Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-1999) Sunflowers 1991
Lot 51
Rosalie Gascoigne
Sunflowers 1991
Sold for AU$ 610,000 (US$ 450,189) inc. premium

Lot Details
Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-1999)
Sunflowers 1991
panel A: signed, dated and inscribed 'Rosalie Gascoigne / 1991 / SUNFLOWERS (2 PARTS) / A' verso; panel B: signed, dated and inscribed "Rosalie Gascoigne"/ 1991/ SUNFLOWERS B/ 6 INCH SEPARATION' verso
sawn wood with synthetic polymer paint (from dismantled soft drink crates) on plywood
122.0 x 244.0cm (48 1/16 x 96 1/16in).


    Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
    The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1992

    Rosalie Gascoigne, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, April – May 1992, cat. no. 5 (label attached verso)
    Rosalie Gascoigne: Material as Landscape, touring exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 14 November 1997 – 11 January 1998; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 4 July - 27 September 1998,

    Deborah Edwards, Rosalie Gascoigne: Material as Landscape, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997, p. 44, pl. 20 (illus.)
    Vici McDonald, Rosalie Gascoigne, Regaro, Sydney, 1998, pp. 34, 114, 68, pl. 29 (illus.)

    When Rosalie Gascoigne was a girl in New Zealand, van Gogh was the first and last word in modern art. "I was at the ripe age of some 19 or something when van Gogh hit New Zealand," she told Ian North in 1982. "Bridge at Arles, Cornfields. And if you were terribly forward looking and artistic, you had a print on your bedroom wall."1 The New Zealand critic and historian E.H. McCormick concurred:

    In a trice Botticelli was removed from the living room to the more appropriate surroundings of the bedroom to make way for the post-impressionists in rapid succession. Van Gogh's Sunflowers blazed on cream-tinted walls in ever-enlarging versions, the area defining not only the owner's financial resources but also the degree of his enlightenment. 2

    (And indeed, in 1942, before they were married, Ben Gascoigne sent Rosalie a framed print for Christmas from his friend Carl Plate's shop Notanda in Rowe Street in Sydney. "I like the picture very much, especially the sky," wrote Rosalie, "and I like the general blueness. The frame couldn't be better for my room because Mum Duluxed my furniture ivory while I was away and it looks very nice indeed.")3

    I was reminded of van Gogh's Sunflowers when I did it. And I remember sorting out the dark ones with the light ones ...4

    Sunflowers presents the simplest grid, a pair of quartered squares. The forced, or coaxed, order of the first panel, in which one cannot quite work out how the artist has created the thin lines of the grid, loosens in the second panel into a managed chaos. Up close, the grid disappears, almost as if one had been mistaken in seeing it. It is only at a distance that the mirage of the darker squares appear, emerging like the memory of an Ad Reinhardt painting (an effect not apparent in reproduction). Is the grid created out of the fragments, or being eaten away by them? The pieces are chipped and rotted – Rosalie's is a mutable mathematics (but it was her scientist husband Ben whom she trusted to square the finished works with a circular saw – in builder's parlance, to make them true). The work might be about the imposition of a grid on the organic – the farmer's acre or the gardener's plot (and Rosalie's grandfather was an engineer who mapped railways and roads and sewers over the forests and mountains of New Zealand) – or the natural geometry of a sunflower's head, in which seeds are arranged in a neat cycle of spirals.

    To me it is sunflowers. It takes forever to do those, it's the end of a Schweppes box. The little black dots are nail holes. At the end of the box you get the decayed element, they're broken off and hardened with the weather. I like things crammed up, like a pomegranate's seeds, thick, thick ...5

    Sunflowers was first shown in 1992 at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. There were other Schweppes works: Beaten track, in which the words are transposed in a kind of mispixellation, and Fragmentation, a smaller version of Sunflowers, made of plain yellow cobbles with an odd stray serif. The least successful works are (with exception) those in which words with meanings are legible – literalism subjugates the aesthetic dimension of the work. In Sunflowers, letters are trimmed into hooks and curls and arrows, a series of dynamics in a wild system of punctuation, the nails heads and holes shot through the panels like gun scatter. There is so much contained creative energy in the work it is almost kinetic.

    Rosalie saw fields of sunflowers in her drives on the country roads around Canberra. But like the paintings of Fred Williams, the work is never 'landscape', it is always, first, a purely material art, about itself. Just as Williams's painterly reds – cadmiums never seen in nature – bring you straight back to the gallery, to the wall, so Rosalie's works are essays in colour and form. Rosalie's studio assistant Peter Vandermark remembers how she would constantly move pieces around with her hands, like a seer with a Ouija board, or a puzzler with a free-form jigsaw, searching out the aesthetic logic of her material. The starting point might be nature, but the end point is always art.

    William Lieberman had his eye on Sunflowers for the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. One can see why: in a single stroke, it would position Rosalie as one of the great abstractionists of the late 20th century, in company with Agnes Martin and Bridget Riley. (One is reminded too of the definitive paintings created in 1991 by the other great septuagenarian – abstractionist, Emily Kam Kngwarray, whose subject was also the flowers and seeds of a tuberous plant.)

    The panels are clearly inscribed on the reverse, in the artist's hand, as parts A and B, to be hung with a 'six inch separation'. In the progression between the two parts, the slight rigidity of the first panel and the suppleness of the second, one senses the artist's joy in her mastery, the difficulty in her task and the freedom found in the work's perfect resolution. Sunflowers is a triumph of making: a masterwork which invites a lifetime of looking.

    Hannah Fink

    1 Ian North, interview with Rosalie Gascoigne, 9 February 1982. Courtesy Rosalie Gascoigne Archive.
    2 E.H. McCormick, cited in 'Influence of European modernism - history of NZ painting', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012
    3 Letter from Rosalie Walker to SCB Gascoigne, 20 February 1942, Rosalie Gascoigne Archive
    4 Lecture at the National Gallery of Australia, 15 July 1998
    5 Vici MacDonald, Rosalie Gascoigne, Regaro, Paddington, 1998, p. 68

    With thanks to Martin Gascoigne for access to his archive and catalogue raisonne (in prep).
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