‘Hokusai Morning’ – Maslin Beach, South Australia.
Our Boys by Jonathan Lewis is a two-act play that was first performed in London on 1993, and subsequently won a number of awards. The Adelaide Repertory Company’s production, directed by David Sims, is the Australian premiere of this thoroughly enjoyable, moving, challenging and unique play. My litmus test in regard to seeing theatre and films these days is whether or not it has moved me emotionally. In the case of Our Boys it did most profoundly and in a way that caught me by surprise. Set in a military hospital in the 1984, we follow the trials and tribulations of 6 war veterans. On the surface, especially the first act, the play is full of crude, smutty and vulgar British humour, similar to other hospital drama-comedies such as Carry on Doctor (1967) Peter Nichol’s The National Health (1969).
Some may dismiss this play as just another case of ‘men behaving badly’, nonetheless, something else is at work here. Underneath all this, and is partly the motivation for such behaviour is genuine fear – and specifically the fear of impotency. I’m finding it difficult to think of other dramatic works that concentrate on masculine impotency – a taboo topic that few men would even discuss let alone admit too. In a theatrical world that is often led by feminist ‘equality’ issue this play is a sober reminder that there are tragic contemporary male stories to be told as well; in a way it makes the play unique in contemporary theatre.
Our Boys, however, does join rather a long and brilliant heritage of other war and/or post-war traumatic stress dramas. This includes – R. C. Sherriff’s Journey End (1928) and W. Somerset Maugham’s For Services Rendered (1932). There are also William Wyler’s Academy Award Best Film winner The Best Years of our Lives (1946) and Fred Zimmerman’s The Men (1950), which was Marlon Brando’s debit film. Speaking of Brando it is an often neglected factor in regards Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) that one reason why Stanley and his buddies are so violent is partly associated with 2WW experiences. Other works include Willis Hall’s The Long and the Short and the Tall (1959), John Frankenheimer’s brilliant and unsurpassable The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Barry England’s Conduct Unbecoming (1969), David Rabes’ Sticks and Bones (1971) and Streamers (1976), Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade (1977), Hal Ashbey’s Coming Home (1978), Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), Simon Stevens’ Motortown (2006) and Stella Feehily’s O Go My Man (2006). Closer to home, there are such Australian dramas as Sumner Locke Elliott Rusty Bugles (1948), George Johnston’s My Brother Jack (1964), John Power’s The Last of the Knucklemen (1978), and Bill Bennetts’ A Street to Die (1985). However, the film that has the most immediate impact on Our Boys is the Michael Cimino’s devastating brilliant The Deer Hunter (1978).
Towards the end of Our Boys first act, in an attempt to cheer up the wheel-chair bound character of Lee, who is often inarticulate due to being shot in the head, the men stage a beer drinking competition called ‘Beer Hunter’ after the film The Deer Hunter. The drinking game parallels with devastating and highly memorable Russian roulette game in the The Deer Hunter. It is due to this game and the celebrations that the men find themselves in trouble, facing military discipline for ‘conduct unbecoming’ and expulsion from the army. With their self-esteem and sense of potency already vulnerable this new attack on their individual security brings forward issues of class warfare and scapegoating. The resident officer is blamed for being a back-stabbing informer – but he is innocent. The actual informer is one of their own, and without giving it away, is the character who has the most to lose. He betrays his friends and lies, blaming the officer; when the truth is finally revealed the sense of betrayed loyalty becomes violent in its retaliation. Surprise, surprise – not.
Our Boys as well as the works cited above all involve “men behaving badly”, physically and emotionally, often due to past or current war experiences. The individual stories and characters highlight struggles for self-esteem, power and potency. In this masculine rationale if you do not have these things then you don’t have an identity and viability to make positive and active contributions to society. Whilst ‘feminists’ may rage, nonetheless, masculine identity, health and well-being is still firmly tied to these issue, which are generally the domain of the work-place. Men still are (too often) defined by the work place and what they do (or not do) for a living. What does one do when self-esteem, power, potency, viability, credibility and identity is taken away by things that are beyond your control by murderous violence – physical and/or psychological? Does one resort to the betrayal of loyalties, revenge, in order to satisfy delusional prejudices and self-preservation? In Our Boys these issues rise to the surface, especially in the second act. Ironically, there are good outcomes for some of the patients in Our Boys – but by no means not all – such is life. This mixture of fateful and fortuitous endings only serves to add to the overall greater complexity of the play
Throughout this admirable and ultimately extremely moving production the voice of Margaret Thatcher (post-Falkland War) is heard, stating things like ‘we must take care of our defenses in order to prepare for any situation’. But how can you prepare for sudden and inexplicable violence? One could argue, perhaps, that these men are in the military and subsequently are trained for the violence of war. But this is not necessarily so; not all military personnel are trained for and do active service; and yet are still targets for violence. Nor do all military personnel, especially when working in a domestic and local world, necessarily expect sudden violent acts of internal terrorism. The final scene of Our Boys attempts to articulate the ‘horror’ of home-front terrorist violence. It is the most moving as well as frightening moment of the play. The harrowing experience and subsequent trauma of home-front terrorist violence is stunningly realized in the final confession by Joe, the patient who has been in hospital the longest, and beautifully acted by Adam Tuominen. Joe has an inexplicable disease that has resulted in the removal of one of his fingers. This mysterious disease, however, could be read as metaphor for HIV/AIDS – or other cancers – as it seems as if it will never be cured. Or is it the disease inside his brain, the never-ending post-traumatic disorder due to the incredible violence he experienced. Joe’s story is partly based on a real-life event in a bombing in London by the IRA. As the story unfiled I found I was gasping and shaking my head with the sheer horror of the violence. How could anyone get over such things? The thing is – like an incurable disease – you don’t.
Congratulations to the Adelaide Repertory Theatre, David Sims, and all the actors involved in this terrific production – Adam Tuominen, Patrick Martin, James Edwards, Lee Cook, Nick Duddy and Leighton Vogt. Thank you for providing an opportunity to see this truly unique and moving modern play. It has remained with me, as it did with my Asian-Australian companion last night, who is studying English here in Adelaide. Admittedly, some of it went over his head, and I was a bit concerned as the Asian imitations in the ‘Beer Hunter’ scene, nonetheless, this was the scene he liked the most. Go figure. He also, like myself, was very impressed with Adam Tuominen’s Joe and Patrick Martin’s Lee. Thank you.
Charles Conder (1868-1909) is regarded, along with friends and colleagues Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, as the finest Australian Impressionist artists. Born in Tottenham, Middlesex, U.K. Charles Conder was a bit of a rebel. His strict civil engineer father disapproved of his artistic bent, and sent the 16 years old Charles to Sydney in 1884 to work for his uncle as land surveyor. Charles Conder, however spent more time drawing landscapes than surveying them, and in 1886 he left his uncle’s employ and started working as an ‘artist’ for Illustrated Sydney News. After meeting Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts he moved to Melbourne, sharing a studio with Streeton and Roberts. Arthur Streeton, ten years Conder’s and Robert’s senior, was a significant influence on both. Whilst the time they all spent together was relatively short, just 18 months, nonetheless, this type of artistic collaboration produced many of their best works. Despite early studies of beach scenes in Sydney it is A Holiday at Mentone that marks not only the first major success of the then 20 year old Charles Conder but also the beginning of Australian artists capturing the unique beauty, splendour and light of Australian beaches. A Holiday at Mentone has often been called a ‘celebration’. This is not only because of its light ‘holiday’ theme and tone but also because it was painted and exhibited as part of the Australian Centenary celebrations in 1888. Furthermore, the painting is highly regarded for its composition and colours. The influence of the American artist James Whistler is possible due to the white and mauve bridge that effectively cuts the painting into two halves; but there is so much more to be gleaned when examining the painting closley. There is also the discernable influence of the then popular Japanese Aesthetic Movement, as well as popular Japanese woodcut artists Hokusai and Hiroshige. The Japanese influence can also be seen in the up-turned red parasol, and as art critic Jane Clark has noted, the calligraphically-like seaweed. However, despite all this brilliance, as well as the celebratory nature of the painting I find there is something a little disturbing about this painting. Despite the brightness the respective characters are not in summer clothes. Furthermore, no one seems to be actually communicating. The seeming asleep man at the centre of the painting seems more dead than asleep; the discarded red paper, like the red parasol, hint as something lost than something gained. Furthermore, the couple at the front of the painting are distant – an argument perhaps? The figures in black add to this unsettling tone. The elderly couple nearest the gentleman are watching the couple – concerned parents? Whilst the remote black woman with a child behind the woman reading could be a nanny with the couple’s offspring. The seaweed hints at something fractured rather than ordered. The painting, for me, starts to take on a similar complexity to Georges Seurat‘s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86), or Stephen Sondheim‘s Sunday in the Park with George (1985) with the expectation that any second someone is going to state – ‘It’s hot up here!’
Sydney Long – The Spirit of the Plains (1914)
Sydney Long (1871-1955) is one of the most unique Australian artists. This is mainly due to his particular poetic and lyrical vision of the Australian bush, which is combined with classical European imagery and characters. Born in Ifield, Goulburn, New South Wales, he trained at the New South Wales Art Society in 1890. His first major work By Tranquil Waters (1894) caused a scandal, but was bought by the New South Wales Art Gallery.
The controversy brought Sydney Long to the attention of Julian Ashton. Eventually Sydney Long joined Julian Ashton as co-head of Ashton’s Sydney Art School, a position he enjoyed until 1910. The popularity and sale of his works allowed him to travel and studying London, where he stayed until 1925, with a brief return to Australia in 1921. Long continued working and exhibiting. He won the Wynne Prize in 1938 and 1940, and was a trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1938-1949. He returned to England in 1951, and died in London in 1955. Whilst Sydney Long produced an immense body of work it is, however, his work from the late 1890s and early 20th Century that marks him as unique. His vision and artistry in this period stands in marked contrast to his ‘Heidelberg’ contemporaries Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin. There is an erotic sensuality in his work from the 1890s and early twentieth century, which has a similarity Norman Lindsay. This form was labelled as a new school of Australian art called ‘Australian Paganism’. Virtually all the galleries in Australia display works by Sydney Long. There are two in the Art Gallery of South Australia – The Valley (1898) and The West Wind (1909). These combined with to two other works by Sydney Long in this article – By Tranquil Waters (1898) and The Spirit of the Plains (1914) exemplify the uniqueness and sensual beauty of the art of Sydney Long – making the ordinary extraordinary. Sydney Long – The West Wind (1909)
John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) was born in Rome to English parents, who returned to England in 1854. Waterhouse, nicknamed ‘Nino’, studied at the Royal Academy of Art and began regularly successfully exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1871 to 1916. Waterhouse belongs to the ‘Pre-Raphelites’ who also include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. He is also known as the ‘modern pre-Raphelite’ partly due to the influence of the ‘Impressionists’ on his painting. Waterhouse’s work is characterised by his subject matter, which is generally based in classical myths and history, including ancient Greece, Rome as well as Arthurian legend. Waterhouse’s works are exhibited in numerous galleries and museums around the world, and Australia is blessed that the respective state galleries have some of his best and well-known work. The Art Gallery of South Australia has The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius (1883) as well as Circe Invidiosa (1892). The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius shows the Emperor in his throne room, preferring to concentrate on his birds than attending to business and his waiting councillors. The drama of the scene is heightened by the spacial arrangement and particular use of colours – the dark reds and crimsons being the domain of the Emperor, contrasted with the paler colours associated with the councillors.
John Brack (1920-1999) is one of the most important and influential Australian artists of the 20th Century. Born in Melbourne and educated at Melbourne Grammar School, Brack rose to prominence in the 1950s. He was a member of the group known as the ‘Antipodeans’ who reacted against the then popular form of ‘abstract expressionism’. Brack later became Head of the National Gallery of Victoria Art School from 1962-68. Like many artists Brack went through particular periods, re-inventing and experimenting with new forms, genres, styles and subject matter. He is an artist who makes the ordinary extraordinary. This painting – The Lift dates from 1954 and is currently on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia. In many ways it is characteristic if Brack’s major works – a very distinctive and deliberate composition; dull, drab and muted colours, his most common colour being brown. On first glance t would seem that this painting is somewhat quite ordinary and mundane. The Lift, however, is a response to the Jewish Holocaust during WW2. As described by the gallery – ‘Rather than making an anguish or impassioned response to this subject, Brack has exercised immense restraint. The unnerving quality of this work comes from imagining that the steps leading up to the seemingly ordinary lift are analogous to the tragic fate suffered by the Jewish people led to their deaths in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany’. Extraordinary.
ARTHUR BOYD (1920-1999) is one of the most important and unique Australian artists of the 20th Century. His range of work is extraordinarily vast in scope, size and subject matter, ranging from impressionistic landscapes to biblical and historical matters.His works are always incredibly dramatic and eye-catching. Invariably the characters in his works are somewhat devoid of emotion, reminiscent of ‘mannerism’ art in the late 16th Century. The four works by Arthur Boyd are currently on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia and are representative of particular periods of his extraordinary work.
Arthur Boyd was born at Murrumbenna, Victoria, into an artistic family. When he was 14 years old attended evening classes at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, where he met Jewish artist Yosi Bergner who introduced him to the the works of Dostoyevsky and Kafka and played a major role in influencing Boyd’s humanitarian and social values. Boyd then spent several years living on the Mornington Peninsula with his grandfather, Arthur Meric Boyd, who influenced Arthur Boyd’s particular talent and skill in landscape painting. He then moved to in the inner city of Melbourne painting urban cityscapes. In 1941 he was conscripted and served with the Cartographer Unit of the Australian Army during WW2 until 1944. His paintings of this period, of people deemed unfit for service are startling, and reveal an interest in ‘outsiders’, which was to become a major feature in his later works.
The painting, Figures by a Creek, from this period of Boyd’s life is relatively disturbing and turbulent, almost apocalyptic. A range of human expressions are evident in the painting, including love and grief. It is however, the soulless vacant eyes and naked abandonment in this prison like terrain that is unsettling.
Figures by a Creek (1944)
In the 1940s he became a member of the ‘Angry Penguins’, whose aim was to challenge conventional art and literature in Australia. and introduce a new radical and modern perspective. In the 1940s and 1950s Arthur Boyd traveled extensively through outback Australia. He was profoundly influenced by the landscape as well as indigenous culture. His series of The Bride, a half-caste who was also an ‘outsider’, was painted during this period and became his most successful works.
The paintings Persecuted Loves and Bridegroom going to his Wedding date from this period.
Persecuted Lovers (1957)
Bridegroom going to his Wedding (1958)
In 1959 he was a founding member of the ‘Antipodeans’, which presented figurative work rather than abstracts that were the dominant form at that time. Other ‘Antipodeans’ included John Brack, John Perceval, Charles Blackman and Clifton Pugh. He and his family then moved to London where he remained until 1977. Boyd’s work during this period reveal another evolution. His Nebuchadnezzar series of painting are his responses to the VietnamWar, whilst overall there is recurrent theme of ‘metamorphosis’. He also worked within the theatre, designing sets for opera and ballet. Boyd’s Lovers under a tree with weeping head (1963) is a work painted on a ceramic tile, and aspect of Boyd’s work in the years he was living and working in London. The subject matter of ‘lovers’ and a ‘metamorphosis’ that is apparent in the work and exemplifies his artistic concerns in this period.
Lovers under a tree with weeping head (1963)
Boyd returned to Australia and he and his wife Yvonne bought over 1000 acres of property in Bundanoon on the Shoalhaven River, not far from the town of Nowra, New South Wales. They later gave this property to the Australian Government for the use of artists. He also gave the copyright to all his work to the ‘Bundanoon Trust’ that was set up to care and manage the property.
A truly great Australian artist.
The Art Gallery of South Australia has a diverse ‘International’ collection that contains work from the ‘East’ and ‘West’. The following 5 works of European art range from the late 16th to the early 19th Century and contain works by Bartolomeo Passarotti, Peter Brueghel II, Claude Lorrain, Angelica Kauffmann, and Theodore Gericault. Whilst some may not consider these as ‘major’ works of the respective artists, nonetheless, they are beautiful in their own right. Furthermore, they stand as excellent representatives of the individual artist’s work as well as the period and genre from which they come.
BARTOLOMEO PASSAROTTI – The Coronation of the Virgin, with Saints Luke, Dominic, and John the Evangelist (c. 1580)
Bartolomeo Passarotti (1529-1592) was born in Bologna from where he primarily worked throughout his life and career. He exemplifies ‘Mannerism’, a style of art that evolved in the later years of the High Renaissance from approximately 1520. Passarotti belongs to the second period of ‘Mannerism’, with contemporaries that include Giorgio Vasari and Agnolo Bronzino. Vasari described the period as ‘la maniera moderna’ (in the modern style). However, ‘mannerism’ is not easy to clearly define. Taking the later works of Michelangelo as a source of inspiration, ‘high maniera’ is characterized by deliberate exaggeration and ornamental elegance, which is often quite colourfully vibrant. Subsequently, it is often regarded as prefiguring ‘Baroque’ art. Furthermore, in ‘high maniera’ the figures often have a relatively unemotional gaze that is ‘cool’ and ‘aloof’. In Passarotti’s painting, however, there is a suggestion of smiling benevolence and happiness from the three saints, as befitting the subject matter, the ‘Coronation of the Virgin’; although the bull, on which sits The Bible looks with his central single eye a bit alarmed. Meanwhile, the naked cherubs supporting the Virgin in the middle of the painting seem to be having a rollicking good time.
PETER BRUEGHEL II – The Village Lawyer – or – The Tax Collector’s Office (c. 1615)
This small painting by Peter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638), is a terrific piece of satiric art. Peter Brueghel II was the oldest son of Peter Brueghel the Elder. After the death of his father (1569) and mother (1578), Peter and his siblings went to live their maternal grandmother in Antwerp, were he studied under the landscape artist Gillis van Coninxloo. By 1589 he was operating as an independent ‘master’. His large studio in Antwerp made numerous cheap reproductions of his father’s work for local sale and export. Despite the studio’s success he was often in financial difficulties, probably due to excessive drinking. Peter Brueghel II painted landscapes, religious works, and village scenes, often in the style of his father. The above painting is one of his original and most popular works, and has a rather intriguing history. For a start is has a number of titles, including – The Village Lawyer, The Tax Collector’s Office, The Payment of the Tithe, The Lawyer of Bad Cases, and The Notary’s Office. Arguably, The Village Lawyer is more accurate as the figure behind the desk is wearing a lawyer’s bonnet, and all the papers on his desk look like requests and decrees. The peasants lining up have chickens and eggs for their payment, which was common practice, but generally, tithes (taxes) we paid in grain. What is truly wonderful as well insightful are the respective characters in Brueghel’s almost cartoonish satiric portrait of this aspect of contemporary village life. The detail is terrific – the nervous peasants, including the one hiding behind the door on the left; the notary who is just writing and not paying attention to anything else (the figure of calm in this mini-storm); the woman bending over, face hidden, and looks like she is holding something in her mouth as she searches for something in her basket; the old man and his companion holding out a piece of paper (a bribe?) to the sturdy man standing at the right who is scrutinizing the peasant energetically explaining something in the lawyer’s ear – the painting is full of drama and hidden possibile narratives. That this is a room full of secrets and hidden agendas is clear by the number of characters whose mouths are obscured. There is also the strange arm and hand right in the middle of the painting that seems to be reaching for the basket of eggs, but judging by the position of the arm as well as the single booted leg with a red stripe, they don’t seem to belong to the peasant standing behind. Is there another character hiding? All this only adds to the wonderful mystery and drama of the painting.
CLAUDE LORRAIN – Capriccio with ruins of the Roman Forum (c. 1634)
Claude Lorrain (c. 1600-1682) is generally regarded as one of the finest landscape painters of all time. Considered French he was actually born in the independent Duchy of Lorraine. He spent little time in Lorraine or France, but lived most of his life in Italy, mainly in Rome. He was quite prolific with his paintings, watercolours, drawings and engravings. By the late 1630s he had established himself as Italy’s premiere landscape artist with a secure and highly profitable international reputation and demand. His popularity remained high for the rest of his life. Stylistically Claude Lorrain belongs to the ‘Baroque’ period of ‘Western’ Art. By the beginning of the 17th Century landscapes had gone out of fashion. Whilst not singular, Claude Lorrain re-invented the form and genre, and in a way that is unique to himself. In virtually his work there is a particular serenity and grace. The English ‘Romantic’ artist, John Constable, who was very influenced by Claude Lorrain, describe him ‘as the most perfect landscape painter the world has ever seen’, and that in his landscapes ‘all is lovely – all amiable – all is amenity and repose; the calm sunshine of the heart’. In regards to the above painting, a ‘Capriccio’ is an imaginary landscape. Lorrain uses the ruins of the old Roman Forum to create an ‘arcadia’, a romantic ‘pastoral’, a glimpse of ‘A Golden Age’. The figures are dressed in contemporary 1630s clothes, and are either relaxed or getting on with their business amidst the Roman ruins – all is serene in this setting sun.
ANGELICA KAUFFMANN – Diana and her nymphs bathing (c. 1778-82)
Ever since I read Germaine Greer’s seminal work The Obstacle Race my knowledge, appreciation and respect for female artists from the past has grown. This has been considerably enhanced by the increasing number of such works that are now displayed in numerous art galleries around the world. Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) may not be as well known as her contemporaries and friends Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, nonetheless she was highly regarded in her own time, and was one of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768; the other being Mary Moser. Born in Chur (Graubunden), Switzerland, she was trained by her father, Joseph Johann Kauffmann, and by the age of 12 she was regarded as a talent child prodigy. She was also multi-lingual being able to speak German, Italian, French and English. After her mother’s death in 1754 she and her father moved to Milan. She travelled throughout Italy gaining considerable success and increasing popularity. It was whilst she was in Venice that she met Lady Wentworth who persuaded her to come with her to London. In 1765 her work was on display at an exhibition by the Free Artists Exhibition, and one of her first commissions was for the the celebrated English actor David Garrick. Lady Wentworth introduced Angelica Kauffmann to London’s high society. She became extremely popular, especially with members of the royal family. Her personal life, however, was not without scandal. In 1767 she was seduced by a Count Frederick de Horn, who proved to be a complete imposter and fraud. It is also possible that she and Jean-Paul Marat had an affair whilst he was living in London at this time. Nonetheless, owing to popularity and friendship with Joshua Reynolds she became one of the founding members of the Royal Academy., and was an annual contributor from 1769-1782. After the death of her first husband in 1781, with whom she had long been separated from she married the Venetian artist Antonio Zucchi. They moved to Rome where she was to remain the rest of her life. It was whilst living in Rome that she became great friends with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who she painted, and who regarded her one of the greatest artists of the age. She continued working right up 1797, and died in Rome in 1807. She was awarded a special funeral that was under the direction of the famous sculptor Canova.
THEODORE GERICAULT – Head of Youth (c. 1824)Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) was an extremely influential French painter and lithographer, and stands as a bridge between ‘Neoclassicism’ and ‘Romanticism’. He was born in Rouen and studied under such notable established French artists as Pierre-Narcisse Guerin. The young Gericault, however, was a rebellious, impulsive and free spirit. He stopped formal studying and between 1810-1815 he was at the Louvre copying and learning from the works of Rubens, Titian, Velazquez, and Rembrandt. He also spent a great deal of time at the stables at Versailles studying the anatomy of horses. His first major work, The Charging Chasseur was displayed at the Paris Salon in 1812, and was received very favourably. It revealed the influence of Rubens as well as Gericault’s passion to present work based on contemporary subjects. His next major work, however, Wounded Cuirassier (1814) was less well received. Crushed by the disappointment Gericault enrolled in the army and served in the garrison at Versailles. He continued to work through self-imposed study of figure study and construction, gaining a unique and powerful dramatic force. In 1816-17 he travelled to Rome and Naples and was inspired by the work of Michelangelo to attempt large epic paintings. This resulted in his most well-known work, The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19). The young Eugene Delacroix posed as one of the dying figures on the raft. This painting was based on a real life scandal. It created considerable controversy when it was shown in France, but was more favourably received in England. Gericault suffered from chronic tuberculosis. His final works, however, continued to display his dramatic flair and attraction to controversial and unconventional subject matters. This includes his portraits of the insane, as well as preliminary sketches for more epic and monumental works. Unfortunately his deteriorating health, coupled with some riding accidents, resulted in a long and agonizing decline; he died in Paris in 1824 at the age of 32. This beautiful painting, Head of Youth was a study that may have been part of an intended larger work. It was painted during the last years of Gericault’s life, somewhere between 1821-1824. It reveals the strong influence of Michelangelo, yet is also distinctly a work by Theodore Gericault; unique as it is representative of his position between ‘neoclassicism’ and the relatively new movement of ‘romanticism’ that was to dominate the first part of the 19th Century.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief journey from 16th Century ‘mannerism’ to 19th Century ‘romanticism’. As with any labels they are merely convenient and conventional descriptors. The real pleasure is, as Robert Hughes articulated, is to be able to actually stand in front of these works of art and allow them to effect you. They are just some of the many wonders on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia.