Ralph Balson (1890-1964) Painting no. 36, 1956
Lot 66
Ralph Balson
(1890-1964)
Painting no. 36, 1956
Sold for AU$ 292,800 (US$ 214,690) inc. premium

Lot Details
Ralph Balson (1890-1964) Painting no. 36, 1956
Ralph Balson (1890-1964)
Painting no. 36, 1956
signed and dated lower right: 'R Balson / 56'
oil on board
59.0 x 66.5cm (23 1/4 x 26 3/16in).

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE
    Gallery A, Sydney (label attached verso)
    The Collection of the Late Michael Hobbs OAM, Sydney, acquired from the above in 1968

    EXHIBITED
    Ralph Balson Second Memorial Exhibition, Gallery A, Sydney, 18 July 1968, cat. 32
    Ralph Balson: A Retrospective, Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne, 15 August - 24 September 1989; Newcastle Region Art Gallery, New South Wales, 6 October - 19 November 1989; Wollongong City Gallery, New South Wales, 1 December 1989 - 28 January 1990; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 14 February - 1 April 1990; University Art Museum, Brisbane, 12 April - 24 May 1990, cat. 28

    LITERATURE
    Bruce Adams, Ralph Balson: A Retrospective, Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne, 1989, cat. 28, p. 60 (illus.)

    This work is one of only two constructive canvases painted by Ralph Balson in 1956, the other being in the collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth. The date is a significant one for Balson as it marks his transition from the earlier formalist style to his later 'non-objective' paintings.

    In 1955 Balson turned 65 and was able to retire from his work as a house painter. He stayed on teaching part-time at the East Sydney Technical College in Darlinghurst, however, dividing his time between Sydney and Mittagong, where he had a studio in the garden of Grace Crowley's country house, High Hill. This final decade of his life was a more relaxed time for Balson. Apart from having the time to paint, he visited exhibitions, read copiously (from the latest international art trends to science and metaphysics) and exhibited in both local and international exhibitions, enjoying the recognition from his peers that now came his way (though it was still not without some controversy). In 1960 he visited his brother in New York - the first overseas trip he had made since arriving in Australia in 1913 at the age of 23 – and later joined Crowley in London.

    In the 1930s and '40s Balson had taken his inspiration from Piet Mondrian, constructing compositions of pure geometric abstraction with overlapping planes of clear bright colour. Both he and his friend and colleague Grace Crowley used coloured tissue paper to map out their complex compositions of overlapping circles, squares and rectangles, balancing cool and warm tones and giving the illusion of three-dimensional depth.

    However, by the early 1950s Balson began experimenting with a more fluid style, mostly expressed in a series of pastel drawings. A major turning point came in 1953 with the exhibition French Painting Today at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in which the style of Tachisme (from tache, the mark or the stain) was featured. While he was already familiar with the work of the American abstract expressionists whose work he thought 'offered limitless opportunities', he was also open-minded about the possibilities that the French painters offered. He did not see it as an 'either/or' choice though throughout the early to mid 1950s he began to slowly move away from hard edge constructivism.

    In Painting no.36 Balson dissolves all hard edges while maintaining a loosely-gridded composition that echoes his previous constructivist canvases. Moving away from a formalistic, structured approach, he manages to give an impression of both movement and gesture, of the action of the painter, while still maintaining a sense of order. Colour too is softened. Here there are no bright hard primary oranges and pinks but a series of more muted tones – mustard, lilac, lemon, teal, sage and grey. While this canvas presages the work to come from Balson in the next decade, it is nevertheless redolent of the 1950s. 
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