The Window, c.1916 Also known as 'By the Window' and (Still Life - Arrangement in Two Vases Before a Window) signed 'Margaret Preston' lower right oil on cardboard 61.0 x 49.9cm (24 x 19 5/8in).
PROVENANCE Possibly Gayfield Shaw from c.1922 until 1925 Private collection Fine Australian Paintings, Sotheby's, Melbourne, 26 November 1990, lot 204 Private collection Thence by descent Private collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED Royal Academy of Arts 148th Annual Exhibition (summer), Burlington House, London, 1 May - 7 August 1916, cat. 138 Exhibition of paintings, prints and pottery: Macpherson and Reynell, Preece's Gallery of Australian Art, Adelaide, 15-30 September 1919, cat. 3 (25gns) Royal Art Society of New South Wales, forty-third annual exhibition, Exhibition Gallery, Department of Public Instruction, Sydney, August 1922, cat. 128, titled By the window possibly The Gayfield Shaw art collection, James R Lawson, Sydney 9-11 Mar 1925, cat. 143, titled By the window Margaret Preston: Art and Life, touring exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 29 July - 23 October 2005; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 12 November 2005 - 29 January 2006; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 18 February - 7 May 2006; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 26 May - 13 August 2006 (label attached verso)
LITERATURE Deborah Edwards, et. al., Margaret Preston, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005, pp. 51, 52 (illus.), 282
The window c 1916 was painted during Margaret Macpherson's second trip abroad to Europe, this time accompanied by her friend and fellow Adelaide artist Gladys Reynell. She was on the cusp of many great changes in her painting career and personal life and it was during this seven-year sojourn that she would meet future husband William George Preston, apparently at the Vauxhall Bridge canteen for soldiers and sailors. Macpherson and Reynell departed South Australia on board the Ascanius on 8 February 1912 finally arriving in Paris in April where they renewed contact with Bessie Davidson, with whom she had taken her first voyage to Europe in 1904, and Rupert Bunny. She was already held in high esteem by the South Australian cultural elite and one of her missions while on this journey was to acquire an outstanding work of art for the Art Gallery of South Australia. Macpherson carried out this role with great zeal and was applauded by the English for selecting William Orpen's allegorical Sowing new seed for the Board of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland from the New English Art Club. Never mind that the work's controversial reception back home led the artist to vow that she would never return to Adelaide again.
Macpherson had determined that the still life was to be her métier and she exhibited widely at the Royal Academy, New English Art Club and the Society of Women Artists receiving very favourable reviews. Early in 1916 she took studios with Reynell at Albert Bridge Road, Battersea. It was this studio which set the scene for The window and in fact the work depicts a small posy of white flowers and a striking black jug of cornflowers laid in front of the characteristic and highly decorative fretted windows of the studio. Outside a delicate climbing rose, a hint of its red blooms vaguely evident, rambles around the windowpane. In terms of composition, the work foreshadows the structural geometric modernism she would famously adopt and develop back in Sydney as the married Margaret Preston.
The beginnings of her late 1920s native still lifes may be observed in development in The window. Like Banksia 1927 (National Gallery of Australia) and Native Honey Suckle 1933 (private collection), this composition is pared back to a restrained yet dramatic palette of black and white. Despite its relative softness, it is constructed in a strict geometric arrangement of the vertical lines of the window pane, emphasised further by the striped blue and black curtain along the right hand side, and the strong horizontal of the black window sill and table top which reaches to the extreme lower edge of the painting. These are devices Preston would amply use in her later still life works in Sydney following her departure from London with William Preston in March 1919 following the Armistice. Upon her return the Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased a similar London still life, Sunshine (or Summer) dated 1916. It was to be a pivotal and defining moment in the artist's life.
1 Edwards, D., Peel, R., Mimmocchi, D., Margaret Preston, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005, pp. 270-75. This is the source publication for all biographical material outlined in this essay.
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