The prospector 1960 signed 'Fullbrook' lower right oil on canvas on board 87.3 x 109.5cm (34 3/8 x 43 1/8in).
PROVENANCE Rose Skinner, Perth Private collection, 1976 Mr R. Connolly James Baker (Museum of Contemporary Art, Brisbane) Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1989
EXHIBITED Sam Fullbrook, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 13 November 1960 Sam Fullbrook, Moreton Galleries, Brisbane, 13 March 1961 Sam Fullbrook, Clune Galleries, Sydney, 11 October 1961, cat. no. 32 A tribute to Sam Fullbrook, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, August 1976, cat. no. 43 Spring Exhibition, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 1980, cat. no. 186 A changing relationship: Aboriginal themes in Australian art c.1938-1988, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 8 June - 31 July 1988 Sam Fullbrook: Racing Colours, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 7 June 24 July 1995, cat. no. 10
LITERATURE Dr Gertrude Langer, Brisbane Courier Mail, Brisbane, March 1961 (illus.) Sir William Dargie CBE, A tribute to Sam Fullbrook, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1976 (introduction to catalogue) Spring Exhibition, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 1980, cat. no. 186 (illus.) Felicity St John Moore, Sam Fullbrook: Racing Colours, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, p. 24 (illus.)
The prospector is a period piece that has become a classic of Australian art. This dream of exploring the outback and/or of striking it rich also expresses Fullbrook's respect for the Aboriginals and their instinctive understanding of the structure of the country.
In fact, the composite figure of the prospector - an Aboriginal in the familiar dress of the white miners - pith helmet, formal white shirt and camel-coloured slacks with creases - suggests a kind of co-operation between black and white as opposed to the superiority of one race over the other.
Fullbrook painted The prospector after he had been living and working in the Pilbara in Western Australia during the 1950s. In Western Australia, a place of strong racial prejudice in the '50s, he developed an empathy with Indigenous people and he was a guest (not a member) of Don McLeod's Nor-West Mining and Development Co-operative whose 800 members consisted of blacks, whites and 'brindles'. Above all, he learned to respect the natural dignity of full-caste Aboriginals and he depicted their simple self-sufficient lifestyle in many paintings. Spiritually they all wore top hats, he was to say later.
Here the figure of the pith-helmeted prospector, who stands tall and still on the left of the composition, has token features; his right hand rests on a rifle that seems to double as a stick; his left hand is extended, its open palm displaying a large mineral nugget, brightly edged with gold. The simple gesture of the upturned palm points towards the faceted arrangement of crystalline rocks below. Their shapes, planes and colour tones step our eyes across the rich mineral earth in the lower third of the painting towards the natural drama of an imported dog (his own black and white terrier) and a small native animal: a warm-bellied lizard sunning on a rock.
Fullbrook had observed that Aboriginals were able to find minerals using just a stick; whereas the rifle is a reminder that he himself was renowned for his marksman's eye. Trained as a marksman in Commando Squadron in the army during the Second World War in New Guinea, he had also watched Aboriginal people stalking game in the north-west and used his .303 rifle to get meat for the mob.
Fullbrook's home-made studio at Pilgangoora (seventy miles west of Port Hedland) was not really suitable for painting in earnest, and he therefore engaged in independently prospecting for gold at Yarraboonah and Beryllum. He also built fences, yards and a stone tidal dam across the Ashburton River for the Forrest family at Minderoo. "They can have their city and their art openings", he wrote. "I've got plenty of cartridges and a good shot gun and the fish are starting to bite."
The Aboriginal theme was also being explored sympathetically by Russell Drysdale. Fullbrook was briefly influenced by Drysdale whose dramatic painting, Basketball at Broome 1958, he would have known. But whereas in Drysdale's 'mission-view' painting the light on the horizon is obviously dimming, Fullbrook's Pilbara vision is more optimistic and down to earth. The prospector is constructed around bands of warm red and rich yellow gold with an expanding desert topography and the Pilbara peaks in the background. In short, the painting implies that the mining industry can be developed through co-operation, not collision.
Fullbrook's painting likewise stands out from the angrier treatment of outback Aboriginal themes by both Bergner and Wigley, who were each associated with Fullbrook for periods in the late '50s and '60s.
Although conceived in Western Australia, The prospector was painted when Fullbrook returned to Sydney and opened a studio on Broadway, next to Grace Bros, listing himself in the telephone book as S. Fullbrook Fine Arts.
Sam Fullbrook was an original. One of Australia's more picturesque characters, he produced paintings that were similarly endowed. The sense of stillness in this depiction of the Australian outback suggests that time itself is on the brink. So too the purity and richness of the colours seems to belong to art rather than to any particular scene.
Himself something of a rough diamond, Fullbrook had a taste for finesse. That taste might be expressed through the elegance of a line or through the balance of colour and tone that he learned at the National Gallery School under the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Scheme in the post-war years. The mutual respect he and Sir William Dargie developed during this period was reflected in a continuing friendship and intermittent correspondence over the years.
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