Bernard Smith

The editors begin their introduction to Antipodean Perspective with some ground clearing: ‘The putting together of a series of responses to an important scholar’s work is a classic academic exercise. It is undoubtedly a worthy, but also necessarily a selective undertaking. In German it is called a Festschrift

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A persistent fascination attaches to those who help break the new wood, and so it is with Bernard Smith (1916–2011). His contribution is foundational to the study of the arts in Australia. Smith was for more than sixty years the country’s leading art historian, but he was also an educator, curator, newspaper critic, collector, memoirist, and biographer. Even as ...

It’s a Proustian title, or at any rate a Powellian one, that Bernard Smith has produced for this memoir of his life in the long-ago 1940s, and, yes, there on the cover is Anthony Powell’s hero, Poussin. That’s doubly appropriate because one of the more vivid figures (though also one of the more saturnine ones) in this remembrance of things past is Anthony Blunt, great scholar of Poussin’s work, master spy, eminent director of the Courtauld and critical educator of the Young Bernard.

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Australian Painting 1788–2000 by Bernard Smith, with Terry Smith and Christopher Heathcote

by
April 2002, no. 240

Bernard Smith gave us Australian art. Before him, the subject was not part of our cultural discourse. We knew and could place the work of Michelangelo and Monet but not that of Eugene von Guérard, Tom Roberts or Grace Cossington Smith.

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This is one of the most satisfying and fascinating monographs on an Australian artist that I have read. Only Franz Philipp’s monograph on Arthur Boyd can be compared to it, and for quite other reasons. Catalano, lucidly and meticulously, unravels the complex physical and intellectual life of Rick Amor from the time of his boyhood. He discloses how Amor’s paintings depend on his ability to make his past the vehicle and inspiration of his creative achievements. It is a reflexive art embodying the omnipresent power of a memory touched with a redolent melancholy. His past is revealed as a strange presence that is not to be found in the work, in my experience, of any other Australian artist.


 

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As the one hundred and sixteen years of their control of the Exhibition Building ends, its Trustees have prepared this splendid account of their stewardship. From diverse perspectives David Dunstan, who teaches public history at Monash University, and fifteen associates, demonstrate how deeply the building has entered into the everyday lives of Victorians. Dunstan b ...

In his 1980 bibliography of Bernard Smith’s published works, Australian Art and Architecture (1980), Tony Bradley lists, exclusive of books, well over 200 articles, book reviews, and other miscellaneous items. Allowing for articles written after 1980 and four previously unpublished, The Critic as Advocate contains sixty works from Bradley’s list. Previous collections of Smith’s essays, The Antipodean Manifesto (1976) and The Death of the Artist as Hero (1988) each contains about twenty republished essays – leaving Smith still with over a hundred for future recycling. If this is to be the case it is perhaps well to look at the value or otherwise of this type of enterprise.

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In the late nineteenth century, the Sydney barrister and critic, William Bede Dalley is reported to have said: ‘I enjoy literature in all its manifestations. But if there is one class of books I prefer to another, I think it must be’ – with a flash of his teeth – ‘why, New Books!’

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From his first venture into print in 1923 Jack Lindsay has produced well over 150 books covering subjects as wide ranging as alchemy, ballistics, anthropology, philosophy, literary and art history, biography, and politics, as well as his own creative writings. His ‘astounding creative energy’ has deserved a large and generous book and he is well served by this collection of twenty-two essays and he is magnificently served by Bernard Smith’s editing, which, by placing the essays in illuminating sequences and juxtapositions, maps out the complexity and quality of Lindsay’s life and work. Smith’s Preface argues for the need in a volume such as this to redress the neglect in this country of Lindsay’s voluminous and wide-ranging work. The attempt deserves success.

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In the penultimate chapter of his memoir, Bernard Smith describes a meeting of the Sydney Teachers College Art Club, an institution he founded and later transformed into the leftist NSW Teachers Federation Art Society. The group was addressed in 1938 by Julian Ashton, then aged eighty-seven and very much the grand old man of Sydney painting and art education. He spoke at great length on the inadequacy of the NSW Education Department’s art teaching practices. Smith adds that Ashton also ‘told his life story (as old men will)’.

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