Gerberas, 1957 signed and dated 'John Brack 57' lower right oil on canvas 127.0 x 48.0cm (50 x 18 7/8in).
PROVENANCE Australian Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso) Lieutenant Colonel C.P. Dawnay, United Kingdom Thence by descent Private collection, United Kingdom
EXHIBITED Australian Galleries First Anniversary Exhibition, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 28 May 1957, cat. 9
LITERATURE Sasha Grishin, The Art of John Brack, Volume II, Catalogue Raisonne, Oxford University Press, p. 10, p. 101, cat. 062 (illus.)
Gerberas, 1957, is one of a rare group of floral still life John Brack painted between the years 1953 to 1957. The artist included Gerberas in his first exhibition with Australian Galleries on the 28 May 1957 alongside two other works, Pot plant and Pears. It was the gallery's first anniversary exhibition; a group show shared with his close friend Fred Williams alongside more senior peers Arnold Shore and Lloyd Rees. Brack ruminated that he found 'painting flower pieces a good way to relax.'1 The flower arrangements were brought into his studio at home and invariably included the simplest and most popular household flowers of the time such as Carnations, Sweet William and Shasta daisies. Importantly, the still life made a cameo appearance in some of his most significant works from this period. It appeared notably in The New House, 1953, where a small posy is perched atop the modern fire place (held in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales), and in The Bar, 1954, (held in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria) where Brack places a spindly arrangement of Icelandic poppies in a brass urn on the bar as a vivid counter point to the monotone faces gripped in the suburban ritual of the six o'clock swill. There was nothing accidental in his choice of flower in this work, nor any other. Brack commented two years after exhibiting the work, 'Iceland poppies for instance were indicated, the blooms which symbolise suburbia.'2 Like all painting genre in his hands, the still life was stripped bare of any hint of romanticism and compressed into an austere picture plane leaving no room for the ornamental. This lack of embellishment allowed Brack to peel away the illusions of civilized society and its foibles and reveal its fundamental mechanics.
In Gerberas Brack allowed the simple glass vase of daisies made popular in the 1950s to stand on its own and not within the broad milieu of a larger scheme. The effect is to heighten and exaggerate the solitary essence of the subject and reveal the transient nature of the flower, which passes from beauty to deterioration, a theme running through the still life genre for centuries. In the 1950s Gerberas were appreciated for their perfection of form and cheerful, bright colours and thus they appeared in fabric designs, the wedding bouquet and as decoration on various day-to-day objects. However, Brack depicts these Gerberas at the point where they are past their prime with their exuberant hues toned back - the moment when the bloom turns from florist shop perfect to its first signs of decay. His petals are uneven and spidery and their stalks pushing toward the light in an attempt to capture the last dose of life. As such he creates a dynamism and energy within the image. A striking feature of the composition is its elongated scale, which purposefully emphasises the length of the flowers' gravity-defying stalks. The glass vase not only shows the great technical faculties of the painter, it serves to exaggerate the height of the blooms. Thus Gerberas sits within a broader group of Brack's still life paintings from the 1950s, including the masterful Breakfast Table, 1958, (held in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales), which reveal far deeper philosophical notions about the passing of time and ultimately man's inconsequential influence over nature and the cycle of life.
1. Kirsty Grant, John Brack, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2009, p. 106 2. Brack on Brack (1957), p.8 quoted in Sasha Grishin, The Art of John Brack, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, p. 46
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