Canal scene, China 1954 signed with initials 'IF' lower right gouache on cardboard 37.0 x 51.0cm (14 9/16 x 20 1/16in).
PROVENANCE Macquarie Galleries, Sydney Mrs J.E.A. Walkley, Melbourne, 1954 Rob Ferguson Niagara Galleries, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1998
EXHIBITED Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 1954, cat. no. 8, titled Harbour Spring Exhibition, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 1969, cat. no. 31 (illus.) Fairweather; A Queensland Art Gallery Touring Exhibition, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane 1 October 27 November 1994; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 17 December 1994 19 February 1995; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 11 March 7 May 1995, cat. no. 18
LITERATURE Australia Today, October 1963, as 'Aboriginal', p.72 Spring Exhibition, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 1969, cat. no. 31 (illus.) Murray Bail et al, Fairweather, exh. cat., Art & Australia Books in association with the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1994, no. 18 (illus.) Murray Bail, Fairweather, Bay Books, Sydney, 1981/2nd edn. Murdoch Books, Sydney, 2009, pp. 123 (illus.), 252
In a letter to his old friend H.S. (Jim) Ede in early 1954, Fairweather filled in all the disasters that had happened to him in the past two years: the raft voyage and subsequent media circus, the strange experience of returning to England after twenty-five years and the bushfire that recently had swept through his land at Bribie Island, destroying his tent and its contents. In spite of these setbacks, he built a hut a frame of poles thatched with grass, with a bed padded with ferns and tables made from reeds. Around him, he wrote, 'there is only the forest, burnt black with the fire and not a sound, not even the wind. Every new year I always listen for the first sound. It has so often a message, a sign of things to come. This year there was a stillness, a blank. Don't know what to make of it.' 1
It was in this frame of mind that he returned to scenes from the past, such as this gouache, Canal scene, China, which shows a narrow creek and several Chinese junks with their distinctive geometric sails. 'The symbolic junks, the crowded buildings, the twisted bridge and line of pedestrians are composed as a kind of serene haphazardness like memory itself.' 2
Although the actual place was not ever identified by Fairweather, it is possibly Suchow Creek where it meets the Huangpu River and where the Bund known for its massive Art Deco buildings begins. Here the Waibaidu Bridge arches across the river on the right with masses of sturdy buildings all around. Fairweather's studio was at 235 Szechuan Road (now 235 Si Chuan Bei Lu) opposite the Shanghai Post Office (the tall building with the clock tower). 3 It was on 'the top floor, spacious and quiet' and gave him a bird's eye view of the bustling city which he has recreated here decades later.
Dr Candice Bruce
1 Nourma Abbott-Smith, Ian Fairweather: Profile of an Artist, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1978, p. 126 2 Murray Bail, Ian Fairweather, Bay Books, Sydney 1981, p. 118; 2009, p. 123 3 Murray Bail, Ian Fairweather, Bay Books, Sydney 1981, p. 19