Halcyon Days, c.1924 signed 'James R Jackson' lower right oil on linen 74.0 x 89.0cm (29 1/8 x 35 1/16in).
PROVENANCE Collection of the artist Private collection, acquired directly from the artist in 1948 Fine Australian and European Paintings, Lawsons, Sydney, 16 July 1991, lot 273 Private collection, Sydney
LITERATURE Jacqueline Jackson, James R. Jackson: Art was his life..., Bay Books, Sydney, 1991 p.112 'Amended Arcadia', The Bulletin, Sydney, 18 June 1991
Widely regarded for his sparkling views of Sydney Harbour, James Jackson was principally a classically trained figurative painter who, during the first decades of the 20th century, commanded far higher prices for his paintings of nudes and elegantly dressed women than his harbour scenes. Indeed, the first works by Jackson acquired from his Sydney exhibitions during the Federation years were all depictions of elegant Edwardian women, such as Maidenhead, 1910, Oleanders, 1914, The Dreamer, 1916, and The Holiday, 1916. By the 1920s a shift occurred in his figurative compositions and he predominantly painted nudes in Arcadian-like landscapes albeit with a distinguishable Australian sensibility. Painted in the early 1920s, Halcyon days, is a superb example of Jackson's characteristic approach to an otherwise European tradition, which he dallied with for only a short few years. A documented admirer of Diego Velázquez, the reclining nude in the foreground looking on to her bathing companion pays homage to the master's famous Rokeby Venus. Jackson was bound to have seen the work in the National Gallery, London when he studied under Frank Brangwyn at the New English Art School in 1906.
Halcyon days is interesting also as an accomplished landscape painting and was quite possibly painted outdoors on one of his many painting tours to the Bathurst region when he was courting his wife-to-be, the artist Dora Toovey, who lived in the region. He always painted outdoors, even his figurative works, and would embark on lengthy painting expeditions carrying his stretched canvases and equipment with him. Autumn was Jackson's favourite season for en plein air work and the titles of many of his works reflect this. 1 Halcyon days is clearly a golden autumn landscape with the row of flaming yellow poplars gracing the banks of a secluded pool providing shelter and privacy to the two nymph-like figures bathing.
The painting was important to Jackson as he allegedly bought it back at auction in the 1960s and included it in the survey exhibition at the Block Galleries, Melbourne in 1966. 2 Perhaps it brought back cherished memories of his painting expeditions to his wife's property in Bathurst and their ensuing honeymoon along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River in 1924. Halcyon days also represents a rare and fleeting aspect of the artist's important early figurative work, that of the classical nude in the landscape.
1 Jacqueline Jackson, James R. Jackson: Art was his life..., Bay Books, Sydney 1991, p. 49 2 ibid, p. 112
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