touch, freshness of colour, and elusive, almost fugitive meaning. The difference is that Fullbrook's paintings rely entirely on singular experiences, ones that are personally felt or observed. They therefore represent authentic experience offered up simply and in a way that excludes both literature and the expression of self.
The whole notion of myths and heroes is indeed superfluous since his paintings are not intended as grand statements but rather understatements, at once intimate and incognito open to personal interpretation, offering illumination but ultimately mysterious. As such they reflect the tolerance the 'eternal shift' that moved him and made him an artist in the first place.
As Fullbrook described this painting in a letter to Reg Grundy in 1988 - "Marloo is an Aboriginal word for the plain kangaroo or big red! He turned up at my place on the downs [Oakey] and fell in love with my Silver Bounty foal."
Sam's lifelong love of horse-breeding and racing had begun in his youth when he joined stockmen to round up brumbies near the NSW-Queensland border, bought his first horse as transport for eight pounds and then acquired a string of brumbies as payment in kind.
The Grundy letter continued: "There is something of the itinerant about him [Marloo] and he is in such manner larger than life. Big Red lives on his own and travels around the district calling on different properties where he is often mentioned in despatches over the phone . . . Big Red's life is a succession of refusals . . . So we have him with a sprig of Sturt pea . . . The world is full of Marloos turning up with flowers that nobody wants but ever forgets."
Fullbrook's description of this itinerant kangaroo as an outsider corresponded fairly closely with his own situation in life, suggesting that there was also a degree of identification with his subject. He too was in the habit of taking people flowers and being received as a friend but then, as he sensed, outwearing his welcome.
Yet the sprig of Sturt pea is likewise a deliberate memory of the portrait by Joshua Reynolds in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria that Sam had admired as an art student there. With no experience then of looking at pictures, he had noticed the way that British and Flemish portraits displayed their tokens. He sat for hours and days in front of Reynolds' portrait of Miss Susannah Gale 1763-64, for example, analyzing the relationship of colour and tone, marvelling at the whites and pinks and the reflections of light on her tender skin and gleaming dress, memorizing the token posy of flowers that appeared in his own later paintings of curvaceous females and common fauna - koalas, wombats and kangaroos.
The Reynolds aside, the nearest precedent to this large animal painting in Fullbrook's oeuvre is Emu and aeroplane 1965 (University of Western Australia). That miraculous painting (reproduced as a poster by The Australian newspaper) had been described by the late Robert Juniper as - "The essence of calligraphy . . . a complete poem in itself, without a brushstroke out of place . . . I don't think it can be faulted in any way. No overworking or going back or re-doing anything. It's just like a complete striking of a chord."
In Emu and aeroplane, Fullbrook saw the mustering aeroplanes as surrogates for people and the sprinting emu suggested that technology was just not in the race. By contrast, in Nocturne with Marloo and Sturt Pea the Big Red stands alone, swinging through the whole space. His streamlined grace and seductive colour touch forward and back, linking experience and convention. The Big Red is a familiar presence, with a long history in the wild, who is now a loner.
For Pro Hart, a keen Fullbrook collector, Fullbrook said so much with so little. Similarly, the artists who were his contemporaries at the National Gallery School, such as Fred Williams, John Brack, Helen Maudsley and Clifton Pugh, admired the superb colour and fine craftsmanship of Fullbrook's paintings. Blackman praised their 'delicacy of touch and European sensibility' while painter and writer Robin Wallace-Crabbe appreciated that 'image and structure are not easy to separate . . . that the same splash of colour seems to crystallise and act as the key to the artist's experience of the subject'.