The Feminine Equation
As we enter the Year of the Rooster, in what some may view as auspicious,...
Wednesday 27 April at 6pm, refreshments provided
Dr Juliette Peers will be presenting a talk on the collection with a focus on early South Australian art. Foremost a lectuerer, Dr Peers has also curated and written catalogue essays for 44 events in Australian public galleries.
Whilst auction houses regularly point to the exceptional factors of any “single-owner” collection passing though their stockroom, the collection of Richard Boland fully deserves to be considered unique, even amongst “single-owner” auctions.
Given that many serious Australian art collectors often work with advisors and dealers, and that many who collect art are motivated either by the classic connoisseurship notion of “quality”, even in contemporary art, or in maximising investment potential, this collection breaks many expected conventions. The primary motivating factors for purchasing a work were its intrinsic visual qualities. An appeal to the eye, a pleasing appearance, perhaps an intriguing element of design or subject, often triggered a purchase. This sense of visually- driven entertainment as a means of evaluating work may point to the biographical backstory that the collector worked in the early years of television in Australia. At this highly experimental and exploratory phase of the industry, there was a clear awareness of the hitherto unprecedented need to swap from a text based format of mass communication, such as the press, to visual methods of communication and therefore the design, framing and moving image cutting techniques that camera work and set dressing and construction entailed. Many of the early employees of the television station had an art and design background as much as a technical one, linking into the substantial history of professionals art training in Adelaide, such as the Adelaide School of Arts and Crafts and the present day University of South Australia. Many of the collector’s workplace friends and colleagues had attended art school.
A private collector always has the freedom to choose whatever artworks may please him or her, unlike the complex social, political and economic (given that they buy art using public monies) obligations that public collections must heed. Although in reality generally few collectors exert that option with any degree of singularity or novel flavour. Collectors often seem wary of assembling a group of artworks that does not fit peer-group accepted templates of a “good” collection. However this collection has never heeded conventional rules of what is acceptable to either curators or the marketplace. Thus Marie Tuck’s sesqui-centenary history painting of the proclamation of South Australia found a place in the collection, as too numerous still lifes and even formal society portraits from the 1930s to 1950s. Such works hold intrinsic and immediate appeal to many viewers, but are not necessarily the genre of work that would be highlighted in a scholarly context if analysing Australian art. A collection formed independently of institutional conventions says much about art history that is often invisible or sidelined in “official” accounts. Such is the power of the works in private collections. However these alternative narratives often lie hidden for generations in family homes or escape notice when they are fed work by work anonymously to the market. This collection’s sheer range of work offers a rare chance to explore a comprehensive overview of early to mid-twentieth century artwork from Adelaide and to challenge familiar narratives of Australian art history.
The owner emphasises that his personal engagement with a piece was paramount in selecting it for the collection. Moreover he believes that in Australia still not enough emphasis is placed on the sheer pleasurable aspects of searching for and collecting artworks. Yet from that first flush of personal enthusiasm some threads of connectivity and binding rationales have emerged. Certain periods of art appealed more to him than others, with impressionism as a starting point rather than colonial and Victoriana, and also later and less well-known followers of the plein air style becoming a central feature of the collection. Early modernism including the characteristic relief prints of the interwar period and after is another clear focus. Relief prints were an affordable and highly popular way of circulating advanced artistic expression in the 1920s to 1940s, especially and they have returned to collector favour over the past three decades and are certainly never dismissed as trivial. The range of prints, especially linocuts, by Lisette Kohlhagen in the collection offers some accomplished but lesser known examples of the genre. Expatriate artists and artists who have spent significant periods of their working life outside of Australia, such as Marie Tuck and Rex Wood, represent another clear thread. Such travellers have often been forgotten back home, when the generation who knew them directly dies off.
However the key element linking most works on offer is their South Australian origins. Starting from a position of simply liking the individual works, the collector became increasingly aware through visiting galleries and auction viewings of the number of competent and appealing artists working in twentieth century Adelaide. Thus he not only searched for works by South Australians through auctions across Australia’s east coast, but also began assembling dossiers of biographical information, to fill in the professional context behind the artworks. Behind the direct “pleasure of the chase” grew a possible future intention of establishing a museum devoted to South Australian artists, a plan that has not come to pass, but individual works were frequently loaned to public galleries for survey shows of particular artists, especially those that sought to consolidate a more secure place in public memory for the artist themselves. Having established his mission to champion South Australian art, occasional artworks from other states such as that by Ludmilla Meillerts or James Cant, or even overseas artists, did find their way into the collection, given that he was always on the lookout for artists whose pricepoint and exposure was far below the talent evident in their work.
When considering the history of art and culture in Australia, Adelaide has always “punched above its weight” in relation to the greater national picture, even if conventional accounts have tended to focus from Bernard Smith onwards on the Melbourne-Sydney axis. Today Adelaide is recognised as a site of highly significant institutional support of the arts. This pre-eminence dates for over half a century from the Festival of Arts founded in 1962, when the Art Gallery of South Australia shocked the cold war era by both presenting recent art from the Soviet Union and the first professionally curated re-evaluation of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, to the Experimental Art Foundation and the Jam Factory craft workshops in the 1970s. From c 1980 onwards, the AGSA became, under the guiding inspiration of Daniel Thomas and Ron Radford, perhaps the most intriguing and inventive of all public art galleries in Australia. The Art Gallery of South Australia had a series of important artists as directors throughout the early twentieth century. Harry P Gill was, like the better known Bernard Hall, at the National Gallery of Victoria, both an accomplished artist and a connoisseur whose appreciation of a wide range of artefacts bestowed a complexity upon the original holdings of the Art Gallery of South Australia which would blossom fully in a more recent era of complex cosmopolitan scholarship and curation. Gill had a strong interest in decorative art and design including the production of Australian motifs in design, an interest that the Gallery has expanded over the years. Other artist directors include Louis McCubbin, son of Frederick, and Henry Van Raalte, a major printmaker and painter and a favourite of the collector.
One of the earliest surviving arts organisations in Australia is the Royal South Australian society of arts – with RMP Melbourne being the second oldest. A Diaghilev-style Ballets Russes company, Les Ballets Contemporains, presented ballets in the 1930s and 1940s with major artists’ original modernist designs, including those of Dorrit Black. Mary Packer Harris instituted an early interest in modernist stylisation tied in her with her more conservative theological/religious interests. Adelaide is famed as a particular crucible for surrealist imagery in the 1940s. Given the large proportion of women artists in the collection, Adelaide has always foregrounded a strong history of female leadership in the arts. Wax portrait sculptor Theresa Walker of Adelaide was the first Australian-based artists to send works back to the Royal Academy in London. Her sister Martha Berkely presented some of the most charming and complex compositions of early colonial women, painted again in Adelaide. Elizabeth Armstrong was first female lecturer appointed at a public art school in Australia in 1892 at the South Australian School of Arts, later the South Australian school of arts and crafts and later still the University of South Australia. Women artists such as Dorrit Black, Mary Packer Harris and Marie Tuck encouraged many younger students to become professional artists – Rex Wood for example learned his modernist design and printmaking skills from Harris – and promoted a more dynamic and contemporary outlook amongst Adelaide art makers. Gwendoline Barringer and Dora Chapman also enjoyed long tenure on the teaching faculty of the South Australian School of Arts.
By Dr. Juliette Peers
Auction | Tuesday 3 May at 6.30pm
Viewing | 27 April 9am-8pm | 28-30 April 10am-4pm | 1-2 May 10am-4pm | 3 May by Appointment
Auction Location | Leonard Joel, 333 Malvern Rd, South Yarra
Enquiries | Maggie Skelton | 03 8825 5630 | email