The silkworm factory 1959 signed and dated 'd Strachan 59' lower left oil on canvas on board 96.8 x 162.4cm (38 1/8 x 63 15/16in).
PROVENANCE Mitty Lee Brown Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1989
EXHIBITED Possibly Clune Gallery, Sydney, 6 July 1960, titled The old silkworm factory David Strachan, 1919 1970, touring exhibition, Ballarat Art Gallery, Ballarat, 10 February 10 March 1973; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 23 March 22 April 1973; Temporary exhibition facility, Commonwealth Art Advisory Board, Canberra, 3-27 May 1973; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 14 June 15 July, 1973; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 26 July 23 August 1973, cat. no. 28 (label attached verso) David Strachan, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 28 October 22 November 1989, cat. no. 31 David Strachan Retrospective, touring exhibition, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 4 February 14 March 1993; Brisbane City Hall Gallery and Museum, Brisbane, 20 March 18 April 1993; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 4 May 20 June 1993; City of Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat, 23 July 5 September 1993, cat. no. 36
LITERATURE Daniel Thomas, David Strachan, 1919 1970, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1973, pp. 9, 27 (illus.), 47 Stephen Rainbird, et al, David Strachan, exh. cat., Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 1989, cat. no. 31 (illus. and back cover) Lou Klepac, et al, David Strachan, Beagle Press, Sydney, 1993, p. 61 (illus.), 126
David Strachan remains harder to classify than almost any artist of his generation. In his works there are elements of symbolism, Pittura metafisica, surrealism and Neo-romanticism. His style verges on the naïve, but he was a painter and thinker of great sophistication who spent twelve of his best years in Europe. He would be much better known today had he not died prematurely in a car accident at the age of 51.
Many Australian artists have studied at ateliers in Paris, but Strachan is the only one to have enrolled at the Jungian Institute in Zurich. During 1957-58 Strachan painted little while immersing himself in the psychological theories of C.G.Jung, yet it is fascinating to chart the influence of these studies on his later work. One might imagine Jung's ideas would heighten Strachan's taste for symbolism, but his pictures from 1959 onwards seem to take a more naturalistic path.
The silkworm factory was painted in Bricherasio, a town in Piedmont about 40 kilometres southwest of Turin. The building was found on the estate of the Daneo family, who had previously lived in Melbourne as part of the Italian diplomatic corps. In Australia the Daneos had become friends with the artist couple, Paul Haefliger and Jean Bellette, who later moved to Majorca.
The Daneos were happy to allow the Haefligers and their artist friends to spend time on the property and use the old silkworm factory as a studio. Not only Strachan, but Sidney Nolan and John Passmore would take advantage of the offer.
This atmospheric painting is arguably the best of three pictures of the same size Strachan completed in Bricherasio. Where Jeffrey Smart would have inserted a figure to provide a sense of scale, Strachan preferred to omit the human presence, lending these scenes a lonely, melancholy feeling. He would return to Australia the following year and paint equally sombre landscapes in the old gold mining town of Hill End.