Mother and Child, 1961 signed 'Russell Drysdale' lower right; signed, dated and inscribed 'MOTHER & CHILD / 1961 / Russell Drysdale' verso oil on canvas 126.5 x 76.0cm (49 13/16 x 29 15/16in).
PROVENANCE Collection of Sir Russell and Mrs Drysdale Thence by descent to their daughter Fine Australian Paintings and Books, Sotheby's, Melbourne, 23 August 1992, lot 155 Private collection Fine Australian and International Paintings, Sotheby's, Melbourne, 2 May 2000, lot 29 Bensons Collection, Melbourne Australian and International Fine Art, Deutscher-Menzies, Sydney, 16 June 2004, lot 26 Private collection, Melbourne
EXHIBITED Recent Paintings, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 1-13 November 1961, cat. 4 Australian Art: McCubbin to Whiteley, Bundoora Homestead Federation Centre for the Arts, Melbourne, 11 April - 1 June 2003
LITERATURE Geoffrey Dutton, Russell Drysdale, Thames and Hudson, London, 1964, cat. 122, p. 151 (illus.)
Reviewed in The London Magazine, Robert Hughes noted when critiquing Geoffrey Dutton's monograph Russell Drysdale (Thames & Hudson, 1964), 'Drysdale's true success lies in constructing a coherent, self-enclosed world of bodily experience, with such power and consistency of vision that twenty years of laymen and painters in Australia have come, as if by nature, to see their country through his eyes. It would be impossibly to think of Australian art without him.' 1
In 1961 Russell Drysdale travelled to the far flung towns and camps of westerns New South Wales with Keith Newman, a journalist working with the Sunday Mirror with whom Drysdale had worked whilst documenting the 1944 drought. Primarily producing sketches, the resulting drawings where used as illustrations for three articles by Newman which examined the conditions endured by Aboriginal Australian on the reserves and town camps.
Closely related to the drawings, which were published under the title 'Dark Heritage', Mother and Child, 1961, further expands Drysdale's exploration of the iconographic Madonna and Child. First manifesting in his works whilst studying at the Bell School, Drysdale's interest in the motif was abiding and can be observed both as the subject of single works such as the present work but also a central concern in broader compositions such as Sunday Evening, (1941), now in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Sombre, impassive and contained, with children standing shyly amongst their skirts or upon their laps, Drysdale's bush Madonna's are powerful archetypes of motherhood wedded to a landscape of loss. With similar handling to Youth at Broome, 1958 now in the Wesfarmers Collection, Perth, Mother and Child has a translucent, ghost-like quality. Cloaked with white, loosely rendered fabric, the mother gazes out to the middle distance, her body anchored by the passive form of the child.
1. Robert Hughes in The London Magazine, December 1964.
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