Mary Eagle

The cover assembles the book’s title and author’s name (writ very large) with a photograph of him, in an art gallery, before a wide yellow landscape by Fred Williams. Turning to the viewer, Patrick McCaughey is about to launch into a story that will satisfy the curiosity teased by the name of the book, Strange Country: Why Australian Painting Matters.

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Turner posed a conundrum when he withheld nothing from his bequest to the nation. On the positive side, the unsorted contents gave room to later, highly flattering interpretations of Turner, which a collection pruned to the taste of the Victorians would not have supported. On the downside, the digestive processes of posterity took Turner away from his roots in ...

Affairs of the Art by Katrina Strickland

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May 2013, no. 351

What happens when a famous artist dies, leaving a wife, husband, or children to tend the flame? The question recurs in Ian Hamilton’s spellbinding Keepers of the Flame (1992), an account of a dozen literary estates over a period of three hundred years, and remains suspended in this journalistic assessment by Katrina Strickland of the manag ...

The writers of two books about Fred Williams published in the 1980s, Patrick McCaughey and James Mollison, were friends of the artist, and involved with him in their roles as art critic/historian and gallery director. Their respect for Williams led them to write against the grain of their usual modes. Mollison, professionally always on the knife-edge of making judgement, held back, exploring with great precision within the factual boundaries of materials and processes, numbers, dates, and sequences. McCaughey, too, looked between art and artist rather than to mainstream contemporary art. In a new chapter written for the 2008 edition of his book, McCaughey endorsed the insights of younger writers, thereby providing a springboard for Deborah Hart.

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This is the second major retrospective of the art of Eugene von Guérard (1811–1901). In 1980 he was seen as Nature-inspired, like the German Romantics and the Humboldtian visionaries Frederick Church and Thomas Moran (American painters of von Guérard’s own generation). This time, the viewpoint is science.

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Behind Philip Jones’s Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and encounters on Australian frontiers are many books about the interaction of settlers and indigenes. Writers relevant to this book include the museum curator Aldo Massola (writing in the 1960s and 1970s) and retired archaeologist John Mulvaney (writing in the 1980s and 1990s). Massola brought out objects and archival material from the Museum of Victoria, writing their stories for a tourist or localhistory readership. He was a pioneer whose work is no less valuable for presenting an undifferentiated mix of hearsay, intuition, document, object, science and human observation. Although he rarely named his sources, they exist for most, if not all, of what he said so lightly.

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The traits women are encouraged to develop nowadays, such as outwardness, attitude, assertiveness, and professionalism, did not characterise Grace Cossington Smith (1892–1984). Family snapshots showed the young woman with tousled hair, guileless face, and buck-toothed smile: a neat-figured, long-skirted Edwardian tomboy after the style of Australian heroines in novels by Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce. The older woman in family photographs still had the tomboy grin; conversely, when she showed a public face, the mouth was closed and the eyes steady behind glasses.

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Max Dupain’s Australia by Max Dupain & Max Dupain’s Australian Landscapes by Max Dupain

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November 1988, no. 106

One of the characters in Stephen Spender’s novel The Temple, written in the early 1930s, is a young German photographer. They met in Hamburg in 1929. Spender, a university student just discovering the autobiographical bent of his own inspiration, observed that his friend’s attitude was very different. Instead of wanting to preserve the sensuality of the moment in monumental form, the German photographer set out to report the opposite – the death of every moment – which, at the time of being lived, is also passing. His photographs, he told Spender, were not intended to live, they were not communicative. Records of moments already gone at the click of a shutter, they annihilated even memory. Or were intended to do so.

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