Bernard Smith

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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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 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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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 Allowing for articles written after 1980 and four previously unpublished, The Critic as Advocate contains sixty works from Bradley’s list.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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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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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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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 ...